"Bad" Horror Movie: Skeleton Man
A brief synopsis of this cringe-worthy film
In this horrendously bad Syfy original horror film (made back in 2004 when the network was still marketing itself as Sci-Fi), the main antagonist is a skeletal figure in a black cloak, riding on horseback, that terrorizes both the civilian world and a group of Army personnel on a special mission. Systematically, each member of the force is picked off by this fiend, whom an old Native American man calls, "Cottonmouth Joe," for no apparent reason. Implied in the plot is the cause for the fiend's cursed revival in that his skull has been exhumed from its resting place by an archaeologist.
That's basically the entire movie, with the ending left out for any of you who, for some reason, would like to see this film. Not very much occurs in this film. It's basically a poorly configured slasher film with a semblance of a backstory. In fact, the film is so laughable in places that, according to The Internet Movie Database, the film is marketed as a horror-comedy in Germany rather than as just a strict horror film as it is in the United States.
Skeleton Man Trailer
Ideas You May Have Seen Before
The idea of a cursed artifact bringing about a ghostly and/or evil antagonist is an idea that has played out in many horror movies, such as in The Exorcist with the Ouija board releasing the demon that then inhabits Regan (Linda Blair.) The concept isn't even reserved exclusively for horror movies, but spans a wide array of genres, especially action/adventure (the Indiana Jones films). The primary antagonist of Skeleton Man is not at all original, either. He is a skeletal figure in a black cloak on horseback, a la Washington Irving's Headless Horseman. If the antagonist only had a scythe, then he'd look exactly like popular depictions of the Grim Reaper or personified Death. There's certainly nothing original there.
The classic concept of the Grim Reaper figure
Unique twists on old concepts
Although I have seen a few horror movies that utilize the idea of a group of military soldiers being pursued by a malevolent creature (Dog Soldiers, 2002), the concept isn't worn out enough to be warranted a cliché. It adds a different dynamic, placing trained fighters in the path of supernatural evil. It gives the viewer a false sense of security when the good guys have dozens of weapons, including machine guns, and combat knowledge. Therefore, when the good guys are systematically destroyed, the film then has the potential of being even more devastating and terrifying. However, this film does not accomplish that feat in the end.
Native American folklore has also had its place in horror movies (Pet Sematary, Poltergeist), but, again, not frequently enough to become a cliched idea. This movie takes on the idea of Native American culture and warps it into a terribly insensitive depiction of Native American peoples, illustrating them as either bloody groups of savages or as inebriated, mentally-soft old men sitting cross-legged in the woods, babbling incoherently about "Cotton Mouth Joe." Sherman Alexie could write a whole essay about these cultural faux pas against Native Americans.
- Skeleton Man (TV 2004) - IMDb
Directed by Johnny Martin. With Jackie Debatin, Eric Etebari, Jonathon Klein, Robert Miano. A co-ed group of Special Forces agents search the wilderness for a predator type creature that has been on a killing spree.
Despite how boring it is, the movie has a lot of technical and thespian strengths. For a low-budget film, the special effects, as a rule of thumb, are great, especially with the guns and the many, many explosions that occur. The blood-spattering is gratuitous yet believable, and the same goes for the firing of automatic weaponry. The music is excellent; it is jarring and eerily danceable, swelling at the right places to heighten the suspense. The sound work is consistent and clear, and the sound effects are neither hokey nor underwhelming.
The acting of the main characters is good. It isn't wooden or overdone. There is good chemistry between the actors, which makes for believable dialogue. The writing isn't bad, either. Despite all these positive attributes, the movie is boring and uninspiring.
The location of the filming is easily the best part of the movie. The area is beautiful, with lush plants and trees creating a beautiful woodland. An aerial shot of a waterfall is included in the film, which is just a breathtaking view, especially to be included in an otherwise boring horror movie.
Although the movie has many strengths, they all come with a weakness. In spite of the special effects with the guns and explosions being apt, the film comes to rely too much on them, detracting from the suspense that could naturally be made by playing off the natural psychological fear of being vulnerable and pursued. The sound is excellent, but the camera work falls behind. There are cheap tricks which stick out to the discerning eye, such as swirling and spinning the camera to convey panic and confusion.
It's true that the acting by the main characters is good, but it is consistently undercut by bit actors swooping in with terrible performances. Just as I would begin to get into the story, a bit actor will come in and negate all the growing confidence I had for the movie. However, we cannot blame the bit actors entirely for such a failed movie. The main actors are to blame as well. Although the acting by the main actors was good, overall, there are some niggling issues that serve to destroy my faith in the characters. There is a coldness and a limited sense of urgency with the soldiers, which makes it not nearly as upsetting when one of them dies. If we don't like the characters, why should we care if they die? Granted, some of this goes back to the writing and the idea that they are soldiers who are meant to stay cool, calm, and collected. There is cold dialogue as governed by the script, such as such hokey yet heartless comments as "If you see it, I can shoot it" and "If it breathes, I can kill it." I found the characters themselves to be cold and uninviting, which contributed to my boredom with the movie.
A close-up of the antagonist
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Parting thoughts and scorecard
I will probably not find myself watching this movie again any time soon, or ever again, really. The main problem with it is that it's boring. I had to persuade myself from turning it off several times throughout the duration of the film, because I just didn't care what happened in the end, if good triumphed over evil. The problem with the film is that it's bad because it's just mediocre. It's in the middle ground. It's neither laughably terribly nor excellently scary. It lacks any potential for camp or cult movie status. It's just blah.
Overall, I'd give the film a heartbreaking 3 out of 10. Even Casper Van Dien's sexiness couldn't redeem this movie.