The Chattanooga Film Festival: SKULL Makes Skeletor Look Like An Asshole

Faces get sliced, priests have sword fights, a story gets told.

The Chattanooga Film Festival is happening right now and lasts until Monday. Given the state of things, it’s an online festival, so if you purchase your attendance, you get access to a library of online screeners. On top of that, they are having some really cool special presentations. For instance, Alex Winter will be there discussing his documentary ZAPPA, Ice-T will be there with director Ernest Dickerson to talk about their stone cold classic, SURVIVING THE GAME.

But best of all, Phil Nobile Jr. and Meredith Borders will hold a panel about how they made a new issue of FANGORIA when there are no damn movies coming out. Ice-T is cool, but he's not THAT cool.

I’m here to review SKULL from São Paulo, but some other films they’re showing have BMD reviews as well: CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER, KOKO DI KOKO DA, HOMEWRECKER, and JUMBO.

Were SKULL to play as a midnighter at Fantastic Fest or a similar festival, people would have a ton of fun with it. Perhaps you are in quarantine with a bunch of drunken rowdy people. You don’t need that setting to enjoy SKULL, but I bet it would help a lot.

As the title indicates, the film revolves around a skull. An evil, magical skull. An evil, magical skull that can spread tentacles and move around, leaping upon people and eating their hearts. Honestly, you could stop the premise right there, but that’s just the beginning. Eventually the skull takes its main form by jumping onto a big guy’s head and using his body to become a slasher villain.

With its big belly and long curly hair flowing beyond its mask, Skull is a bit more K. The Butcher Shitter than Jason Voorhees in presentation, and I am here for it. In violence too. Each of its kills offers an opportunity to be gross the filmmakers do not pass up. Its favorite move is ripping out hearts, but it’s fond of chopping off faces with a machete as well. The film’s centerpiece arrives when the skull takes out a bunch of people at a nightclub, giving us one gruesome death after another.

SKULL sells itself on this gory slasher stuff - and there is plenty - but it also wants to be a real movie. This isn’t like a Troma effort or one of those silly Noboru Iguchi gorefests. Its 90-minute running time features a real tale of good vs evil and real characters caught up in it. Also: an invincible killer with a machete who chops faces. Everybody wins, even the liberated faces.

We have two mystic guys who want to keep people safe from the skull. Evil corporate goons who wish to use the skull to complete some ritual that involves child sacrifice. And then there is the cop stuck between them, who has no idea what the hell is going on but tries to do her best anyway. These characters have their own backstories, and exploring them makes the narrative feel full rather than some excuse for gore. In fact, things don’t really begin in earnest until about halfway through. It’s obviously not a Hollywood production, but SKULL is legitimate.

I’m not sure all the mythos totally adds up but the characters are interesting. our primary hero in particular. In addition to knowing the lore and being able to handle himself in a fight, he has a hidden magic power which causes pursuers to simply stop chasing him. Twice he outruns the cop after about a block of her trying. But it’s not just her. At one point he walks past a lady and steals her purse (I regret to tell you he steals this purse because he assumes there is a tampon inside and he wants to use it to stop up a bullet wound). The lady makes it about three steps before giving up. It’s not like he’s fast. He runs about medium-old. So that only leaves superpowers. SKULL is a superhero film.

But he can’t outrun ol’ Skull. He and his buddy have these special weapons (one is a severed hand and one is a femur) that are linked with Skull and he wants them back. These confrontations are more action than horror and both are surprisingly well done.

This is all to say, I got a lot more out of SKULL than I expected. It’s quick and fun but it doesn’t feel like empty calories either. I wish we were all watching it in a crowded festival theater together, but you take what you can get. And I love that everyone, not just critics or people with lots of money to spend, can check out films like this, should they desire.