Overview: A family of ultraviolent, incestuous hicks with poor manners come to a small town, and only a fat, alcoholic ex-cop can drunkenly stop them!
Directed By: Jon Killough, 1989.
The Case For: The movie features an accurate and moving portrayal of the horrors that divorce can wreak on a family.
The Case Against: Well, for starters, the first frame of the movie is an apology for how godawful the movie is. That could be considered a red flag.
The opening screen of the remastered 1989 Tempe classic "Skinned Alive" reads, and I quote:
SKINNED ALIVE has been painstakingly restored and remastered from the original 16mm A/B roll cut negative by a dedicated team of Tempe specialists.
Despite our love, care and money, the negative has some permanent damage that we could not repair without a Spielbergian budget. So quit yer bitching, this is the best it will ever look!
That touchingly worded missive might fool you into thinking that the film's color and sound were restored to their original glory and that the film you are about to see is the movie as it was intended to be. But that's not the entire truth. The dedicated team of Tempe specialists made a few wee changes while they were going above and beyond the call of duty to make this movie the beautiful work of art that it isn't. These changes include taking out many of the massive editing errors made by director/writer/editor Jon Killough, including a scene where the shot skips to another, completely different scene for a few seconds, then switches back to the original scene. That little gem, among others, snuck by the dedicated team of Tempe specialists when they released this movie the first time around. They managed to cut out the moments of technical idiocy such as that, but even they admit that the film quality still sucks ass. This begs the question, why the hell would they bother rereleasing it at all? Some people need to learn to accept their own failures.
Here's a tip to all aspiring godawful filmmakers out there: when your movie is so riddled with errors that even a full remastering can't bring it up to a quality that you can present to the public without first issuing a written apology, keep the movie to your damn self. Jon Killough never learned this lesson, but considering the number of other horrendous mistakes he made with this movie, that's hardly surprising. The stench of failure that pours off of this movie stems from far more than just the technical flaws. It originates at a much fouler source, which is to say, every other aspect of the movie. The basic premise is that a twisted family of murderers travels around killing people and making leather jackets and other apparel out of their skin. If you believe the blurb on the movie's case, one man discovers their secret and sets out to stop them. In actuality, the only man who knows they're posing as a traveling tannery doesn't stop them, and the man who stops them has no idea who they are or what they've done. So, as you can imagine, once you've seen the movie, you realize there is an awful lot of exposition that was actually completely unnecessary. That is why I now stand before you as a man in mourning for the elite squadron of brain cells that died horribly while I watched this movie. Brain Cell Squadron Blue 242, you were the greatest heroes of all.
The raging bender of bad moviemaking begins with a solid three minutes of absolutely nothing. Seriously, it's three full minutes of shots of roads and trees. It's all very pretty and serene, save for the fact that this is where the film quality is the poorest, so there's a lovely buzzing and it looks like someone smeared Vaseline on the lens. But other than that excitement, there's nothing to see here - just a slow series of still shots of nothing happening. No opening credits, no narration, no images of anything in any way relevant to the story, just three minutes of wasted time. Sadly, those three minutes are followed by another hour and fifteen minutes of wasted time, but at least that has stuff in it. At last, a hitchhiker makes his way onto the screen. He is played by none other than director Jon Killough, who, by ensuring that he is the first face his viewers see, seems to be saying, "This scene and all that follow it are entirely my fault." The hitchhiker finally manages to catch the attention of a black van with the words "Crawldaddy's Traveling Tannery" written on the side in what looks like white packaging tape. The hitchhiker opens the passenger side door only to find a blonde with hair that would make the Eighties vomit with disgust and disgust substitutes. Striking a pose that would be seductive if performed by a less repulsive woman, the blonde purrs, "Going my way baby?" If there has ever been a line that is easier to make sound sexual, I've never heard it, and yet, this woman stumbles over it so badly that I have to wonder if she is really a native English speaker, or maybe just a particularly tarted-up baboon. Welcome to the acting in "Skinned Alive." It doesn't get much better from here.
