Skeletons in the Closet (2024)

Skeletons in the Closet Review

Skeletons in the Closet (2024)

Anthology efforts of the strange and ambitious kind are a love letter to VCR horror and the grindhouse genre, but they need work on their rough edges and structure.

Campy episodic anthology horror is a beautiful thing; even when it’s messy, it’s truly delightful when a team of writers and directors that unabashedly love horror and all its trappings decide to craft something together. While the onslaught of content from the various anthology horror efforts out there may take away some of its impact, it’s still exciting to see this type of storytelling stay alive.

I’m the kind of person that routinely decompresses by throwing on a random installment of Tales From the Crypt, Tales From the Darkside or Monsters every night, so I am very much the audience for something like Skeletons in the Closet. That being said, quite honestly the whole retro ‘80s pastiche angle has sort of been done to death at this point but that doesn’t mean that it should be wholly off limits rather filmmakers just have to have an actual reason for throwing back to this decade and know that alone won’t be enough. Successfully emulating the pulpy grindhouse experience, “Skeletons in the Closet” presents a number of over-the-top archetypal horror tales with plenty of loving commentary on the genre itself happening along the way.

“Skeletons in the Closet” begins with Jamie (Ellie Church), a young kid who reads pulpy horror comics as she waits with her babysitter Tina (Elizabeth Stenholt) for late-night horror programming to commence; all very aware of itself and its tone (“Channel 13 fuck yeah!”). Say what you will about this movie, but “Skeletons in the Closet” knows exactly what it wants to be. The film makes use of a reasonably clever frame narrative where you watch IN-show “Skeletons in the Closet” along with Jamie and Tina; you react along with them and get to check in between each segment, with Jamie’s babysitter very much stepping in as the uninformed audience surrogate. It’s like if “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” was mashed together with “V/H/S.” This also contributes to a very casual, hangout vibe, which is great for a movie of this nature.

“Skeletons in the Closet” has a strangely reflexive quality since the characters in the IN-film are also watching horror films so you get to hear their banter and commentary on what they’re watching AS Jamie and her babysitter then do the same thing TO them so you’re watching characters watching characters watching characters. If all of this isn’t enough, there’s an escaped killer on the loose which adds extra danger to the frame narrative, turning it into its own horror film it’s a strangely ambitious structure but it works more than it doesn’t; though you could’ve easily just set this within “Skeletons in the Closet” or removed one of these frame narratives to little consequence. The tone between the hosts of “Skeletons in the Closet” is pretty hokey/tongue-in-cheek humorous and cute like Elvira that acts as a nice way to occasionally relieve tension. All together creating a very variety show-like quality.

B.A. Lewandowski and Tony Wash may not be old hands but are at least relatively new to the world of horror movies, and this rawness is evident sometimes; yet it’s also a lot of fun. It positively screams 80s film, complete with the grainy grindhouse feel that comes from making everything look cheaper than it is. That part’s easy though isn’t it? Still appreciated all the same. Sometimes on screen certain aesthetic touches will pop up like a VCR tracking menu just for kicks and to throw you back into that basement horror atmosphere.

On this note, the movie also makes extensive use of a frenetic ADD-stricken channel-surfing aesthetic; so much so at times that it feels like a horror-themed interdimensional cable episode of Rick and Morty which isn’t necessarily a bad idea but it’s an interesting one. There are times when it’s just snippets of horror trailers playing or evocative images flashing across the screen before moving onto something else entirely there’s even a particularly distracting segment that is ostensibly a sizzle reel montage featuring footage from actual retro horror classics such as The House on Haunted Hill and The Wasp Woman among others clearly meant to display our love for this subset of horror but there are more original ways to do so. Also sometimes the static-y channel changing effect can be a little much, and we could stand to be more confident in ourselves as filmmakers and not feel like we have to rely on these flashy touches quite so often.

The film can also genuinely confuse itself at times if only in terms of following along where stylistic touch occasionally overpowers narrative itself (like when the first story uses cartoonish green mist transitions that don’t connect with anything happening narratively speaking), or character will come out and explain what happened in the film they watched because they can; cute yes, still able to make connections clear without characters having to explain them? We should hope so.

There are essentially four short films that make up the bulk of Skeletons in the Closet. They all thematically link together and connect in some fashion, which is nice, but they each stand on their own completely as well. One story follows a mother and daughter’s stay at their ornery grandma’s creepy house (who may or may not be a cannibal). It really nails that creepy overbearing grandma vibe; there are visuals of her eating glass and peeling off her face that genuinely unnerve you. Some other scares throughout the film may fall flat, but it’s safe to say that there will be at least a few images from this movie that stick with you after you’ve watched it.

The following stories are less interesting than the ones before them, but they have their moments. One is about misogyny, abuse, and revenge. It might not be much of a story and it goes more for the bloody and sensationalistic, but it gets out before it can overstay its welcome. It’s short but packs a punch. Then there’s the flashy, gangster heist-type that’s dripping in machismo and testosterone but never nails the tension it wants to create. It ends up as a sort of haunted hitman story which is like a horror-skewing take on The Punisher, but they never really bring the material where it needs to be brought. This is by far the weakest of the stories and could probably benefit from being cut in half and using that time to flesh the second story into more of a narrative or throw in one last bonkers entry.

All performance-wise they are all pretty melodramatic big but that’s what they’re going for here on atmosphere. Sometimes this can go too far into cringe-worthy tone-deaf territory but for the most part the performances fit with b-movie vibe it wants to create. Jamie and her babysitter do best job outta all them though. Also from an aesthetic standpoint there are some really beautiful shots in this film as well as some impressive cinematography that comes forward at unexpected moments too. Like for example color is used in some gorgeous ways evocative of Bava or Argento’s earlier works during first major story of film. Also features serviceable music that fits movie well enough without being amazing.

More than anything else Skeletons in Closet feels like a movie about storytelling in its many forms and how we like to get scared and scare others I think. There’s a point about mid-way through where they take break watching their horror film to recant scary local urban legend about escaped killer while actual killer watches stalks them turns them into his own entertainment all while you the audience are also watching this play out as cohesive movie so many different types of horror stories stumble over each other in this moment all want scare their respective audience but they all reflect various ways craft a story .

Skeletons in the Closet is not a perfect horror movie by any means, but it’s hard to stay mad at something this well-intentioned; it presents several entertaining stories and never stops throwing things at you. Mutants, cannibals, homicidal children, escaped mental patients and jokey winks at necrophilia there’s no limit here. The enthusiasm carries it along, though Skeletons in the Closet is one of those horror movies where I like what it’s trying to do more than what it actually does. Lewandowski, Wash and Hlousek all show promise as horror filmmakers and I’d like to see them take on something with a little more restraint and patience. Hell, why not turn Skeletons in the Closet into an actual anthology TV show? If anything, that would only expand their love for the genre.

Watch Skeletons in the Closet For Free On Gomovies.

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