Skin Crawl
U.S.A. | 2007
Directed by Justin Wingenfeld
Julian Wells
Kevin G. Shinnick
Debbie Rochon
Color | 75 Minutes | R
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC)
POP Cinema/Shock-O-Rama
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
SNEAK PREVIEW | DVD Release Date: April 10, 2007
Skin Crawl is one of those rare shot-on-video indie productions that turns out better than it has any right to. It was the intention of novice writer/director Justin Wingenfeld to evoke the feel of '70s horror comics like Creepy, and in this he only minimally succeeds; thanks to the presence of sexy Julian Wells and some interesting editing choices the film still proves mildly entertaining. Clocking in at a lean 75 minutes (somewhere around the average running time of most horror pics of the 1930s and '40s), at least it doesn't wear out its welcome.
Truth be told the film doesn't start out all that promising. An overly-long prologue, set in colonial times, is included merely to establish the 'how' and 'why' of the plot's supernatural element. The Warbeck sisters' practice of witchcraft and pagan rites leaves them vulnerable to blackmail by a trio of town goons, led by the scar-faced Nalder* (Shock-O-Rama's Michael Thomas, in melting makeup). If the ladies don't submit to their carnal advances on a regular basis the men will notify the authorities about the Warbecks' sacrilegious activities. When one of the women dies after being raped in the woods, the surviving sisters make a pact with the devil. Should any of the Warbeck clan ever again be harmed, the perpetrators will be made to pay... even if vengeance must come from beyond the grave.
    This clumsily-staged prologue is easily the lamest section of the film, featuring the worst acting and dialog. Even veteran B-movie scream queen Debbie Rochon, as the leader of the Warbeck siblings, thoroughly bombs here. Some folks may not make it past this point, which is unfortunate since things substantially improve once the story flashes forward three centuries to the modern day.
    Margaret (Rochon again) isn't happy in her marriage. Husband Howard (a miscast Kevin G. Shinnick) is inattentive, distant and boring. Depressed, she decides to divorce him. But before she can drop the hammer Margaret is kidnapped from a parking lot by a couple of seedy thugs, who take her to an isolated spot and brutally knife her to death. This was no random thrill killing, although that's what it's supposed to look like to the police. The killers were hired for the job by Sadie (Julian Wells of Dr. Jekyll & Mistress Hyde), Howard's scheming, manipulative mistress. With Margaret out of the way Howard stands to inherit a decent chunk of dough; he'll be free to enjoy all the kinky pleasures Sadie offers that his uptight wife never could. (Like some 'spank-the-naughty-schoolgirl' costume play and anal sex; "Go ahead... I'm already lubed, baby.") Besotted Howard falls for the idea hook, line and sinker, getting together the cash to pay the hitmen. In reality he's being taken for a very dark ride. Sadie and her real boyfriend plan to rip him off and blackmail him. Of course, none of those involved in the murder plot could ever imagine the victim coming back from the dead as a maggot-spewing zombie to exact revenge. Margaret's maiden name, you see, was Warbeck...
    Skin Crawl would be a completely skippable exercise in low budget indie horror if not for the way the main part of the story is told, which is non-chronologically. The narrative (apart from the prologue and conclusion) jumps back and forth in time, giving us different angles on events we've already seen people and things aren't what they initially seem to be. This serves to make the run-of-the-mill plot a bit more interesting. Guaranteeing your interest is Julian Wells, who plays her 'backstabbing bitch' role with significant aplomb it certainly doesn't hurt that the tall, slender blonde is nude or topless in 90% of her scenes. (Come to think of it, I've yet to see her give a bad performance in any role, regardless of content.) Throughout, director Wingenfeld wisely stays within the parameters of his limited funds and equipment, not attempting to emulate the European horror flicks that seem to have inspired him. Note to Horndogs: DTV sexploitation starlet Misty Mundae (alias "Erin Brown", Mummy Raider) has a glorified cameo as a hooker tricking with the wrong john in the wrong place although for once she doesn't get naked.
* A homage to actor Reggie Nalder, the evil witchfinder "Albino" in Mark Of The Devil (1970). Other sinister characters in Skin Crawl are named "Franco" and "D'Amato".

For an impoverished SOV production Skin Crawl's full-frame transfer looks pretty good, if soft problems typical for such films, such as flaring, are otherwise kept to a minimum. Unfortunately the audio, via a basic stereo track, comes up short from time to time. There are occasional issues with muffled dialog and distractingly loud ambient noises, likely because of difficulties with live sound recording during production.
POP Cinema adds value to the package (and the movie) by offering a making-of featurette and an audio commentary. Under Your Skin, which runs 14 minutes, interviews writer/director Wingenfeld, producer Michael Raso and star Debbie Rochon about the film and what they were hoping to accomplish, accentuated with behind-the-scenes footage. (Wells and Rochon proved their commitment above and beyond the call of duty by putting live insects and worms into their mouths for the climactic gross-out scenes... Wells is seen gamely chugging from a styrofoam cup full of 'em!) Much more information about the making of the movie is found in the commentary track featuring Wingenfeld, Raso and actor/DP John P. Fedele. They explain how the project began in 2001, with most of the principal photography, shot on Beta video, completed over five years ago but later digitally tweaked to give it a more 'filmic' look. It was editor Brett Piper (a director in his own right) who came up with the idea of cutting the bulk of the movie in nonlinear fashion a la Pulp Fiction, giving what would've been a standard supernatural horror yarn an interesting twist.
    Typically the folks at POP Cinema toss in a slew of trailers for their product; this disc is no exception. In addition to the promo for Skin Crawl you get ten other trailers, to include such recent releases Sinful and Chainsaw Sally.