The blonde kicks the hitchhiker in the face, which would indicate that no, he most likely was not planning on going her way. Rare indeed are the hitchhikers who wait all day for cars to stop so that they can kick the drivers in the face. The van speeds off, leaving the hitchhiker nursing his head. He climbs to his feet, but a rustling in the bushes catches his attention. He looks down to see an old woman with an eye patch and hair that would make the blonde's hair bow down in worship of the All Consuming Queen of Shitty Hairdos, crawling through the grass, cackling like a mental patient on nitrous oxide. He then turns and finds himself facing a man in rectangular sunglasses laughing like an idiot and holding a hammer. Sunglasses Guy, who looks like the lovechild of unfunny comedian Greg Proops and Achy Breaky Billy Ray Cyrus, smacks the hitchhiker across the face with the hammer, then shoots him in the back of the head. The old woman and the man laugh it up while the man switches facial expressions rapidly for no apparent reason. The laughter is dubbed pathetically and the switches in facial expression are actually accompanied by sound effects, giving the scene a strange, "Terror Toons"-y feel. Thankfully, that feel does not persist throughout the rest of the movie, although that doesn't necessarily mean it's replaced by anything better.
There is a palpable symbolism to the film's writer/director being killed by his own characters in the first scene. It represents how Jon Killough poured his heart and soul into this movie, how he was consumed by it. It represents the characters taking on lives of their own and becoming independent of him. It also represents the desperation with which he needed to fill some more time, since this scene is immediately rendered irrelevant by the next scene, which is essentially the same thing, but this time there's some actual dialogue. A fat, hairy guy in a sports car breaks down along the side of the road. Wouldn't you know it, the Crawldaddy van is the next car to come down the road! What a coincidence! The fat guy explains the situation to the sunglasses man, A.K.A. Phink, and offers him a pair of tickets to the Wayne Newton All Nude Revue in exchange for a lift. You see, this is one of those horror movies that tries to prove that it knows it sucks by offering up a healthy dose of "comedy," which takes the form of crude attempts at shock humor. See, it's Wayne Newton nude! Get it? Nude means naked!
Sadly, Phink does not care for Wayne Newton, nude or otherwise, so he expresses his displeasure by cutting the fat man's tie in half with a machete. Fatty, sensing imminent conflict, runs as fast as his flabby legs will carry him through a wheat field. The old, one-eyed woman, who goes by the painfully stupid name of Crawldaddy (because she crawls around and she's confused about her gender, which makes her scary, or so I'm led to believe), sends Phink and his sister Violet, the blonde woman, to go catch Fatty and kill him. This short exchange between Crawldaddy and her children establishes all three characters primarily by having them swear nonstop. Because swearing means you're evil, see. Jon Killough is obviously straining to make the Crawldaddy clan sound menacing, but they all come off as childish. Perhaps this is because he runs out of real swears after about thirty seconds and has to resort to having Violet call Phink a "dingleberry." That's about as classy as it gets. At one point Crawldaddy calls her own son a "shithead" and "dickcheese" in the same line. There's really nothing like seeing a crippled, one-eyed, gender-bending woman use the term "dickcheese" to make you value your own parents a whole lot more.
Violet and Phink chase Fatty through the field. Despite Fatty's huge head start, Phink somehow manages to get far enough ahead of him to position himself in hiding behind a scarecrow and wait for a good thirty seconds. Sadly, while Phink may apparently be able to move at superhuman speeds, he's no match for Fatty's "Moving Out of the Way" technique. Violet finally brings him down by throwing a knife through his back and out his chest from about a hundred feet away. Granted, even if that were physically possible, she could never hit him like that from the angle she has to work with, but we have to be willing to suspend disbelief. After all, this is the character development portion of the film. Phink and Violet bring the flabby body back to the van, where Crawldaddy alternates between talking about giving birth to them and referring to her left testicle. Phink remarks that Fatty will make a lot of good leather jackets, which seems like an overestimation on his part. One leather jacket, fine, but more than that? Doubtful. Human skin just can't substitute for leather that well, even when it comes from a fat person. In fact, your average fat person may be more thin-skinned than your average person. Ah well. Phink begins cutting Fatty up, which elicits a reaction from him. One odd quirk about Phink and Violet is that no matter how much they kill somebody, they never stay dead. Fatty's reaction causes Violet to lose control of the van and it veers off the road, where it promptly stops working altogether. Since there is no real reason for the van to suddenly stop working like that, I can only assume it has something to do with the fact that a woman was driving. I'm comfortable enough with the statistical unlikelihood of a woman actually reading this site to say that. Interesting side note: every member of the Crawldaddy family has at least a semblance of a mullet. Just pointing that out.
