The Skeleton Key DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

A finely crafted horror movie that is bolstered by some very solid performances.
  • OVERALL
    4.0
    GREAT
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
A finely crafted horror movie that is bolstered by some very solid performances.
THE BAD
More bonus features than the back cover lets on. The front cover seems thrown together.
THE FEATURE
The Skeleton Key was a film that when I first saw the trailer for it I wasn't too sure what to expect. In it's initial previews the movie looked like it was going to be one of those "dark" films that revealed some chills every so often in order to heighten the mood. Then, the more I saw of these previews, I was won over (which I am assuming was the intent of the people who made the movie) but still missed the film when it played in theaters.

I must admit admit that The Skeleton Key, while somewhat what I expected in terms for the aforementioned "chills," was really a very well crafted movie. Iain Softley did a very fine job of creating a mood that didn't get bogged down by all of the "impending doom," yet was also rich with the culture of the people of Louisiana. In light of all the events that have happened their recently, this added an almost eery quality to the way that this movie played. Also, Kate Hudson, John Hurt and Gena Rowlands seem to be having a great time in a movie that it is clear that they care about. Also, there are a great deal more "Bonus Features" than the back cover of this DVD lets on. I was also impressed that they weren't hastily done or quickly put together.

Like Angel Heart before it (and even The Big Easy), The Skeleton Key mixes many different elements of the horror/southern film genres to create a gumbo that tastes real sweet, cher.
THE EXTRAS
Deleted Scenes; "Making Of" and "Exploring Hoodoo/Voodoo"

These Deleted Scenes are done in a very interesting manner because they were treated (to me anyway) as if they were their own separate film. They can also be watched with Director Iain Softley talking over them. This was one of the first times that I have watched deleted scenes and wished that they were in the movie. These are very rich and seem like they actually could have added something to the tale. The Making Of is essentially your garden variety "he said/she said" about what went on on the set. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but not a bad way to get an overview on the film if you want to know what kind of horror movie it is. Lastly, Exploring Hoodoo/Voodoo looks at those ever elusive religions that I have heard about my whole life. If this "bonus" piece does nothing else it will illuminate how deep these religions go in terms of their history and lore.

Making the Perfect Gumbo; Blues In the Bayou and Kate Hudson's Ghost Story

Making the Perfect Gumbo is exactly that. We are shown all the ingredients that are put together to make this "stew." I have eaten gumbo on a few occasions, and while I love it if there is a lot of seafood in it, on the whole it just doesn't sit well in my stomach. Blues on the Bayou looks at the music of The Skeleton Key. It doesn't just focus on blues but rather all the music that has been created for this move. On top of this, it even looks at the music that is popular in the region where this movie takes place. As a fan of the cajun music that I have heard, I especially appreciated this piece. Kate Hudson's Ghost Story is pretty scary but probably would have been scarier if I had watched it late at night. In a nutshell, she was in England with her mom and they found out that the house they were renting was haunted by a young boy.

Plantation Life; Casting "The Skeleton Key" and John Hurt's Story

The Plantation Life feature was a very enlightening look at what life was like for slaves on the plantation. Hearing these people's stories, it seems incredible that this ever happened in this country. That said, it did happen and it wasn't too long ago, which might be the scariest aspect of all. Casting "The Skeleton Key gives us the actor and film's creators talking about why they felt that the chosen actors were perfect in their roles. This falls along the lines of the Making Of piece and is interesting because we also get the hear the actor's take on the material. John Hurt's Story deals with slavery and he reads it from a book. If this guy hasn't done voiceover work or "Books On Tape," that is a crime because I could listen to him talk for hours.

A House Called Felicity; Gena's Love Spell and Director's Commentary

They built a house for the movie, created locations and this is all on display in A House Called Felicity. This is one of those rare movies that doesn't look unique when you watch the trailers, but seeing the film you come to understand that you are watching something special. The fact that they created a lot of things for this movie really help set it apart, and give it a sense of authenticity. Gena's Love Spell has her reading about how we can get the people we love or like to think "sweet" thoughts about us. It seems fitting that John Cassavetes' wife would read about love, as that was the essential core element of his films. Lastly, I did not like the Director's Commentary with Iain Softley. I think rather than tell us what we are seeing on screen, or talking about the characters like he did, I would much rather have heard development or "on set" stories instead. This is something that they could have left off the DVD and I never would have missed it.
THE VIDEO
Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1. Iain Softley caught my eye way back when he first made the movie Hackers. Not that there was anything that amazing about the movie, it just had a certain frenetic style to it. The Skeleton Key is a complete 180 in terms of it's style, look and pacing. This film is slow but it in a good way. It really builds on the characters and gives the story the room it needs to let the events unfold. Also, there is a sharpness to the picture but I loved that this movie was classically told. There isn't a great deal of unnecessary style and this lends the movie an even "creepier" dynamic.
THE AUDIO
Dolby Digital 5.1 - English, Spanish and French. Subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The sound is utilized to create mood and also elicit fear. However, none of the setups (as far as fear is concerned) are done in a way that I saw coming. That is what I think was so interesting about this film. It is a horror movie but it really is about the characters who make up this film. I also loved that things didn't feel too stagey, or that I was simply watching actors in a scene. Sure, this movie is very stylized and the players have been photographed in a certain way for a reason, but everything seems to serve the story AND the characters. It was really nice seeing a movie that got it all right.
THE PACKAGE
I really think they blew it with the packaging. Had they stuck with the more stylized images instead of making Kate Hudson so prominent on the cover, I really think this would look a lot better. Don't misunderstand, I like Hudson as much as the next guy. I just think that in a movie like this, the more mystery you can evoke, the better. The back features one stylized shot and then 3 shots from the movie. There is a description of what The Skeleton Key is about, as well as a "Bonus Features" listing, a cast list and some technical specs. There are a lot more extras on this DVD than are listed out on this DVD's cover, and I just think overall, in an image sense, they really should have left more to the imagination.
THE FINAL WORD
There is something about Kate Hudson that really impresses me. I don't know why I feel this way as truthfully, I don't think she does anything that different than many of today's actresses. There is just a quality about her that makes me believe her performances more than many of her contemporaries. Also, she seems very much at home in the horror genre (and she even touches on this in one of the "Bonus" pieces) and as result it's like watching someone in a film and visually seeing that they're proud of it.

The Skeleton Key is the kind of movie that after you screen it stays with you. It prays on the very simple setup of the real world, mixing with a world of the fantastical and as a result this unnervingly makes anything possible.

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