Monday, November 18, 2013

FEARING THE FLESH: A REVIEW OF THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE

Dustin Wayde Mills of Dustin Mills Productions is without a doubt one of the most adventurous indie/DIY filmmakers on the market.  The mastermind behind the horror meets Avenue Q flick THE PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE, the Faustian HEART ATTACK! (aka NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES), the brilliantly blasphemous EASTER CASKET, and plenty more dynamite films, Dustin Mills films can usually be expected to contain snappy dialogue, gratuitous nudity, and over the top gore.  It's hard to go into a film titled EASTER CASKET and expect to take it seriously, and the fun aura surrounding his filmography is something I always look forward to.  When I was given the opportunity to watch THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE, I anticipated a hysterical film about a dude without skin.  Well, I got it half right.  THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is unlike anything I've ever seen of Dustin Mills' work, and it was one of the most refreshing surprises I've ever endured.  If I may be so bold, I believe that THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is the pinnacle thus far of Dustin Mills Productions.

The story follows the genius Dr. Peter Peele and his partner (and the receiving end of his unrequited love) Dr. Alice Cross.  The two doctors have figured out a way to cure skin cancer and hope that their findings can lead to curing all forms of cancer.  When they are informed that their funding is hanging on the results of unethical testing on stray animals, it appears that the future of their project is coming close to an end.  However, as Dr. Peele himself is secretly suffering a form of skin cancer, he takes matters into his own hands and decides to test on himself.  It quickly becomes apparent that this cure is imperfect, and Dr. Peele's skin begins to deteriorate before his eyes.

Brandon Salkil as Dr. Peter Peele
THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE is not a humorous tale like Mills' earlier creations.  With the disgusting skin deterioration of THANATOMORPHOSE, the struggle of the self testing scientist of Dr. Brundle in THE FLY and the obsessive need to keep hold of the one he loves like MISERY, the story of Dr. Peele is a lovingly sewn together piece of familiar concepts intertwined in unexpected ways.  You genuinely feel for these characters and despite the shoestring budget, the film is a little hard to watch at some moments.

Erin R. Ryan as Dr. Alice Cross

Acting is easily the strongest aspect of the film.  Brandon Salkil plays a very convincing villain, but his lines are often muffled by the flesh mask worn to cover his "skinless" face.  However, considering he was unable to act with his facial expressions, he successfully portrayed all of his emotions and desires through body motions and character ticks.  Think BRUISER with a couple more loose marbles.  However, it's Erin R. Ryan that completely steals the show.  Ryan is no stranger to the independent/low-budget horror world with a rather extensive resume, but she absolutely blew this one out of the water. Her performance is fearless and she goes to lengths many actresses would never dare to explore.  She was convincing, committed, and proved that she's so much more than just "that girl in all of Ohio's horror films."  I always enjoyed her work, but this was the first time where I ever sat back and thought to myself, "Damn, this girl can really act."

Reminds me of "The Tale of the Dead Man's Float" episode of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

As with all of his other films, Dustin Mills also showcases an impressive talent with special fx.  There are minimal CGI effects throughout the film, and his practical effects are just out of this world.  There's plenty of gore to satisfy even the hungriest of gorehounds, and in traditional Dustin Mills fashion, there's plenty of nudity.  Full frontal women, and an appreciated instance of the typically taboo male nudity.  It sounds stupid, but the fact Dustin Mills is a filmmaker that treats his genders equally in terms of nudity is incredibly refreshing.

Dustin Mills went on a totally different track with this film, and it was a well ventured path.  Mills has proven that he can make a wide variety of horror flicks.  Do yourself a favor, check out THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE and support a worthy piece of diy/low-budget/indie horror.

You can buy or rent a digital copy of the flick for as low as a dollar, or you can snag a DVD or Blu-ray you right here.

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