★★★ out of ★★★★★
A low-budget surprise.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” the old adage goes. Well, I’m going to go out on a (pretty sturdy) limb and say, with horror movies, you often can judge them by their covers. Case in point, Eric happily discovering It Stains the Sands Red. When you run across movies with cliché names like “Sorority Demons” or “Laundromat of Blood”*, it’s almost a guarantee they were made in somebody’s backyard with a GoPro and a cellphone camera. And that’s what I was expecting with the horror/comedy, Crush The Skull.
Crush The Skull was at least partially funded in a Kickstarter project and, having never heard of any of the cast members, I don’t think I can be blamed for thinking, “Hooo, buddy! Git yerseff a clothespin an’ put it on yer nose. This’n’s gonna be a stinker!” Also, yes, my inner voice is a hillbilly. Isn’t everyone’s?
In any case, I was all set for another disappointment (a la Freshwater). Little did I know, I was in for a rare surprise. Crush The Skull premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015 where director/co-writer Viet Nguyen picked up the Nightfall Award (for films best watched after dark). The movie was also awarded Best Narrative Feature at the 2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival. Had I known this going in, my inner hillbilly probably would’ve stuck to playing his banjo on the porch.
Crush The Skull follows the mis-adventures of Ollie (Chris Dinh; who also co-wrote the feature) and Blair (Katie Savoy), a couple who make their living as burglars. As the movie opens, we see the pair discussing retirement. Just one last job and they’re out! Just one more. As you’d expect, that one last job goes horribly wrong. Ollie winds up in jail and, in securing Ollie’s release, Blair ends up eyeballs-deep in debt to a ruthless gangster. Desperate times call for desperate measures which, in this case, means getting in on a job being planned by Blair’s brother, Connor (Chris Riedell). Connor’s not what you’d call a strategic genius and Riley (Tim Chiou), Connor’s “crew”, is about as quick-witted as a cactus. The house that Connor and Riley have planned to rob turns out to be the torture den of a psychopath in which the crime-minded quartet become trapped. Can they escape before it’s too late?
The movie was billed as a horror/comedy. In my opinion, the comedy was more prevalent than the horror so we’ll be calling it a comedy/horror film. Was it a perfect film? Of course not. Some of the jokes fall flat, the whole setting isn’t particularly original, and the special effects are virtually non-existent. The antagonist side of the coin was particularly disappointing, in fact. I get that there was a serial killer vibe being aimed at, but serial killer doesn’t mean lobotomized. Showing no emotion and practically shuffling through every scene seemed more Heavily Sedated than Crazy Person to me.
Crush The Skull does have its charms, however. The writing was leaps and bounds above the usual “Look out!”, “Oh, no!”, and “Hello? Is someone there?” you usually find in a low-budget film. The banter between the characters was entertaining and seemed to flow naturally, for the most part. And the protagonists made reasonable assumptions and learned from their mistakes without my ‘help’ (a.k.a., me yelling at the screen, “Why?! Why would you DO that??”).
What really surprised me were the production values. Even in the dark basement shots the lighting was well done and the audio was consistently good in both interior and exterior scenes. So often it seems like sound quality in particular gets thrown out the window when the budget is tiny. Kudos sound folks!
Overall, and in keeping with the raison d’être of this site, I would recommend this movie as a great candidate for My First Low-Budget Horror Film. It’s got its funny parts, the gore is minimal, and it’s entertaining. Which, when it comes right down to it, is really all we’re looking for.
*Full disclosure: I would probably watch a movie called “Laundromat of Blood”.