Spooky Movie Festival 2015: “Crush the Skull” Reviewed

Posted by Michael Parsons on October 9, 2015 in , / No Comments


Four burglars get the surprise of a lifetime when a poorly orchestrated robbery lands them inside a serial killer’s hermetically sealed murder den.

The inventive horror/comedy “Crush the Skull” comes from “iZombie” contributor Viet Nguyen based on his own 2010 short, and finds thieving couple Ollie and Blair (Nguyen’s co-writer Chris Dinh and Katie Savoy) in the midst of their “one last job” before retirement. Unfortunately, the robbery goes south when the job is interrupted by an adulterous couple and a subsequent double homicide, orchestrated by the jealous husband who somewhat resembles Matt Frewer’s mid-transformation character from the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. When the cops show up, the two then find themselves deeply indebted to a guy who “calculates his late fees in body parts” after Ollie is bailed out of jail.

MV5BMTkxNDg4OTAxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI1MjAwNjE@._V1_SX214_AL_The only way for them to get out of the red is to team up with Blair’s brother Connor (Chris Riedell), who has a beef with Ollie over some past occurrence, and Connor’s half-witted one-man “crew” Riley (Tim Chiou), who needs money for his girlfriend’s boob job. The plan is cut-and-dry:  rob a remote house they’ve been casing for a couple of weeks, while Ollie gets relegated to watchdog duty in exchange for being allowed to tag along. What awaits them might prove to be bad karma rearing its ugly head for Ollie and Blair, as the group realizes that they are trapped inside a sterile, unfurnished residence that reflects poorly on Connor’s recon skills, since the only thing of value seems to be the impenetrable bullet-proof glass that stands between them and their freedom.

If one could find humor in such a scenario, which recalls films like”Silence of the Lambs”, “Saw”, “Kiss the Girls” and vaguely “13 Ghosts”, without compromising its inherent freakiness, then director Nguyen has flat-out nailed that delicate balance that even many big-time horror filmmakers can’t seem to find. Things get worse when the group discovers a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms outfitted for torturous experiments. One such chamber contains a victim (Lauren Reeder) of the yet unseen psychopath (Walt Bost), a woman who has developed — well, let’s just say a few trust issues during her time imprisoned there.

With a twist or two and one morbid revelation, “Crush the Skull” doesn’t go a minute that doesn’t ooze creativity, whether it be the sharp, hilarious dialogue, stellar camerawork from Tuan Quoc Le and John Nguyen, creepy set design, or the terrific cast, who, amidst the mishmash of horror and humor, manage to convince us that their characters are worth caring about. Dare I say that the film is more believable than your typical slasher flick? Maybe not the scene in which the model-esque Savoy tries to pass herself off as a house painter in its opening robbery attempt (suggesting the film might push for full-on parody, which it doesn’t). But “Crush the Skull” is surprisingly logical for the genre blend, as Nguyen keeps the suspense escalating while the group’s circumstances grow increasingly dire.

Catch the 7:30 PM showing of “Crush the Skull” tonight at at the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival  at AFI Silver.

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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