Skinned Deep

Cost: £1.09 (Play.com)

Tag-line: Meet the Surgeon General

Sample dialogue: “You are a pathetic manifestation of everything desperate, using violence as a ridiculous speed-bump in the courtesies of daily social graces. I am attraction, lust, courtship, conquest, flirtation, penetration, conception. I am progress. I am inertia. I am strength. Behold… creation!”

I’m going to badly date this review for anyone who stumbles upon it a few months (or even years) down the line, but I want to start by mentioning that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s much-hyped new sitcom Life’s Too Short premiers tonight on BBC2. It stars Warwick Davis as a version of himself – a famous dwarf actor who gained prominence in worldwide smashes like Return of the Jedi and Willow but has been reduced to prostituting himself out in exploitative dross to try and pay the bills.

That’s a promising premise for a sitcom – which I’m sure is destined to do for Davis what Extras did for Barry from Eastenders – but it’s also not far from the truth. Warwick Davis has done an incredible amount of shit over the years, much of which lands squarely in beermovieguide’s wheel-house.

At the end of the shoot, Warwick was allowed to keep any of the plates he hadn't smashed. He was glad to get them.

In honour of Davis’ new show – which will hopefully close the book on this unfortunate portion of his career – I thought it’d be fun to examine one of these films, Skinned Deep, and his character within it, the psychotic crockery-obsessed killer Plates. As indicated by his name, Plates’ weapon of choice when it comes to dispatching his victims is… um… plates, which he hurls by the dozen with manic glee. But what is the root of this obsession? Happily, the screenwriters took the time to pencil in a grand-standing speech – and boy does Davis lap it up – where Plates outlines his unique perspective on the universe. In case you never actually watch Skinned Deep (and really, in all likelihood, why on Earth would you?), I present the monologue in its entirety below:

“The cherished enamel. The porcelain. It’s like a society. Every molecule an individual. Like me. But, when unified, a structure takes shape. A circular vessel for distributing organic nourishment. We, like this plate, gain strength in numbers. We thrive in a herd environment. We feed off one another, aggressively growing in numbers, until one day…”

He’s unfortunately cut off before he can finish, but I seriously doubt there’ll be anything in Life’s Too Short that can compete with it. Anyway, this all ignores the fact that Davis is neither the star, nor the main antagonist in Skinned Deep. He’s just one member of a whole family of crazed mutant killers. Chief among these is the Surgeon General – a character specifically designed to take his place among the ranks of horror icons such as Pinhead, Freddy and Jason. “Meet the Surgeon General,” screams the tag-line. “Meet the Surgeon General,” says the trailer (more than once). He’s presented as though he’s destined to become a cult hero for a generation… all of which ignores the fact that, in practice, he’s pretty shit.

Which reminds me... I really must remember to Sky Plus the next 'Snog, Marry, Avoid'.

I do not begrudge the film’s marketers making everything they could of this guy, however. He does have kind of a cool look – with the bear-trap for a mouth and all – and if you picked up a copy of the DVD it’s almost certainly because you were drawn in by his image on the cover. However, that image is not entirely representative of the finished film, which is far stranger than the cover implies.

We open on an old man in his car, driving down a lonely road on a dark and stormy night. A pick-up truck races up behind him and look who’s in the back! It’s the Surgeon General, swinging a hook on a chain around his head. He tosses this through the old man’s window and spears him in the leg, causing the car to crash.

There’s something very subdued about all this. It’s probably intended to be incredibly exciting, but something in the editing, the sound design, just the whole way it all comes together, is off. It sort of sits there, flat, on the screen, almost bored with itself. It’s a problem that persists with the rest of the film’s action scenes. There’s no signal of Skinned Deep’s true potential till the camera moves in on the flipped car and the bloodied and bruised old man. As the Surgeon General swaggers in for the killing blow, we cut to a candle-lit bedroom, where an oiled-up muscle man is flexing his muscles. Then back to the Surgeon General. Then – no rhyme or reason – back to the greasy muscle man. Then back to the Surgeon General. Then death. Roll titles.

Okay. This is a kind of crazy I could maybe get on board with.

"Soooo..... You been watching any of that 'True Blood'?"

Our next potential victims are a holidaying family: Turgid bore and Zach Galifianakis look-a-like Dad, his horrible wife, his horrible son and his horrible (but could maybe be hot if she put some effort in) teenage daughter. After ‘accidentally’ blowing a tire on the road the family are invited into the house of an old woman apparently drafted in from a David Lynch movie – along with her creepy over-dubbed voice.

