SKELETONMAN (aka Skeleton Man)
Release year: 2002
WARNING: this review contains spoilers.
Welcome to another entry in our new series, Don’t Cut The Crap – dedicated to only the worst in cinema. In our previous entry, we took a look at Infested, a truly horrible piece of muck-up cinema whose very existence is baffling. However, as bad as Infested was, in comparison to today’s movie, Infested is a shining beacon of quality – a piece of real art, as it were.
Although, to be sure, in many ways SkeletonMan is a piece of art as well. There certainly is something iconic in managing to create a movie this bad. So strap yourselves in, and prepare for a ride!
SkeletonMan, or Skeleton Man – both forms are used throughout the DVD I own – is basically yet another spin on the “old Indian curse” yarn. The movie begins with two archaeologists going through items found in an old Indian graveyard. To hammer the message in, just before the inevitable opening gore and demise of said academics, an Indian curse is mentioned during a phonecall. Apparently the archaelogists have unearthed the skull of an old Indian chieftain. And, wouldn’t you know it, minutes later both are slaughtered viciously by an Indian ghost – presumably of said Indian chieftain. However, a bit later on in the movie, we are told with a flashback that SkeletonMan is basically just the ghost of an old Indian incel called Cottonmouth Joe, who apparently killed his entire tribe because he couldn’t get laid, or something to that effect. Why Old Joe pops up when the graveyard is desecrated, remains a mystery.
So, the ghost. Well, he don’t look much like a native american to me. Cheap costume store hood and cloak, cheap rubber skeleton mask, black pants, black boots and a black shirt don’t scream out “native american” to me, especially considering the rather cliché look of Cottonmouth Joe and his unfortunate tribesmen in the aforementioned flashback. Neither does his weaponry look native american to me: a modern stainless steel axe (or rather, a plastic replica of one), a plastic sword in the style of King Arthur, and what looks like a stainless steel hunting knife (again, plastic replica). The only thing vaguely “indiany” about it all is the hunting spear SkeletonMan uses several times, and the bow and arrow he uses a few times. SkeletonMan also rides a magical, color changing horse: sometimes pale brown with a white spot on its foreheard, sometimes dark brown, sometimes entirely black.
There’s a blatant disregard for concepts such as continuity, coherence, making sense and just plain ol’ giving a fuck, as you already see. Especially the color-changing horse is quite bewildering: nobody can have believed the viewers wouldn’t notice it; they just didn’t care enough! From the go, the movie is nothing short of ludicrous, but apparently any and all comedic effect is entirely accidental. I have a feeling that if this crew would have tried to make a horror-comedy, it’d inadvertedly be the scariest thing ever.
So, archaeologists done away with and the existence of a mystical, ghostly SkeletonMan established, the movie shortly moves to the main event: a squad of spec ops soldiers are sent to the same general area to locate and rescue a couple of teams gone missing. Of course, they’ve been wasted by SkeletonMan on his killing spree.
Now, these soldiers: I guess I can accept their definitely ragtag, non-uniform look because they’re supposedly on a secret, undercover mission. Funny though, that towards the end of the movie entirely regular County Sheriffs know about the mission – so much about the secrecy! Nothing else about these soldiers is acceptable in the least though: their inaccuracy as marksmen, their complete lack of discipline, and their complete and utter inability to do a single thing coherently. The blatant sexism of the male soldiers is par for the course, I can’t even be bothered to get annoyed by it.
It is only towards the end of the movie, after gratuitious amounts of shooting leaves in the forest, that a hit is actually scored on SkeletonMan, rewarded by a small explosion on said ghost (but of course not damaging him). Up until then, not even the expert marksman (“If you can see it, I can kill it”, she says – way to go stealing and dumbing down the Predator line!) manages to hit either horse or ghastly rider.
That line isn’t the only thing stolen from Predator. Actually, the majority of the movie is the cheapest kind of Predator knock-off: the soldiers amble in the forest, with SkeletonMan phasing in and out of invisibility, picking the soldiers off one by one – usually when they inexplicably wander off from the rest of the group without mentioning it to anybody; and when members turn up missing, nobody gives a damn. The movie even steals the augmented vision of Predator, although it never explains why a ghost sees the world in weird colors. Colors which, by the way, aren’t heat vision (like Predator had). However, not one single iota of Predator’s excitement or intensity is to be found in SkeletonMan. Where the iconic 80’s flick managed to make the jungle into a threatening, claustrophobic place, in SkeletonMan the mysteriously smoke-filled, bright forest is just boring.
Interspersed throughout this pathetic excuse for a movie are scenes depicting SkeletonMan’s killing spree. They are baffling to say the least. SkeletonMan destroys a military camp just because. Another of his victims is a fisherman who stands atop a high cliff, maybe a hundred meters or so above lake level and fishes down the lake – who the fuck does that? – and is shot from behind only to be hit in the front. Also, short snips of stock footage of flying eagles and whatever are over-used, presumably to give the movie that “Indian feel”. I’ll spoil it for ya: it doesn’t work.
