Despite strong performances, considerable nostalgic charm and a great setup, “Skeletons in the Closet” falls short of its enormous potential.
Skeletons in the Closet is the name of a late night horror TV show featuring The Widow and her dead husband, Charlie, who provide Elvira-like commentary to B-horror movies. Jamie, an 11 year old girl with a slight obsession with horror, is the their biggest fan and never misses an episode. Her horror viewing pleasure is interrupted when her parents go out for the night and leave her with an annoying new babysitter, Tina. Will Tina ruin Jamie’s night? Or is Tina in for a surprise? Find out in Skeletons in the Closet!
I absolutely loved the beginning of this film! The first 15 minutes are some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had this year watching a horror movie.
The spot on 1980’s feel and set up and introduction to Jamie and her favorite show, Skeletons in the Closet, took me right back to when I was a kid staying up late to watch “Tales From the Crypt” on Saturday nights. Alaina Karner gives a wonderful performance as Jamie, and she reminded me a lot of Drew Barrymore in E.T.
Ellie Church as The Widow also does a fantastic job in the film, and I would love to see more of her character along with her dead husband co-host, Charlie (Adam Michaels).
The two have a very entertaining relationship that had me thinking, “get these two a web series!” Rounding out the strong start to the film was Elizabeth Stenholt as Tina, Jamie’s babysitter. Stenholt nails the gum smacking, bored, Punky Brewster-ish 80’s kid and reminded me of a young Jill Schoelen (Popcorn, The Stepfather).
With this set up, everything about the film seemed to be firing on all cylinders, and I was excited for what was to come. At this point, the film shifts gears to focus on “Chop Shop”, the anthology film being presented by The Widow and her dead husband on Skeletons in the Closet with Jamie watching on in delight and Tina rolling her eyes. This is where the film stumbles and failed to live up to its magical start.
Jamie and her horror themed show had a wonderful 1980’s vibe with the filmmakers going out of their way to create a VHS look with ‘ADJUST YOUR TRACKING’ messages and static lines traveling down the screen. Everything was perfect, and I loved every minute of those scenes. Despite being presented on a beat up looking VHS tape, when Chop Shop becomes the focus, the film feels and looks like a horror movie from today. It didn’t gel at all with the show Skeletons in the Closet presenting it or in the world of Jamie watching it.
This mismatch in style and drastic change in tone left me confused. It also didn’t help matters that Chop Shop wasn’t nearly as interesting as the set up or the characters introduced early on. The first film of the anthology Chop Shop is somewhat interesting and has a passable 1980’s vibe. The following 2 parts just don’t share the same aesthetic, and it really brings down the enjoyment of the movie. The more screen time that was used up on Chop Shop, the less interested in the film I became.
The little girl, Jamie, is underutilized to a fault. She’s adorable and captures the little kid in all of us staying up late watching horror movies. As the film cuts back to Jamie during commercial breaks, a news bulletin warns of an escaped patient from a mental institute in her town. However, the script never really follows up on this in any meaningful way.
The more interesting moments are with Jamie and her babysitter, and it’s a shame that those moments and story are cut so short for the less interesting Chop Shop film. It could have been a lot of fun if the film shifted gears again to focus on how Jamie and Tina would deal with the escaped mental patient. However, there is a nice little surprise at the end that I didn’t see coming.
Perhaps, if the film within the film had the same 1980’s aesthetic as everything else in the movie, Skeletons in the Closet could have been a huge winner.
It’s just a shame that such effort and great attention to detail felt lost when paired with the forgettable film within the film. Skeletons in the Closet is not entirely a film to write off: it did create some pretty cool characters and have some great moments. Although as a whole I didn’t very much like the film, I’m intrigued enough by The Widow and her dead husband, Charlie, to see if Skeletons in the Closet could win me over with another presentation.