Meanwhile, disgraced ex-cop turned alcoholism phenom Paul Hickox gets invited to the last cookout of the year by his eternally smiley neighbor Tom. The invitation is for noon. Keep that in mind. Paul accepts, then goes back into his house, passing by a picture of him with his ex-wife. He then proceeds to drink an entire bottle of Smirnoff vodka and passes out. Yes, this is the movie's protagonist. Sure, his actions may not be too admirable, but what he lacks in social graces, self-control, and ability to emote he more than makes up for in pudgy charm. He reminds me of a taller John Belushi. Well, not John Belushi so much as Jim Belushi. Well, not Jim Belushi so much as a vaguely human-shaped canvas dummy filled with pudding. But he definitely has as much screen presence as any other canvas dummy filled with pudding yo could possibly find.
Crawldaddy and her kin show up at Tom's auto garage with their busted van, which is a fairly impressive feat considering it doesn't run and the only person who would even possibly have a tow truck in this small Ohio town is Tom himself, and he's surprised to see them. I can only assume that they propelled the van using the powers activated by touching their mullets together, sort of like Captain Planet, only without the monkey. Crawldaddy offers Tom a thousand dollars to fix their van by morning. I guess a thousand dollars went farther with mechanics back in 1989 than it does today, as Tom not only accepts the job despite it already being closing time, but he invites the three strangers to stay in his basement for the night. Little does he know that his basement is about to be the site of an unspeakable atrocity.
The unspeakable atrocity, A.K.A. Tom's wife Whinnie, chats up the Crawldaddy family as they settle into Tom's basement. She is easily the most annoying character in the movie, and in a movie with nothing but annoying characters, that's saying something. It's a combination of her retarded dialogue and the fact that the actress delivers every line as loudly as humanly possible. Her irritating screech and totally misplaced Southern accent make her every syllable an exercise in agony. To make matters worse, nothing she says is ever remotely consequential. It's all just blathering nonsense. She eventually leaves the family alone, giving them time to swear at one another some more. Tom comes down and invites them to the final cookout of the summer, which is now set to take place at dinner and without Paul. It's amazing how plans just change like that.
Crawldaddy and Violet head outside, where they talk loudly about killing Tom when he's clearly within earshot. Nonetheless, he doesn't hear a thing. Sadly, this is actually a key plot point. By a strange twist of fate, two completely unrelated individuals come by the house and run into Crawldaddy. The first is a delivery man, who mistakes Crawldaddy for Whinnie (an easy mistake to make - they're both carbon based). It just so happens that he's delivering a package containing a bunch of knives, which Crawldaddy uses to chop of a couple of his fingers in one quick swipe. He runs back to his car and takes off, but naturally Violet has already inserted herself into the backseat and she shoots him in the back of the head while they're on the road. You'd think she'd be a little more careful, considering her recent luck with violence in vehicles, but she manages to make out alright this time. Back at the house, Crawldaddy is approached by a Jehovah's Witness who asks her if she is happy with her life. Crawldaddy doesn't even bother toying with this one, she just shoots him in the chest. Tom is once again oblivious to an unsilenced gunshot happening at the end of his driveway. He also manages to miss the bloodspray or collapsing human body on his property. Poor Tom. It's always sad to see a person get old and become completely nonfunctional.