Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: Skinless

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films Blog, 2013
Images from the Internet
Skinless (aka The Ballad of Skinless Pete)
Directed, shot, edited and scored by Dustin Wayde Mills
Dustin Mills Productions
80 minutes, 2013 / 2014

On many different levels, this film is a bit of a turning point for Dustin Mills Productions. Up until now, the releases by director (among other titles) Mills has either been a horror comedy or has strong elements of humor. This film is different in that it is serious, from the first minute on. There is still a few (meant to be) moments of uncomfortable titter, but this film is done straight.

Essentially, this is a four-person piece, at least three of them we get to see full frontal, but I’m getting – er – ahead of myself. Of the foursome, three have appeared in previous Mills productions. The newest is Allison Egan (not to be confused with Brit actor, Alison Egan). The first shot starts right off with her in the altogether as Olivia, the girlfriend of the soon-to-be-skinless titular character. As with many of Mills’ female cast members, she’s tattooed and looks like she could beat the shit outta you and enjoy it, but remains attractive. Her character has little back story, but her screen time is limited, so onward.

Returning for a third time is Dave Parker, also known as the horror vlogger, MrParka (yes, one word). He was in Easter Casket, and also Bath Salts Zombies as an addicted stoner, but in this more serious role, he does fine. His role of Neil, who controls the money to be meted out to scientists in order to insure profit for the shareholders, is pivotal, but again, not much screen time. Parker looks a bit young for the role which he is portraying, but I’m okay with that (like I deserve to have a say, right?).

Erin R. Ryan
The female lead is Erin R. Ryan, who also starred in Mills’ last film, Easter Casket. She’s still-full-skin Pete’s roommate Alice, and less-than-secret love interest. She is also a scientist and is, in fact, research partner with him. Ryan is an attractive woman with a firm jaw and is capable of being both strong and vulnerable in the same scene.

Pete Peel (really? Peel?) is the protagonist anti-hero, strongly played by Mills’ hetero-life/work-partner and recurring lead actor, Brandon Salkil. Petey is looking for a cure for cancer because his shoulder has a ridiculously large melanoma (looks like a silver dollar sized hole). Not sure why the girlfriend, Olivia, never noticed it. As Nirvana once said, “Oh well, nevermind.” The important thing is that he’s on a literal deadline to find the cure, and he thinks he may have found it in a worm whose secretions melt, well, you know. And despite threats from Alice and Neil, I don’t think I’m giving anything away (read the title of the film) by saying that he injects the experimental serum into himself.

So far, the story is going along strongly, we’re somewhat emotionally tied to the two lead characters in a star-crossed lovers way, and you just know the big bang is coming. And as always, Mills does not disappoint.

Brandon Salkil
From here, though as enjoyable as the film is, and it truly is, there is some resemblance to Cronenberg’s version of The Fly (1986). First healing strength leading to the body disintegrating yet still strong, twitching, bodily fluids to melt food and people, and of course the love interest trying to reconcile with the whole thing. While Cronenberg had a budget of $15 million, Mills does damn fine with a few thou and opens it up in ways that are new, partly by slowly closing the story into a tight knot.
Let’s talk about that last part. One of the things I truly like about Mills’ work is that he knows how to make a small budget go a long way. For example, nearly all of this film, with the exception of one scene¸ takes place in a single house, and mostly in the attic and the basement. This works well with giving the mild yet palpable feeling of claustrophobia, a device that syncs well with what is happening to Pete, as his world gets smaller.

Everything feels increasingly intimate, with a large percentage of the dialog between the two leads, Pete and Alice, the Invisible Man style clothes and mask Pete wears, and much of the surroundings being quite bare and stark. I’m not sure if it was budget constraints, the house they managed to get to for the shoot, or a director’s choice for mood, but it works.

There obviously isn’t a very high body count with a cast of four (though if you look at it in percentages, that’s another story), but the gruesome effects for all involved is incredibly enjoyable. Sherriah Salkil (Brandon’s spouse who also contributes to the films in various roles) and Mills do a great job with the make-up. It looks way better than the budget implies, and I would say this filmmaker’s best gore effects yet. Still stringy rubber innerds¸ but the blood and masks look way ahead of past films, and that’s saying a lot considering how accomplished they looked before.

Since this is a Mills film, there must be a discussion of the one thing that is recurrent in all his releases: puppets. He keeps it down to a minimum, being a worm, a dog (or what’s left of it), and melted bodies. Sure, the dog looks similar to the one in Bath Salt Zombies, but it kicks butt (or bites leg?).

 If there was any one complaint on my part (as I am wont to do), it is that when Brandon wears his mask, it is sometimes hard to make it out. If a bigger budget was on the table, I would say re-dub the voice.

The visuals are quite compelling. The editing is tight, the cinematography sharp (and HD), and even the lighting is solid. And the gore level is high and sticky. Mills has a talent for making fake blood (too many films are the wrong color or consistency), and he is not afraid to apply it.

The one true piece of comedy that appears in this film is over the credits, in the song “The Ballad of Skinless Pete,” by Mike Fisher, an inappropriately folksy ballad that is the opposite of the metal shards that usually accompany a Mills release.

Microbugets can either put a crimp in a film’s style, or it will present the opportunity to be creative with what one has. This film definitely falls into the latter category. That being said, if you’re a band and you need a music video and can pay for it, or just want to support the genre through an up-and-comer, checks out Mills site above and help finance his next project, called SpiderClown. I am already anticipating it.
Red Band Trailer:


  1. Wait, so MrParka is giving good reviews to movies he's actually IN? Well, there goes another blow to weirdos on the internet who want to be taken seriously.

    1. i probably shouldn't have reviewed it, but i wanted to get the word out there, i did enjoy the film, but its not a good idea for someone who took part in it to review it. Even if i think i can keep my opinion on something separate from my subconscious biases, no way to really tell.

    2. p.s. i review for fun not to be taken serious by anonymous ;)

  2. To be fair, (a) these ARE good films, and (b) I have reviewed books in which my photos have appeared, so I cannot point fingers. But I hear you.