Three centuries ago, three witches gather in a barn to practice magic. Three men from the local village - led by the unbelievably bad-skinned Nalder (Michael R Thomas, BITE ME!) - barge in on the women and drag the youngest, Helena, out.

Nalder explains to the others that they're lucky they haven't been burned at the stake - they should thank him and his cronies for letting them carry out their business in their village. All the men ask for in return, is to rape the young Helena.

But when Helena dies, the remaining two witches conspire to conjure a curse upon the village. We learn that their children have previously been taken from them so the villagers can bring them up in "normality". And the witches' curse dictates that if anyone ever inflicts harm on their children or subsequent generations, a terrible revenge will follow.

Fast-forward three hundred years later, to the present day. Wealthy Margaret (Debbie Rochon, BIKINI BLOODBATH) is unhappily married to moody Howard (Kevin G Shinnick, SCREAMING DEAD). She tries it on with him in bed, but he's not interested. Later that day she tells him she'll be home late from work, then they need to sit down and talk.

At work, Margaret confides in a colleague that she suspects Howard of having an affair. Unfortunately Margaret doesn't get the chance to confront her husband, as she kidnapped and brutally murdered by two thugs (one of whom bears an amusing resemblance to the Dad in TV's "Shameless") later that night.

But then the story rewinds itself. We get to see that day's events, from the morning onwards, from Howard's perspective. It turns out he has been having an affair with Sadie (Julian Wells, SPIDERBABE), and together they have plotted to hire two thugs to kill Margaret in order to get their hands on her wealth.

Then we go back to the beginning AGAIN, to get Sadie's version of events. Her method of persuading her lover to agree to have his wife killed - by offering anal sex to him - is very cool indeed!

The device of repeating the plot from different characters' perspectives works well, and keeps things constantly interesting. It also allows for a few neat twists as intentions and actions often end up meaning something entirely different to what you first suspected.

As a low-budget crime film with a fairly brutal slaying at it's heart (which we get to see numerous times, thanks to the interesting non-linear storytelling), SKIN CRAWL stands as a definite cut above the usual Shock-O-Rama offerings. It's only when the film dips into horror territory (the sepia-tainted intro; the ill-advised zombie finale) that it disappoints.

Which is ironic, because it's obvious first-time director Justin Wingenfeld loves his horror movies - character names like Nalder, Franco, D'Amato and Krueger being dead giveaways.

Still, the ham-fisted horror bookends aside, SKIN CRAWL offers a good solid crime story of mean-spirited plottings and double-crossing. The performances are superior for this type of production, with Wells coming out on top (if you'll pardon the pun). She clearly revels in playing a cold-hearted bitch, and she honestly has never been sexier - frequently naked and talking dirty, she's worth the price of the disc alone.

In terms of gore, the film offers very cheap FX from Brett Piper and shies away from anything too gross. However, there's a barfing scene that will no doubt upset a few people with delicate sensibilities!

Look out for the ever enjoyable Misty Mundae too, in a small but memorable role ...

The film comes uncut in its original full-frame ratio. Images are solid throughout with minimal grain.

The English 2.0 audio is less reliable. For the most part it's consistent and balanced, but every now again it's really quiet. A tad frustrating, but not a huge problem.

There's no scene selection menu, but the film can be navigated via your remote control by way of 11 chapters.

Extras are light for a Shock-O-Rama release, but interesting nonetheless.

There's a decent commentary track from Wingenfeld and producer Michael Raso, which offers loads of insight into the making of a low-budget movie. Wingenfeld is a likeable chap, who just wants his film to be received well.

Next up is an interesting 14-minute featurette entitled UNDER YOUR SKIN. It's essentially video interviews with Wingenfeld and Rochon (looking better here than she does in the film), interspersed with brief behind-the-scenes clips.

Finally, we get a trailer for SKIN CRAWL as well as the usual wealth of trailers for other titles in the Shock-O-Rama roster.

Inconsistent and suffering from ineffectual horror scenes, SKIN CRAWL is nevertheless an enjoyable film with some great plot twists, a delicious sense of malice and an erection-inducing performance from Wells.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Shock-O-Rama
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review