Skeleton Key, The (DVD)

Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard

Directed by Iain Softley

Released by Universal Home Video

Well, scare it up, baby now. Scare it up, baby! Twist and… twist, and twist, and twist some more. If there is one thing you can expect from any mainstream PG-13 horror film nowadays, it’s that it probably will have a twist ending, and Universal’s The Skeleton Key is no exception.

The film takes place in a pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, where we find a hospice worker played by Kate Hudson that is at a crossroads in her life. The pressure and sadness of watching her patients pass on with little to no recognition from their respective families finally catches up with her, so she decides that it’s time to seek out a new career — taking care of a dying patient outside of the hospice environment! I know, doesn’t make much sense, but hey, it’s a movie! You want reality, turn on the news. Wait, you won’t find it there either. Try The Daily Show with Jon Stewart! There ya go! Now back to our fright flick. Upon arriving at her new place of employment, Hudson soon realizes that something is severely amiss. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, she is deeply embroiled in the world of Hoodoo — and on her way to the aforementioned twist ending.

All in all, The Skeleton Key is a decent enough ride. The sound design is spot on, the story is enjoyable, the direction is competent, and the acting really helps carry the film along. Seeing screen veterans like John Hurt and Gena Rowlands hammering out the chills really does my heart good. Hudson does her best to keep up with such cinema heavyweights, but the one thing that really steals the show in The Skeleton Key is the scenery. Seeing New Orleans in all of its glory cannot help but make you feel sad in light of recent events. We can only hope that the city will one day be returned to its former beauty.

That being said, let’s talk about what you’re reading this for, the DVD extras. Universal is a weird company. They have a really nagging habit of including A LOT of extras on their DVD’s, the only problem being that hardly any of them have a run time over five minutes. Before you know it, you have seemingly plowed through what looks like an extensive list of extras, all in about half an hour. It’s like “Short Attention Span Theatre.” True, you never get bored, but you never really get into anything either. What’s here is a bit of a mixed bag, too, including some real nonsense.

In an attempt to capture that real New Orleans flavor, a lot of featurettes have been compiled that really add nothing to the experience of the film itself. Do we really need to see someone go shopping for the ingredients to make a good gumbo and then go home and cook it? I sat there scratching my head over that one. Then we get to watch Kate Hudson talk about a ghostly experience she had when she was a little girl. Ummm. Ok. Things do get a bit meatier when the film itself is spoken about in the form of some pretty cool behind-the-scenes stuff along with cast and crew interviews. It’s always good to hear filmmakers refer to their project as a horror film and not a psychological thriller with supernatural overtones, whatever the hell that means. The best of the extras is an extended scene that was trimmed to obtain a PG-13 rating — the lynching scene. America has a dark past. Though the run time of this unabridged scene is only a couple of minutes, the subject matter is powerful enough to make you reflect for a bit, and reflect you will. Everything is then topped off with a commentary track by director Softley that is a bit on the dry side.

When all is said and done, this ends up being a fairly uneven package. The film itself is what shines brightest on this DVD, and in the end I guess that’s all that really matters. Fans of The Skeleton Key will no doubt eat this package up, but me, I just can’t shake the feeling that I have been served an entire bowl of semi-tainted gumbo.

Special Features
Commentary by director Iain Softley
Deleted scenes with commentary by Softley
Production featurettes “Behind the Locked Door – Making The Skeleton Key” and “Casting The Skeleton Key
Short featurettes “Exploring Voodoo/Hoodoo” (on the history of Hoodoo and the religion of Voodoo), “Blues in the Bayou” (the music),”Plantation Life” (the history of plantations), and “A House Called Felicity” (locations)
A ghost story by Kate Hudson
A love spell from Gena Rowlands
John Hurt reading a disturbing excerpt from the book “Voices from Slavery
A video Gumbo Recipe

2 ½ out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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