Skinned Alive

Skinned Alive

Although many companies have been dipping their toes into Tempe Entertainment's classic back catalogue (Cryptkeeper, Astro etc), this release of 'Skinned Alive' sees Tempe themselves debut their first 'Tempe classic' special edition and what a cracker of a special edition it is too. Of course you get a lovingly restored fully uncut remastered print of the film itself but there's so much more going on here that makes this one of the most fascinating genre releases in quite some time.

But first let's look at the movie itself, the film written and directed by Jon Killough is basically a low budget take on themes used in films like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre by way of the early Renaissance shorts, both of which inevitable comparisons will be made. We meet a family of travelling deviants in the form of disabled psycho mom Crawldaddy and her incestuous kids Phink and Violet. As they travel the land in their beaten old van they indulge in their gruesome pastime of abducting bystanders and (as the titles suggests) skinning them alive! But it's during their travels that their vehicle breaks down and the demented family are invited to stay with unsuspecting garage owner Tom Miles and his wife Whinnie. Inevitably bloody mayhem ensues but will the miscreants slaughter the local townsfolk or can neighbourly alcoholic ex-cop Paul Hickox sober up long enough to save the day?

Rarely seen till now, 'Skinned Alive' marks the revitalised DVD debut of what is without a doubt a sleeper genre classic. Like a tongue in cheek Chainsaw Massacre on wheels, the film both delivers in humour and pace as well as on a perverse and bloody front. The limitations of the low budget are far outweighed by the enthusiasm of the production and some bang on casting for the lead deranged family roles. Mary Jackson is ideally cast in the role of one eyed psycho mom Crawldaddy and could easily be mistaken for an unseen relative from the aforementioned Hooper movie, Scott Spiegel stepped in at the last minute to take on the role of Phink and so obviously relishes the opportunity that the role gives him and Susan Rothacker never shies away from the perverse demands that director Killough made of her in her part.

And it is the gutsy enthusiasm that emits from this production that transcends to the viewer when watching this fun bloody gem. Killough's script is pretty basic but does what it needs to do but it is some of the little touches in his direction (with both photography and demented vision) that give the film an added edge. Killough by the way pops up briefly in the films prologue as a hitchhiker who meets a bloody end, as does producer J R Bookwalter who makes a rare cameo as a door to door bible thumper who is victim to a very brutal and explicitly graphic demise - a scene that showcases some of the films showstopping gore sequences. The films title is 'Skinned Alive' and at no point does it shy away from depicting this scenario with close up body mutilation and flailed corpses gleefully on show whenever the opportunity is available, so gore hounds will be pleased no end also.

The film print on show is a wonder when compared to previous video presentations. Although early scenes show some minimal damage, Tempe have to be plauded for the clean up restoration job they've done with the 16mm roll cut negative utilised for this package. The audio has been promoted to a nice if subdued 5.1 surround mix which is faultless throughout and as audio additions there's a minimal isolated music score track alongside the full length audio commentary by producer Bookwalter (and not director Killough, but more on this in a moment).

So what we have here is a cracking little horror movie that delivers in spades when it comes to fun and gore, but as I mentioned earlier there's far more to this release than just the movie itself and that is the story behind it's production...

Once you have enjoyed the genre romp that is 'Skinned Alive' head on over to the extras section where you'll find one of the most engrossing 'making of' documentary features that has been unleashed onto a genre DVD with the 35 minute short 'Cut to the Bone: Dissecting the Making of Skinned Alive'. It is here that we are openly taken into the less than pleasant underbelly of low budget filmmaking production and the perfect reason why friends should never work together like this. You see it was during the filming of 'Skinned Alive' that director Killough and producer Bookwalter had a major falling out and this documentary in no way shies away from both parties openly talking about the whole scenario that brought the disagreement about (a commendable move that other companies would probably never dream of doing). Near the end of the films production Killough felt that his vision had been impaired by intrusive meddling of Bookwalter and walked away bitter about the situation. But was he the victim of production bullying or did he wrongly perceive Bookwalter's position as concerned producer off the mark? Everyone involved in the film discusses every aspect of the movie and although the fall out may taint the situation it certainly doesn't overwhelm the film and its entertainment value.

And being a Tempe special edition there's more for your viewing perusal here. There's two nice segments of rare old footage - the first being a collection of behind the scenes footage and then we're treated to some pre-production 8mm camera tests with comparisons to finished footage as well as rare footage of the pre-Spiegel original Phink actor. Also included is a short clip about the films restoration process (and a damn fine job done too), two extensive stills galleries and the usual smorgasbord of Tempe trailers of classic old films and the new wave of Tempe Entertainment.

If you haven't discovered the delights of Tempe yet then this is the time to do just that. 'Skinned Alive' is a whole lot of fun and the story behind the movie is just as entertaining - this DVD is the definitive word on the film and perhaps the underbelly of low budget genre cinema. Fascinating, fun and essential viewing - buy it now!

Review by Alan Simpson

'Skinned Alive' can be ordered direct from Tempe by clicking here.

Directed by Jon Killough
Released by Tempe
Extras :
Audio commentary, Making of documentary, behind the scenes, Camera tests, TV show 'Roommates', Isloated music score, Stills galleries, Trailers & lots more!