Ha ha and hoo-doo, it’s Burl, with an eerie tale from the bayou for you! It’s called The Skeleton Key, and it has the distinction of being the very last movie I saw at the very last drive-in movie theatre left in my town before they closed it up for good then bulldozed it to the ground and sowed the ground with salt, probably! If you’re as enamored of movies and the moviegoing experience as I am, you must greatly prize drive-ins; so, good or bad, the last movie you saw at an ozoner (as they were called in Variety-speak) would certainly stick in your mind!
Or so you would assume, ha ha! I could hardly recall a thing about The Skeleton Key, except that it was about the hoo-doo, and it was set largely in a big old house in the swamps! Maybe it was that much of the movie takes place in the dark and the driving rain, a visual design the drive-in projection system was not fully able to illuminate for the car-bound audience! All I could really remember from the picture were some spooky old records playing scratchy ritual noises!
Well, I watched it again recently, and, limited as it is, my memory was accurate! The tale involves a hospice worker played by Kate Hudson who answers an ad to work in a swamp mansion as caregiver to John Hurt, whom we all remember from Only Lovers Left Alive, playing a stroke-ridden and aphasic old duck who looks perpetually terrified! His wife is played by Gena Rowlands, well known from Taking Lives, and there’s a young lawyer lurking about who seems just a little too friendly, and something is weird and suspicious and just plain off about the whole set-up!
The details of what’s going on, once they’re revealed, don’t make complete sense; but in the closing minutes, when the trap is fully sprung, it really has an impact, and you may find yourself thinking about it for some time afterward! The road to that ending is littered with just about every horror movie cliché there is though, and many will find this tiresome! I certainly did: the accumulated impression is one of a horror movie made by people who’ve only just recently watched a few themselves, just to get the feel of it and to collect a few tricks to steal, and who personally don’t much care for the genre! You can see that they’re relying mainly on the ending to carry the whole movie, and for the undiscriminating that approach might just work! But it didn’t work too well for ol’ Burl, ha ha!
So is it a bad picture? Well, it’s a middling-to-bad picture with a decent sting in its tail! There are some compensations along the way: it’s always nice to see Hurt, even if he hardly gets to use his magnificent voice; and Rowlands, though ill-suited to play a Southern belle type, is solid as ever, if a wee bit hammy here and there; and we get a glance at people like Isaach de Bankolé, whom we know from Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, lurking in the margins! There’s a flashback which seems goofy when you watch it, but is horrific in retrospect! The photography is nice and there is occasionally an atmosphere of dripping moss and magnolia blossoms that feels exotic to those of us viewing in the northern reaches of the continent!
In the end it’s a mediocre slice of studio horror, and even its last-act trickery will seem familiar to anyone who has also seen the same writer’s Arlington Road! (I myself have not, but I was told the twist by a friend back when it came out, ha ha!) As I say, I mainly remember the picture for having seen it at the drive-in (on a double bill with Wes Craven’s Red Eye!), and even then I didn’t remember it much! I give The Skeleton Key one and a half memorial key fobs!
The only part I really remember is the (intentionally) horrible ending, but it's fun to see someone like Gena Rowlands in a horror movie! If it's good enough for Olivier...ReplyDelete