After a quick ‘New Wave’-ish cold cut to a cheeseball domestic scene between Mark Chavez and the lovely Jillian Parry and you can see what you’re in store for… a lot of unexpected change-ups, and an injection of fresh re-agent into a normally stale genre. Surprisingly, there is also just enough respect for it’s forebears to make SKELTER feel legit without trying to copy every other ’slasher’ flick that’s come before it (although this has much more in common with the unruly biker gang flicks of the late 60’s than the unrepentant slice n’ dicers of the last few years).
The film never telegraphed its next move to me and I found myself enthralled throughout. That also had a lot to do with several of the main performances. Mark Chavez, who starred in Billy Garberina’s COLLECTING ROOFTOPS as well as in the newly released horror-comedy NECROVILLE provides the anchor for the story in his performance as the cheating boyfriend turned last-sane-man. He is funny, engaging and believable both as the hapless stumblebum who slowly realizes the danger of the new kids in town, and as the eventual hero.
Billy Garberina plays Phillip Valentine, the ‘prophet’ who brings his motley crew of post-teen sociopaths to small-town new Mexico to unleash a record-breaking killing-spree and solidify his position in history. Garberina is pure magnetic funk. He lays on the badass, turns up the unhinged megalomania and imbues the character with a sad flawed humanity that raises it from ‘big baddie’ to tragic villian. Small nuances, like a weird habit involving toilet paper rolls, bring Valentine front and center as more than just another nutjob.
His crew of psycho-nihilists are also well-cast, particularily B-movie mainstay Trent Haaga as the livewire sado-redneck Luther,who gushes with such relish while explaining how to gut a man that I had chills. This guy will scare the shit out of you and is the one character I would never want to run across in real life. He’s frequently paired up with Kurly Tlapoyawa, the badass Bronson-esque Zombie basher of STINK OF FLESH, here he’s all mysogynistic testosterone swagger and cojones gigantes. Sarah Turner plays Pajamas, a Tura Satana-style larger-than-life bad mamajama. This chick is superbad and knows it. Pajamas is the hardest killer in a gang of cold-blooded animals and the only one who seems to be doing it all purely for her own enjoyment and unspecified spiritual vengeance. Finally, young ingenue Jaymi McNulty has the unenviable task of playing the wild card in the group – the lost little hippie chick. She’s the catalyst for the main character’s involvement and is the unsure voice of impressionable youth. She pulls it off well, maintaining the hesitance necessary to add depth to not only her own character, but the dramatic reality of the group. Without her anxious pauses and nervous glances, the whole idea of the roving gang of murderers is in danger of becoming cartoonish. Thankfully, that is never a danger here.
Luther (Trent Haaga) threatens Brass (Jaymi McNulty)
The rest of the supporting cast is also good with an eclectic and oddball collection of characters that are alternately creepy and hilarious. There are a few scenes with characters watching Wayne A. Harold’s TOWNIES, which has the same bizzarro-town feel to it’s fleeting cast of characters.
Up and coming ‘Scream Queen’ Elske McCain is in here, with a small part as a local ‘business woman’ who sprawls out with Gunnar Hansen in one scene and, in my personal favorite scene of the entire film, crosses swords with Kurly Tlapoyawa and unleashes a maelstrom on the bastard with her magnificent guns, her forehead and a pair of nasty brass knuckles. She also utters the greatest grindhouse cinema line of the last 25 years. I won’t spoil it by repeating it here, but believe me, you’ll be quoting it more than ‘this is SPARTA!’.
When Kurly met Ashley & Sarah
Now for the big man, Mutha-effin’ Big Bubba Leatherface hisself… Gunnar Hansen. This man is amazing. His is the single most charismatic, spot-on and naturalistic performance in, not only this film, but every other goddamn movie I’ve seen this year. How in the hell has he not been better utilized by the filmmakers out there? What a travesty. Thankfully, after only a handful of films through the 80’s and 90’s, Mr. Hansen seems to be enjoying a second-coming, with no less than 12 films in the last few years. Here, as Porter Sandford, the town entrepreneur, Hansen owns every second he’s on screen. Paired with his real-life niece Kristin Hansen (who appeared in STINK OF FLESH) as his daughter, Gunnar Hansen is the emotional stabilizer of the film – the real humanity in a sea of death and depravity. The quiet sub-plot about Sandford’s daughter moving away and his heartbroken acceptance of it, help humanize the town before it’s led to the slaughter at the hands of the outsiders. He also happens to have the best fight scene, wherein, maintaining his unflinching cool, he physically dominates three of the murderers, beats hell out of Mexikan Terminator Kurly Tlapoyawa and takes something like 18 shivs before he even slows down. If you have a chance to see this film, and I haven’t convinced you yet… see it for Gunnar Hansen. You will be awe-stricken.
Gunnar Hansen throttles a helpless Kurly Tlapoyawa
Scott Phillips has crafted a great little genre flick, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this marathon review, it far transcends the usual genre trappings. There are so many subtle meanings and subversive layers to the story; underpinned commentaries on ‘America’ and small-town morality. This is a town that, on the surface, looks like a sleepy little hamlet where everyone knows everything about their friends and neighbors. Throughout the film it is leaked through conversation, odd happenstance, simple character quirks and flat-out revelation that every single person in this town has some sick little secret, some skeleton in their closet and some hidden shame that marks them as food for the beasts. Conversely, Valentine, head of the rampaging murder squad, is an all-talk, little-action false prophet. Phillips and Garberina have crafted an almost note-perfect parallel to messianic-complexed nutjob Charlie Manson and the real Manson family massacres. The man in charge spouts a lot of ‘revolutionary’ talk about shifting values and enlightening the masses, about scaring the straights and revealing the true nature of chaos. He surrounds himself with mentally unbalanced and desperate unaccepted loners and pretends to foster a family attitude, then demands they do unimaginable things while he hides in the corners. This film gets that. It gets it better than any film since HELTER SKELTER which, judging by the title, is a probable influence. GIMME SKELTER is a worthy heir to its mantle and a fine example of how imaginative and non-derivative a genre film can be, while still wearing its influences proudly on its sleeves. This is the film fans answer to the unfortunate flood of ‘torture porn’ films the studios are cramming down our throats. GIMME SKELTER has thrills, chills and slaughterhouse kills, without the ridiculously over-the-top gore.
Head straight to AMAZON.COM to pre-order GIMME SKELTER on DVD!!!
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