Jason Howard



Review by Jason Howard

Lead Entertainment Writer

And you thought your eczema was bad…

A DIY entry from the maker of Puppet Monster Massacre, Easter Casket, and Night of the Tentacles, The Ballad of Skinless Pete is a no holds barred gorefest with an effective dose of humanity pumping through its veins.  Much like David Cronenberg’s The Fly (if not an influence, a definite reference point to decide if this is your kind of film), you’ll squirm, you’ll scream, and most importantly, you’ll empathize.

Peter Peel (appropriate last name) is an oncologist who has happened upon what he believes could be the cure for cancer in the belly of a rare parasite.  When he cannot obtain funding without proven results, he decides that he will become his own guinea pig and show the world that it works.  His cancer may be gone, but something much worse has taken its place and the monster inside of him is unleashed.

The Ballad of Skinless Pete
Directed by
Dustin Wayde Mills
Brandon Salkil, Erin R. Ryan, Allison Egan, Dave Parker
Release Date
Jason’s Grade: A-

Writer/director Dustin Wayde Mills has quickly crafted a filmography that will have you covered no matter your taste in genre films.  After puppets, zombies, exploitation, slasher, and more, he now gives us his take on the body horror sub-genre.  Unlike many current genre filmmakers, however, Mills has an understanding of what makes those genres so successful and why we keep coming back to them time and time again.  Anyone can put a couple of scratches on their film stock and call it grindhouse, but if you leave out the heart, it rings shallow.

After a familiar setup of a scientist forced to experiment upon himself when he cannot legally or morally find another test subject, we’re thrust immediately into Pete’s descent into madness.  In fact, the insanity sets in perhaps a bit too quickly for most viewers, but considering how densely packed the film is, this is easily forgiven (and, in fact, we do get an especially gory flashback that fills in a lot of those holes for us).  As Pete, Mills regular Brandon Salkil (also co-writer here) is forced to carry a large part of the weight upon his heavily exposed shoulders, and is more than up to the task.  He handles a surprisingly complex and tormented character journey with an impressive display of pathos and self-destruction.  You’ll both fear Pete and fear for him.

As Pete’s long time friend, unrequited love interest, scientific partner, and captive, Erin R. Ryan (the also quite good Babysitter Massacre) turns in a performance that is able to match the tour-de-force of our lead. In a film with only four characters, Ryan is the other large presence and provides a grounding for the craziness running throughout. Her Alice Cross wants no part of what Pete is planning to do, but she also cares enough for him not to let him do it on his own. It also helps that she has perfected the classic horror movie girl scream (an element lost in much modern horror). The only two other characters (well, besides the dog) in the film don’t have much screen time, but Allison Egan (as Pete’s latest female conquest) and Dave Parker (the aforementioned funding source for Pete’s experiments) provide ample support in this almost two-person show.

For horror fans, Mills is sure to deliver on what you’re looking for.  There’s plenty of gore and a healthy dose of T & A (from 3 of the film’s 4 stars) running throughout.  As stated, the effects work is suitably gory for the subject matter and the design and music (complete with a Skinless Pete theme song) helps set the mood appropriately.  The editing and cinematography keep the pace clipping along nicely and uses the limited setting quite effectively.  There is, perhaps, a bit too much shaky cam early in the proceedings, but it definitely doesn’t take anything away and does go a ways towards thrusting you into the middle of the drama that is unfolding.

Jason’s Final Thoughts:

A great DIY body horror movie from a filmmaker who has been churning out quality genre pics for several years now, The Ballad of Skinless Pete is a movie that balances originality with homage.  While watching, I couldn’t help but be reminded a bit of The Fly, Jekyll and Hyde, Street Trash, Darkman, and, to a lesser degree, Hellraiser (something about that attic) and Return of the Living Dead (a particularly entertaining scene that I won’t reveal here).  Each of those films is a genre classic, so Skinless Pete is certainly in good company.  If you want a little more from your horror movie than just blood and guts (but, want that too), then I highly recommend checking this one out.

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