"It's all about greed! I hate her!!"
An old converted water mill in the middle of the English countryside serves as the home for wealthy Martha (Judith Holding) - who we first see sitting in front of her TV watching the Michael J Murphy film MOONCHILD. She's made a fortune through the country club she owns, thanks to the fabulous meat dinners she's become renowned for serving over the years.
One afternoon muscular Dan (Warren May) turns up on her property, and it is quickly revealed that he's on the run, having escaped from a nearby institution for the criminally insane. Despite learning that Dan has murdered in the past, Martha takes Dan under her wing.
When an overly inquisitive police inspector (Jackson Payne) keeps popping round to see if Martha's seen or heard anything of Dan, she continues to harbour the fugitive - on the condition that he stays to help around her home, and keep himself in peak physical condition in the meantime.
Although a little perplexed by the attentions of older woman Martha, Dan stays. Partly through lack of alternative, and partly because he grows accustomed to the lifestyle Martha can provide for him. It also helps that Martha's attractive young manageress Charlotte (Trudi Tyrrell) lives on the grounds, and can often be seen relaxing by the swimming pool in a bikini.
But then things start to emerge that make Dan reconsider his safety under Martha's keep: following a story Martha tells of a murder that occurred in the water mill four hundred years earlier which resulted in the chief suspect being hung as a witch, Dan begins to suffer violent nightmares that relive this incident with he and Martha in the principal roles; neighbour Steve (Bruce Lawrence) keeps turning up to blackmail Martha, hinting at the weird things she gets up to within the privacy of her home; the strange herbal diet Martha has Dan on, which Charlotte suggests may be the reason for his jarring hallucinations.
But the thing that really caps it all for Dan is when he discovers the decapitated head of cosmetics saleswoman Karen (Helen Gardner - also the film's assistant director) in Martha's freezer (slain because - gasp - she was a vegetarian).
Dan attempts to flee from Martha's estate but she begs for him to return for a drink with her. Foolishly he does, and is drugged. When he awakes, he's enticed into a threesome with Martha and Charlotte - a pretty persuasive gesture in getting him to stay.
"You can't leave! The house won't let you leave!" Martha screams at one point.
And stay he does. But as the truth behind Martha's acclaimed meat supply is revealed, Dan becomes less and less comfortable with his own complicity in her deeds. His burgeoning relationship with Charlotte compels him stay a little longer, however, but even that seems destined to spell disaster for him if the possessive Martha realises of the couple's feelings for one another.
But how can Dan escape from the spider's web he's unwittingly crawled into? What is the relevance of the supernatural yarn that Martha relayed to him, and the vivid nightmares it has provoked in Dan ever since? What has Martha ultimately got in store for Dan - and how will Charlotte fit into these plans, now that she has fallen for him?
The original version of SKARE was originally shot in 2001 on 16mm but the original film elements were lost in transit when the plums at Parcel Force were given the task of delivering it to the lab for processing. Which must've been heartbreaking for writer-director Michael J Murphy (INVITATION TO HELL; ATLANTIS). Full credit to him, then, for revisiting the film in 2007 and giving it another bash on digital camera - thus reducing the cost and avoiding the threat of losing his film at the post-production stage. The film was completed in terms of editing earlier this year, finally affording Murphy the chance to see his vision fulfilled.
Like INVITATION TO HELL, it's a low budget British horror film that evokes memories of the 'Hammer House of Horror' TV series. It feels very much like an extended episode of the show, complete with ropy regional actors, Hammer-esque grandiose country settings and a curious amount of unanticipated atmosphere.
Starting like a TV drama then unfolding through some erotic (and even homoerotic) footage towards an undeniably creepy final third, SKARE is cheap but accomplished filmmaking that benefits from good lighting, proficient framing and tight editing to complement Murphy's enjoyably 70s-tinged script.
The screenplay toys with interesting concepts of obsessive love and, most intriguingly, the notion of life existing as a series of prisons on various levels: the literal prison that Dan escapes from; the home that Martha cannot - or will not - leave; the manner in which characters' feelings trap them into situations they cannot comprehend, and so on.