Her home is a carpet-less Steptoe and Son nightmare, bedecked in a junkyard mish-mash of model aeroplanes, work tools, strange old trinkets and – bleh! – wood panel walls. “This is a really nice place you got here,” Zach lies to the woman, before telling his kids: “C’mon, kids! It’s just a normal house,” as though they’re both blind as well as moronic. Presented with a room full of decapitated dolls heads, beads, fairy lights, keys, broken telephones on bits of string and newspaper clippings pasted to the walls, Zach turns to his wife, grins, and says: “See? I told you this place was normal!” Some might unfairly perceive this as the film-makers’ attempts to smack their audience over the head with how ‘in-on-the-joke’ they are, but I take a different view. My own interpretation is that there’s a subtle subtext here, which is that the Dad’s on some kind of pills and currently… ahem… ‘tripping balls’.

"Ironically, the reason I brought us out on this trip is so I could get over the death of my other, secret family!"

The family sit down at the dinner table and are introduced to the rest of the old woman’s clan: The Surgeon General (now wearing that old man’s face as a mask), Plates (who “just loves his little corner”) and Brain, who enters with a tray of raw, human flesh (dinner) and a burlap sack covering his own deformed head. Dad immediately tucks in without the slightest trepidation, confusion or terror regarding anything he has seen and I must say that it is refreshing, in this day and age, to see that kind of tolerance and open-hearted display of friendship. It brought a tear to my eye.

At this point, I was enjoying the interesting route Skinned Deep was taking, and quite prepared to settle in for the story of a man who quite by chance finds himself in the home of a group of sadistic cannibal freaks and, by virtue of his own good manners and eagerness to make friends with others, ends up having a lovely time. It would be a rare treat, it really would. Unfortunately, Zach’s family let him down, starting with his vegetarian daughter Tina (seriously, it’s always the vegetarians who ruin everything), who turns her nose up at the “slop” she’s presented and openly insults her hosts. Zach’s horrible wife then takes out a camera and – without asking permission – begins snapping away at the less than photogenic (and understandably camera-shy) Surgeon General.

He responds to this faux pas in the only way that is proper (as set out in the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette) by leaping up onto the table and slicing the daft broad’s neck open.

He didn't use the correct knife, but in certain instances it's better just to let these things go.

He then kills Dad (also etiquette) and the boy (slicing him clean in half, long-ways, through his centre parting), but Tina is saved by Brain, who argues that she “must be preserved”. Horny old dog that he is. So she becomes Brain’s prisoner and he sets about seducing her with finger soup, picnics and motorcycle lessons. She in turn tries to manipulate him into helping her escape. In all, there are two clear possible outcomes. Either she joins the family or she kills them all and breaks free. Anyone watching knows where this is all headed, but the film takes its sweet time in getting there.

In the meantime we get to endure encounters with other family members (the Creator, Octo-baby), a bit of full-frontal male nudity and the violent retribution of an elderly biker gang. Every sequence is shot through with an uncanny weirdness. The viewing experience is a kind of discombobulated fugue, and you know you should turn it off and get on with your life, but you can’t bring yourself to turn away from its cheap brand of paint-huffing lunacy, like one of those sweaty fever dreams you can’t wake up from and are too embarrassed to describe to your therapist in the morning. In fact, Skinned Deep is almost designed as a film to watch, forget about and then half remember in ten years time as you wonder to yourself: “Is that a real film or did I dream all that?”

"Now that I've helped murder your entire family I'm guessing you probably want to have sex with me. You slut."

All this craziness, both in terms of the story and the headache-inducing manner in which it’s filmed, are bound to earn the director criticism for ‘trying too hard’ and over-reaching himself, but you know what? Every once in a while it’s nice to see someone trying too hard. It’s a damn sight better watching a film where everyone’s tried too hard than one where nobody’s tried at all.

A hillbilly horror, experimental art-house project and Troma-style gross-out comedy all rolled up into one baffling ball, Skinned Deep plays like Eraserhead retrofitted for beer-swilling idiots (like me). As such, it’s not going to please everyone, and plenty will struggle with the pace, uniformly terrible acting and general incoherence of it all. However, for less than £3 you are guaranteed to find nothing else like it and you never know… maybe it’ll be your kind of crazy too.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie

[John McNee]

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