Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Gunnar Hansen, Trent Haaga, Elske McCain, Kristin Hansen, Billy Garberina
Directed by Scott Phillips
Imagine if Charlie Manson had a son, a son who decided, late in life, that he wanted to live up to what dear old dad began many years before. I guess it makes sense he’d start off in a small town, gathering a group of willing followers for a good old-fashioned killing spree, right?
Sure, why not?
Such is the basic plot of Gimme Skelter, the new film from Stink of Flesh (review) director Scott Phillips. Why Charlie Manson? I guess because he’s iconic and everyone knows what he did and he was a bit of a leader in his time, wasn’t he? Problem is Phillip Valentine (Garberina) is really just a wannabe mastermind, barely able to control the gaggle of misanthropic ruffians who’re just looking for a night off the old ulta-violence, and its made clear pretty early on that he’s making up the whole “son of Manson” thing.
While the psychos gather for an epic-scale killing, the story of a cheating boyfriend is going down, as well. He’s been with the same (very beautiful) woman for years but for some reason when he bumps into one of the girls following Valentine, he just has to bang her right then and there. In public. So of course his girlfriend sees it all, there’s tension, and he’s thrown out of their house. He soon finds out about the murderous psychos in town looking to off the entire small population (78 people) in one night and desperately spends the rest of the film trying to get back to his lady and save her.
So there’s love and murder, what more do you need? Solid acting helps to pull of the believability of both, actually, and luckily Gimme Skelter has more than it’s fair share. While Garberina isn’t too great, Mark Chavez as the hapless, inexperienced adulterer does a great job throughout. He’s funny, convincing and sympathetic and actually manages to make a somewhat sappy subplot bearable.
Kudos need to go to Phillips and crew for understanding the importance of having strong leads, a factor that’s overlooked by way too many indie filmmakers these days. You have no idea how such a little thing can help move a movie along until you see how detrimental in is when no attention is paid during casting. It also helps when you have a scene such as the one in which Gunnar Hansen’s character is forced to defend himself and his daughter from the killers when they break into his house. It’s the first role I’ve seen Gunnar in for a long time that actually felt like he was acting.
The deaths themselves are actually pretty well executed, as well, and more often than not there is at least some emotional impact. What bothered me about it, though, were the ideals behind the group. Though they were supposed to be paper thin to begin with, it just didn’t make any sense why any of these sickos would go along with the whole Manson Family ideology instead of just making them all crazy. The Manson angle just doesn’t come across as fleshed out enough for it to be the centerpoint of the film as the title implies. Is Gimme Skelter supposed to be a statement on the disassociation of today’s youth? The fruitlessness of trying to recapture the past? Maybe it’s just a statement about why you shouldn’t cheat on your girlfriend in public.
Overall, though, Gimme Skelter is a solid indie film, even if it’s not entirely sure what its trying to be about. I doubt anyone will be viewing it as groundbreaking or revolutionary, but for an indie slasher its got enough attitude and style to set it apart from the rest.
3 1/2 out of 5
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