This kind of disjointed, almost psychedelic lack of coherence characterizes the whole movie. Things just happen without rhyme or reason, characters say things that make no sense whatsoever, do things that aren’t sensible in any way, and end up in places that just don’t gel. Like, for example, the character played by Casper Van Dien – yes, he of Starship Troopers fame, whose career certainly seems to have hit dire straits – is supposedly on night time guard duty with another character. Nevermind that it’s broad daylight, but he just up and wanders away, walking through woods and fields for who knows how long. Only to stumble upon a lively highway and a truck stop, just minutes after commenting to another character how they’re so far away from civilization that cars or planes cannot be heard; there he steals a truck for no apparent reason and drives down the highway. Of course, SkeletonMan crosses the road – in an entirely coincidental manner, probably on his way to the masquerade shop – and Van Dien tries to run him over. Failing, of course. Truck explodes, and suddenly Van Dien is in SkeletonMan’s clutches in the forest, left there to die (mysteriously, whenever it suits the plot, SkeletonMan fails to kill his victims even if he is going mano a mano with them, and cuts them up left and right). Later, when the rest of his squad finds him with just a last breath of life left in him, there is no highway anywhere to be seen or heard. This entire scene is so bewilderingly random and out of place that the viewer is left reeling; Van Dien’s character’s completely random dying words about the dancing of salmon are the absurd icing on the absurd cake.
Of course, predictably, this same kind of disregard for any form of making sense extends to everything in the movie. At another point, the soldiers manage to contact a helicopter and request aid. This helicopter, a civilian model, is of course loaded with missiles and one guy with an assault rifle, another one with a grenade launcher. Neither manages to hit SkeletonMan, but he of course downs the helicopter – with a wooden arrow. It remains unclear whether this chopper was military or civilian: the weapons would indicate the former, but the model of the chopper and the lack of uniforms on its crew would indicate the latter. Well, no matter: they’re obviously painfully inadept flyers, as they claim there’s nowhere to land as they fly over fields of low grass. Both military and civilian aviation is better off without these nincompoops.
Ultimately, the movie manages to guide its drunken ramble towards what I suppose is its climax: SkeletonMan teleports into a chemical manufacturing complex and wreaks havoc. The two remaining soldiers – the leader played by Michael “Merle from The Walking Dead” Rooker in the days before his better break – of course also stumble there, and in the final confrontation manage to destroy him not with guns or grenades, but by blowing the main power source of the plant with SkeletonMan in it.
I guess the moral of the story is: Indian ghosts can be killed with big explosions. Not small. Big.
As the movie draws to a close, the viewer can only be awed at the complete lack of any of the skills required to make a movie displayed by the people responsible. Everything is lacking: plot, dialogue, characters, shooting, acting, special effects, costumes, continuity. I mean, with Infested, at least the actors went for slightly more ambitious than sucking balls, and the movie had momentary flashes of coherence. In SkeletonMan, it is obvious that even the actors didn’t give a flying fuck. Everybody’s doing a rung or two belong the minimum viable acceptable performance, resulting in some pretty absurd scenes; you can almost feel the regret every single actor must have had in being part of this career-staining piece of cinema.
SkeletonMan is a thing of gruesome beauty. I refuse to believe anyone at any stage had any sort of belief or personal investment in this production. Nobody believed they were making anything good or even remotely worth watching, yet like good little drones they performed their menial tasks and a movie got made. And the entirely predictable result of a project where nobody gives a fuck about quality is a trainwreck.
However, in it’s mind-boggling deficiency of absolutely any kind of quality, SkeletonMan rises to become a piece of art. A movie this bad, where every single aspect of it is totally FUBAR, rises above its disfigured self into a piece of trash art. I do want to point out that nothing of this is to the credit of anyone involved in making the movie: they all should be thoroughly ridiculed, lambasted and laughed at. SkeletonMan’s beauty rises from its complete lack of not only quality, but effort and dedication. It’s a very psychedelic, trippy piece of incoherent rambling: the cinematic equivalent of a piss drunk old geezer spinning his stories a couple of hours after his sense left him.
When all things are said, SkeletonMan is one of my favourite movies in this genre of “movies so unbelievably crap one can’t believe they got made”. The viewer remains glued to the screen for the whole duration, wanting to see how much lower the movie can go – and always being surprised by the amazing new lows the crew of SkeletonMan, helmed by director Johnny Martin, can find. And indeed, it is a rabbit hole without end.
If you fancy yourself a cinematic masochist, this is for you. You probably won’t enjoy it, but it’s a heck of a ride.
Summary: SkeletonMan is the kind of bad that requires a new word for it. An absolute must-see turdfest.