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Skin Crawl
cast: Julian Wells, Kevin G. Shinnick, Armand Anthony, Jon Frederick, and Debbie Rochon

writer and director: Justin Wingenfeld

87 minutes (R) 2006
Shock-O-Rama DVD Region 1 retail
[released 10 April]

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
This shot on digital video epic is the latest release from Shock-O-Rama Cinema, a company whose mission statement seems to consist of bringing low budget U.S. grindhouse horror films to the masses. If this title is anything to go by, their stock-in-trade is a 1980s' vibe achieved on a severely limited budget.

In a prologue set in an unspecified past, we are introduced to three witches who are interrupted in their pagan worship by local henchmen. One of the witches is taken into the woods, where she is gang-raped and killed; her sisters vow to use black magic to avenge her death, and must sacrifice their lives to protect their families from the aftermath. A curse is invoked and badly rendered effects' flames consume the women's shack, and the scene fades out.

We now cut to the present, where a modern ancestor of one of the three witches (Julian Wells) becomes a wronged wife and continues the ancient curse as her husband hatches a plan to get rid of her.

Unfortunately the next-to-no budget works against this production. The visuals are flat, the performances wooden, and the sets seem to consist of a series of sparsely furnished rooms. Frequent scenes of soft porn are sandwiched into proceedings to maintain viewer interest, and the supernatural elements are decidedly undercooked until the big finish.

Good points include the fact that writer-director Justin Wingenfeld has actually attempted to tell a sequential story rather than just throw random gore or nonsensical scare scenes at the screen; there is even a valiant attempt to introduce a sleazy noir element into the plot.

For some reason there seems to be a lot of scenes involving nude women (not a bad thing in itself) being woken up by important telephone calls - indeed, there is an awful lot of expositional dialogue relayed via telephones before things finally get going towards the final act.

The horror angle, when it comes, is largely unconvincing, but again this seems mostly as a result of the obviously limited resources. Because of the cheap digital medium, it's difficult to build and maintain an air or tension or menace, and the lighting makes all the actors look ugly and highlights their every physical flaw.

I've certainly seen worse films than Skin Crawl and I do feel that everyone involved should be at least commended for trying to make a proper film with a proper story. Sadly, their efforts are somewhat hamstrung by the minuscule budget and lack of genuine fair or talent on display. With better finances this might have been a more interesting effort, but as it stands I struggled to keep my finger off the fast-forward button on my remote control...

DVD extras include a Shock-O-Rama trailer reel and a commentary. I watched the trailers - which were more entertaining than the main feature - but passed on the commentary. Maybe I'll listen to it one day, if only to hear what the filmmakers originally intended when they begun the project.
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