By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Ellie Church, Adam Michaels, Alaina Karner
Directed by B.A. Lewandowski
Written by Tony Walsh, Johnny Hlousek, B.A. Lewandowski
Produced by Scotchworthy Productions, The Line Film Co.
What, you didn’t think I was going to exclusively cover Shudder films forever, did you?
Don’t worry, I’ll be back to covering films on Shudder before too long. But I’m going to take a short break and cover some films from other streaming services, and up first is Amazon Prime’s SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET. I thought it would be a great note to start on, as it looked like a solid anthology film with a nostalgic bent that would capture the feeling of staying up way too late watching horror hosts like Elvira or Joe Bob Briggs showcase the best B-movies they could find. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out that way.
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET follows a little girl named Jamie (Alaina Karner) as she tries to watch the titular late-night horror showcase while her annoying babysitter Tina (Elizabeth Stenholt) does everything she can to ruin Jamie’s fun. The film (an anthology called “Chop Shop”) goes through three segments, one where a little girl (Lia Sullivan) has to stay at her grandma’s (Leigh Rose) house and finds out she has an awful secret, one where an Artist (Rhiann Owen) puts herself in shoes of her character, and one where two thugs (Tony Lee Gratz and Steve Labedz) run from the cops and get their asses haunted by an undead Madman Mars (North Roberts, who plays “The Dismantler.” But I like undead Madman Mars better). It all eventually gets tied together in the real world with an escaped killer having broken loose, stalking the house.
“If you want a nostalgic 80’s horror experience, go watch Elvira. Not this.”
This column will never be about intentionally choosing bad movies to destroy for clicks. I picked SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET because it’s reviews on Amazon were mostly positive, but unfortunately the film misses its mark. The one thing that makes it watchable is that they managed to evoke some level of nostalgia early on; horror hosts The Widow and Charlie (Ellie Church and Adam Michaels) manage to capture just a bit of that schlocky, late night horror show magic as they comment on the film they’re watching between commercials and engage in a bit of boomer banter (which is a thing I have now written). They aren’t the most entertaining personalities, and their conversations are insightful only insofar as they help cover plot holes in “Chop Shop,” but it’s enough to at least evoke a bit of nostalgia. They also attempt to emulate an 80’s midnight movie viewing experience while “Chop Shop” is onscreen; the film can get staticky at times like an actual VHS tape, and certain transitions early on reminded me of the Goosebumps series from the 90’s.
Now we get to the bad. Buckle up, there’s a lot of it.
First off, the second segment of the film is functionally useless and devoid of any entertainment value. It’s the shortest, clocking in roughly seven minutes, has a familiar plot with a simple twist, and then vanishes. I don’t even recall if the character from the second segment appears in the end, when “Chop Shop” supposedly ties all of its segments together. That being said, all of the segments were severely flawed; while the first segment was the most enjoyable by a long shot there was some Goosebumps the series brand acting in there, which made it difficult to take seriously. The third segment was cut to hell, with the number of jump-cuts in that 20 to 30 minutes cracking triple digits easily. And that isn’t me exaggerating, that’s me losing count. The story itself was not bad at all, but the way it was presented made it so unwatchable that it actually gave me a headache. The plot of “Chop Shop,” the end sequence where everything got “tied together,” was not all that interesting and seemed thrown together, connected out of necessity and not stemming organically from the film’s segments; yet, it was still more satisfying than the conclusion of the real-world “tie-in,” which was so pointless I wonder why it was kept in film.
Worst of all, the “nostalgic aesthetic” the film advertises itself with is more appropriated than honored by the film itself, as most of the filming techniques seen in “Chop Shop” belong in found footage horror or torture porn than anywhere else: shaky-cam, rapid, epileptic jump-cuts, and flash-cuts of horrifying images are LITTERED throughout the film. You know, all of those filming techniques that are ALWAYS present in 80’s horror movies.
You want an 80’s horror experience, or to watch horror hosts dissect badass B-movies? Go watch The Last Drive In, or hell, 13 Nights of Elvira is also on Prime. I’m giving this movie a strong 2 out of 10.
I never like watching truly bad movies. If you disagree with me and think this is an underrated gem, make your case in the comments of wherever you happen to be reading this. I would also recommend reading Rocco Thompson’s article on the film here at Rue Morgue; as it turns out we tend to agree on quite a bit, but he exacerbates the film’s flaws a bit more eloquently.
Next week is Netflix week. Here’s hoping those films are better.