Skinless (or, The Ballad of Skinless Pete) is the new film from micro-budget indie auteur Dustin Mills. I’ve seen a couple of his films before (Night of the Tentacles, Bath Salt Zombies) and they weren’t really my thing. They’re really campy with heavy leanings toward gratuitousness, which is cool, but I felt like he was trying too hard. That’s why I’m hyped to say that Skinless is a much more mature outing for him, in regards to his story telling and technique.
Created for only $2,000, Skinless is a solidly made genre flick that shaves off a lot of the shit that turned me off in Mills’ other films. There’s still gratuitous nudity and plenty of hammy moments, but there’s also character development (gasp!), a strong relationship between the leads, and a pretty cool story. Not to mention really, really good looking gore.
Dr. Peter Peele (Brandon Salkil) is a young, cocky scientist who’s been working on a cure for cancer with his partner Dr. Alice Cross (Erin R. Ryan). Peter believes he’s found their breakthrough in some kinda worm that creates a cell-destroying enzyme. They’re denied financial backing by an investor who has a ponytail (so you know he’s a real asshole) so Peter decides to inject himself with the enzyme. Unbeknownst to Alice, Peter’s got skin cancer, meaning the clock is already ticking down on his life. His fatalistic attitude drives him to inject himself with the enzyme with no regard for the danger. It works at first, a lesion he had disappears. But there are some, let’s just say “drastic” side effects.
From here Skinless becomes a shoestring remake of The Fly, but one that has its own tragic relationship driving the film. Peter’s sweet on Alice, but the feeling isn’t mutual. When Peter’s skin rots off, he must loose some of his sanity as well. I mean, who wouldn’t. His advances toward Alice become aggressive, but there’s still some of that tenderness between them. Even though the gore kicks into overdrive during the second half, the compassion between Peter and Alice never dissolves. That’s pretty impressive considering Peter balances his time melting faces off and pining over Alice. It works somehow.
Ryan delivers a really strong performance. She acts as the buoy of the film when Salkil’s over the top shenanigans attempt to sink it. When he’s not being overly melodramatic, he’s being campy. Their whole rocky relationship is the heart of the film, so it helps a tremendous amount that Ryan has some decent dramatic chops.
Skinless is sure to please fans genre fans, gorehounds, and anyone else looking for a sleazy good time. I still feel like Mills inserts too much nudity though. It serves no purpose other than to say “Look! Tits!” But this one is definitely an improvement over his previous films that I’ve seen. What he pulled off with a $2,000 budget is pretty damn remarkable, so hopefully someone backs this kid with some really dough soon. It’ll be nuts to see what he can do with even $25,000.
Skinless is making its theatrical debut on March 8th at the Cedar Lee Theater and on March 15th at the Capitol Theater, both in Cleveland. It’ll be expanding to other venues from there. Keep your eyes peeled!