Starring: Rita Suomalainen, Steve Porter, David Yoken, Anna Alkiomaa
Written & Directed By: Tommi Lepola, Tero Molin
Skeleton Crew is a Finnish film that combines asylum horror and the film within a film concept, leaving us with a bloody and camp-filled film. It is not completely cheesy or completing serious. It pokes fun at itself and has a lot of fun with the typical conventions and even clichés of horror films. The film hits on some very creepy themes that make it captivating and sets up a great atmosphere and tone for the psychological elements that are yet to come.
The film opens up on a dark stormy night when a young couple get in to a terrible crash. The girl leaves for help, entering a mental institution since it’s the first place she sees. They take her in and the doctors care for her and her boyfriend, but she is stuck there overnight. In the morning a bus will come and she will be able to go back in to town. Dr. Andersson (Yoken) is very firm about no one walking around the halls though. He claims it is because there are murderers and rapists here, but when she finds her boyfriend, bloody and tortured, she learns that her safety is the furthest thing from the doctor’s mind. Now she is on the hit list, which any innocent patients have already been crossed off of. And….Cut! The camera pulls out and a film set is revealed. There have been a number of technical errors while shooting and soon the director, Steven (Porter), begins noticing more and more problems. He complains that what he sees before him is simply not real enough.
Steven and the rest of the cast and crew, too shocked to look away, watch Dr. Andersson’s snuff films from over 30 years ago that the police were never able to uncover. Dr. Andersson was heavily influenced by the French New Wave and used his patients as his film subjects, giving himself the name “The Auteur.” He nailed his victim’s arms to chairs, beat and whipped them, set them on fire, pulled their teeth, hammered and drilled their heads, and, most likely did any other sick twisted thing you can think of. Steven watches these with awe and appreciation.
The next time they shoot, Steven actually suggests taking a more direct approach to embodying a torturer, suggesting the actor really does torture his co-star a bit. Of course this doesn’t go over very well with the actress and the idea is dead as quick as that. Steven realizes that he is letting his actors run the show and he has to take control of his movie. That night he wakes up his two main actors. He claims that the scene will be much better if shot at night. Bruce is given what he thinks is a prop, but by using it he ends up actually drilling in to his co-star’s skull. He realizes that Steven is out for everyone’s blood now. He isn’t going to let anyone out of here alive. They are all just sacrifices; the necessary deaths that he needs to get on camera for a gripping film to show the realism he has been searching for.
The whole cast did a great job. Rita Suomalainen first gives us this image of a very wholesome girl who walks in to horrors that are beyond her grasp for quite some time. There is an innocence and timid way to her that is being tested. This is all just shown in the few opening scenes before the set is revealed. When Suomalainen is playing Lisa, the actress rather than the character, she has a far less innocent personality. She smokes and gives sexual favors to the director to try to land a role in the sequel. She also is much more in control than her character seems to be. Suomalainen does very well distinguishing the two characters that she played even though in the end they are in a nearly identical situation.
Both Steve Porter as Steven and David Yoken as Bruce/Dr. Andersson both give performances that are somewhat over the top at times. It is even pointed out how over the top Bruce’s performance as the doctor is. When a bit of this doctor seems to become a part of Steven as well, this is when some of his more cheesy moments are present. These are actually some of the funnier moments of the film though and show the brutality in the director’s obsession that bursts out. Still both Yoken and Porter do show a balance in having serious characters that they seem realistic enough, but still give us some campy entertainment. One case of this is when the director has Bruce trapped. He inches towards him with a chainsaw in hand and says, “I hate overacting let’s make some cuts”. As the director does make some cuts in the actor’s flesh, he says, “straight to the cutting room floor”.
There are a lot of creative deaths in Skeleton Crew, many of which involved film equipment, especially members who were part of the crew. I really like the concept of the filming devices being weapons in themselves since there can be an obsession of film that blends the two worlds. There is also great creativity in these deaths and they are all pretty fresh. They include set lights that fall down in to a hole where one of lighting guys is trapped. They crash down on him and burn him to death. At this point the director turned him in to a murderer himself in hopes of saving his own life. Of course, these are just words and all he is after is another scene and doesn’t mind deceiving his cast and crew for it. Another notable film equipment death included one of the characters who is chained up when a video camera attached to a sphere that pierces his body.
In the film everyone is very aware of the rules of horror movies and when they realize the movie they were making has become real they quickly adapt to these rules. There isn’t the unnecessary denial stage that we often get so no time is wasted. The pacing is great and the action and deaths keep things exciting. Skeleton Crew shows a few very self-involved actors. One of them brags how he is a big time Hollywood actor and all of the people he has supposedly worked with. Both of the actors seem to have far more control than the director himself does. At first Steven doesn’t stand up for his vision very much. He accepts his actor’s demands and holds in the aggression he has because of this.
Eventually it is suggested that being in the actual asylum where the doctor murdered so many victims, that a supernatural or psychological presence could be pushing him to embody the powerful murder that once controlled everything that happened in this place. Now he can pay everyone back for distorting his vision and what better way to do bring truth to a horror film than actually filming real deaths? Especially considering the villain the film is based off of didn’t just murder, but made snuff films. The director certainly brings out the character by doing this. Having control is a major theme here. The director becomes a murderer to obtain it and stealing control from the director is what makes the actors more of a target. Later on for the actors, if they are going to die anyway, they just want to make sure the director doesn’t win and his sick vision is killed. Skeleton Crew is a campy fun, creative, and gory film that questions what depicting true violence entails.