Hello, true believers, and welcome to You Aughta Know, a column dedicated to the decade that is now two full decades behind us. That’s right, it’s time to take a look back at one of the most overlooked decades of horror. Follow along as I do my best to explore the horror titles that made up the 2000s.
It was the week of Valentine’s Day in 2004. While young romantics everywhere were doing their best to be struck by Cupid’s arrow, Outkast released seminal classic Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Family Business was the small screen star while Todd Phillips released the pre-Hangover seventies reboot Starsky and Hutch. And against all odds, a strange little slasher-monster-science fiction movie found release. That gonzo movie was Skinned Deep.
Now if you watch Skinned Deep, you will spend the majority of the time (just like I did) wondering if you read it wrong that the movie was made in 2004. Yes, it is two decades behind us but Skinned Deep actually looks more akin to the shot on video films of the late eighties and early nineties. And director Gabriel Bartalos refused to let his microbudget hold him back.
Bartalos had existed in the horror scene for almost twenty years at the time, working make-up and special effects before he got a shot at his own flick. Bartalos got his start in Hollywood in 1986, working on Spookies, before going on to work with legendary horror directors on beloved cult films; Henenlotter on Frankenhooker and Brain Damage, and Raimi on Darkman, as well as providing make-up for nearly all of the Leprechaun films. Needless to say, heading into the 2000s, Bartalos had already shown he had a proclivity for the weird.
But none of his past work holds a candle to the surreal exotica that is Skinned Deep.
From the outside looking in, Skinned Deep is nothing all that original. It’s pretty much a major lift from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, following a family travelling through rural America that is captured and tortured by an odd clan of serial killers. It borrows a smidge from The Hills Have Eyes as well, giving us a version of a mutant family, while also leaning a bit into that Mad Max wasteland feel. The first thirty minutes of the movie, in particular, feel extra low budget and like a straight up ripoff of the Tobe Hooper classic.
But Bartalos is not here to drop something you’ve already seen in your lap. In fact, Bartalos pieces together one of the most wild, surreal, completely bonkers horror films of the 2000s. The family fronts a diner to draw people in that they then kill or experiment on; Granny is the mother figure who runs the diner; Plates (played by Warwick Davis) is a ghostly white plate-throwing maniac; Brain is a younger man with a massive skull and brain cortex; and Surgeon General is some amalgamation of a mutant monster and futuristic robot with a bear trap mouth. Yes. You read that right. Warwick Davis plays a character named PLATES who literally runs around with a backpack full of DINING PLATES to MURDEROUSLY THROW AT PEOPLE.
That is only the tip of the weirdo iceberg. ONLY THE TIP OF IT. The first half of this movie introduces these gonzo characters but does little else to really differentiate itself from its obvious influence. The super low budget leads to strange almost fever dream-like chase scenes through fog machine-covered forests in broad daylight and 90s era camera shots and sets. Bartalos really uses his talents as an effects artist to his advantage to create some truly solid gore-filled kills but it’s the last third of this movie that will have you obsessed.
I don’t want to ruin things for you but here are some things that happen: a group of elderly bikers battles the murderous family; there is a vehicular fight scene made up of Surgeon General and five out of shape drunkards; a chase scene through a cactus field that involves hidden buried plates; and a decapitation and explosion scene that must be seen.
Bartalos went full tilt for this movie lost to time. It feels like it was plucked straight out of the eighties and dropped into our laps and it’s wild that in the same year that gave us films like Saw and Dawn of the Dead we also got this meager yet completely earnest attempt at something much more wild. Skinned Deep is like Grant Morrison wrote a movie that Bad Taste era Peter Jackson released under the Troma banner. Released on DVD by the now-gone Fangoria/GoreZone DVD label, you won’t find this one streaming but cheap(ish) copies can be found online.
Seek it out. It must be seen to even be believed.