Starring: John Johnson, David Simmons, Liam Smith, Karthik Srinivasan, Chris Jenkins, Jay Barber, Denise Shrader, Debbie Rochon, and Codo the Dog
Director: John Johnson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
A tabloid reporter and his photographer (Johnson and Srinivasan) take a cab driven by a Hatian immigrant (Simmons) to the small town of Nilbog to the town of Nibog to discover who's been shipping zombies via parcel post to unsuspeting people. What they find is evil and madness manifested in every conceivably crazy way and a mad scientist (Barber) trying to export this evil to the rest of the world.
"Skeleton Key" is a swirling, chaotic mess of a movie that was made for an ultra-low budget, haphazardly mixes fourth-wall humor with horror movie spoofs and bizarre jokes about life, love, sex, death, and everything in between. As is fitting for a movie set in the town of Nilbog--the location for one of the worst movies ever made, "Troll 2"--this movie is a pretty bad movie that makes no sense from beginning to end. However, this is a "bad movie" because it's MADE that way. As a result, it's very, very funny. The people involved with the crap passing itself off as satires and farces in the movie theaters in the past decade (such as "Superhero Movie", "Disaster Movie", and "An American Carol") should take lessons from John Johnson on how to make a film that is basically just about characters running from one joke to the next. (The might also have him explain the proper way to incorporate a man in a tutu weilding a giant dildo as a club, because he's got one here and it's damn funny!)
"Skeleton Key" pokes fun at horror movie conventions either by simply mocking them (like when the characters are constantly splitting up to search the monster-infested houses of Nilbog), or turning them completely on their head (such as when the precocious kid character doesn't live through the film but instead dies in the one truly creepy moment in the film). More specifically, the film seems to be send-up of the amateurish shot-with-video cameras-borrowed-from-the-parents-and-starring-me-and-all-my-friends that have been so very common at the lower end of the direct-to-DVD spectrum of horror flicks in recent years. The movie hits just abot every thing that makes many of those movies so awful, but it does it so well that I have every belief that John Johnson and his cast and crew knew exactly what they were doing and every cheap moment and bad edit or sloppy bit of lighting is intentional. (The fact many of the same people were involved in the technically very accomplished film "Alucard" makes me even more firm in this belief.)
Another sign that Johnson and his co-stars knew what they were doing, and that this film is intentionally cheesy and bad, is the quality and nature of the acting. Everyone in the film is ACTING--doing voices and exaggerated accents, mugging at the camera, and generally just clowning around. Johnson, on the other hand, gives a very straight performance, one that is completely out of step with the hamming and mugging going on all around him--despite the fact that his character keeps addressing the viewer and is continually and hilariously beset by visions sent by his Evil Side made manifest after he is bitten by a Nilbog Zombie. It's a clear sign that the chaos and apparent disorganization of the film is carefully constructed and calculated. (And if there was any doubt that the quality of this film is carefully constructed that doubt should be put to rest by the musical number 'Rain". I used to think only "Weird Al" Yankovic could write ballads like this song, but Chris Jenkins can give him a run for his money.)
"Skeleton Key" isn't a movie for everyone, but if you have an appreciation for low-budget horror movies, have been annoyed by the pathetic state of so many independent films that are released these days, and have a sense of humor and a soft spot for "Airplane!" and "Men in Thights"-style spoofs, this is a film worth checking out. (You may also need to have a sense of humor about yourself, or at least an ability to laugh at your friends. One of the strangest characters in the film--who is both watching the film, narrating the film and being a character in the film--is a very heavy-handed lampoon at hardcore horror dorks who will praise anything that's released on DVD, so long as it has zombies and/or vampires, tits, and is presented as an "indie film".
If you want to give regulars at Bad Movie Night gatherings a jolt to their system and a real "what the hell are we watching?" experience, you need a copy of this movie. You'll also want a copy of "Skeleton Key 2", which is one of those rare sequels that's better than the original. (Some day, I will get around to watching the third installment in this epic trilogy. It apparently has pirates.