Greed, as the opening line of this review suggests, is also dissected through Murphy's horror dynamics. And, of course, the commentary on a society obsessed with food (just ask Kurt Skare, managing director of Skare Meat Packers ...!) and image is laid bare for all to appreciate most blatantly.
Performance-wise, there are some dodgy offerings (notably Payne and Gardner). But these are hammy in a way that fits with the occasionally melodramatic dialogue, and don't harm the overall tone of the film: one that at times borders upon approaching a vintage style akin to Jose Ramon Larraz's VAMPYRES while exhibiting a subtle strain of black comedy throughout.
Holding gives her all in a very exposed role, while May steals the show as the emotionally versatile Dan. It's a remarkably confident portrayal from the novice actor.
The entertainingly economic FX, along with the effective score of Rob Voller and Adam Cole, further add to the atmosphere.
Murphy directs in fluent fashion, keeping the storytelling lean and to the point, with only minor visual flourishes (digital montages of sex scenes and lava lamps) distracting from the inevitable collision into a bleak finale.
A brooding, erotic and oddly sinister little film, SKARE plays with interesting themes while delivering some bizarrely watchable characters and enjoyably old-school horror thrills on the cheap. More refined than INVITATION TO HELL and not unlike a cut-price blend of Peter Walker and latter-day Hammer, it's a fun and beguiling film that, though flawed, reveals more with each subsequent viewing.
The film is presented uncut in a nice anamorphic 1.77:1 transfer, preserving the film's original aspect ratio. Colours are bold while images are clean and bright, if not the sharpest you're likely to see. For a low-budget shot-on-digital film, it's a good presentation.
English 2.0 audio is clear, clean and consistent throughout.
The menus wittily play on the film's satirical take on a world obsessed with food. The scene-selection menu in particular had me smiling, with the chapters presented as dishes on a "Skare Valley" menu board (chapter 1 is "Dish of the Day"; chapter 11 is "Martha's Mouth-watering Meatballs", and so on). The main feature has 17 chapters in total.
The extras menu - billed as "Off Cuts" - leads into some very tasty morsels indeed:
First up is an excellent 14-minute Making Of documentary. An entertaining mixture of candid recollections from Murphy and enjoyable outtakes footage, the featurette expands on the unfortunate loss of the original film footage and reveals how the plot is based on Murphy's earlier short story 'One Man's Poison'. Holding also turns up with a couple of amusing anecdotes, along with praise for her director and co-stars.
Holding is also here to assist Murphy in an excellent commentary track. The often self-effacing director is in good humour while talking about differences between what was shot and the original script, pointing out that the herbal drink May drinks consisted of skimmed milk, water and green food colouring and much more.
Locations and casting are discussed in amiable manner, while Holding brings her own candid humanity to the chat by giggling over how unflattering Murphy's camera sometimes is, recalling some of her costumes (from charity shops) as "ghastly" and mistakenly referring to Tyrrell as "Amy".
Elsewhere, the pair are full of praise for May - and his physique - and are not above laughing at moments that don't work so well.
A bonus feature known as "Tasty" offers 4 minutes worth of slickly edited colour stills from the original 2001 version of SKARE. These proffer an illuminating insight into the lost film, showing many similarities to the remake - along with a lot of notable differences (the cast, for one). These are followed by a further 4 minutes of stills from the shoot of the 2007 version of the film, revealing it to contain more gore and naked flesh than it's ill-fated prototype.
A link on the extras menu page entitled "Gamey" allows you access to DVD-Rom downloadable scripts for both versions of the film, plus the original short story that they were based on. These are available in PDF format.
"Fatty" is actually the trailer for SKARE, which is a very good 90-second advertisement for the film.
SKARE is an interesting film that has an odd way of drawing you back to it for further viewings. There's something in there, and it gets under your skin in a positive sense. The DVD from Sarcophilous Films is clearly a labour of love, from the gorgeous disc design to the nice film presentation and superb extras, right down to Corlen Kruger's stunning cover artwork.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Sarcophilous Films|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|