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Skullduggery

Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Review: May ‘05 – The Fecal Film Festival

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My movie collection features a cornucopia of celluloid toxic waste, from the films of Corey Haim to one starring Chuck Norris as a red body hair-sporting master of kung-fu. Out of all my terrible titles, however, one stands heads above the rest as being my crown jewel. Skullduggery, a Canadian horror film released in 1983, takes this honor. It is truly the worst video I can profess to owning, and even though it’s nearly unwatchable, I love it for being so ungodly horrible.

The festivities begin with the opening credits, which are accompanied by what I can only call the single best theme song ever created. The tune, aptly titled Skullduggery, is sung by a bunch of wailing men and women who could probably carry a bull elephant in a tea cozy better than a tune. At the same time a deranged madman pounds out a blaring, teeth-gnashing melody on his keyboard with the rock band from Hell. And as if this were not enough, we’re exposed to these genius lyrics.

Can you read what’s in my mind?

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Tearing up my mind!

Heavy breath!

Passion in your eyes!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

I just found the clue, it’s all gone!

YEAH!

I can see what’s in your head!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Feeling just ahead!

Killer’s smile!

Now I understand!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Skull-dugg-er-y!

Shattered hopes and dreams all fall down!

YEAH!

I feel bad for you readers who will never experience the sheer oddity of the Skullduggery theme song, for you are truly unlucky. It’s a fantastic example of bargain basement music, so I would suggest trying to find it online. You won’t be disappointed, I assure you, but your ears may implode in the process.

To be sure, Skullduggery is quite possibly the most confusing movie ever made. This is evidenced by its opening scene, set in Canterbury, England in 1382. We are shown a foreboding castle (well, “shown” is a loose term since the film is so badly lit half the time), wherein lies a gloomy looking guard. Another guard approaches, and though his lips do not move we hear a voice saying something to the effect of, “Tonight the master will cease control.” This voice then says a Latin expression meaning “So the Devil help me.” Don’t worry about missing this phrase the first time, since it’s repeated to the point of nausea throughout the rest of the picture.

In the next shot a woman, kneeling before a small cauldron, is handed an apple by someone off-screen. She pulls a small needle out of the cauldron, places it inside the fruit, and gives it to a man whose head seems to have been covered with gold paint. He hands her another apple, which gets its own needle. Then he gives her a cross, which she stares at and returns so he can kiss it and present to a ridiculous looking jester puppet. The man refers to this puppet as the “Spirit of Evil,” giving it thanks for…something.

Cut to a king and queen, the former approving Italian armor shortly before his two guards are stabbed to death by Gold Head Man. The king is then forced to draw a Tarot card, which carries the Death symbol, as well as pick an apple. The man claims only one is poisoned, but we already know the game is fixed. Oddly enough, though the man uses the term “poisoned,” I wouldn’t call putting a needle inside the fruit poisoning it, would you? Eh, never mind. It doesn’t ultimately matter because the woman stabs the king after taking a bite out of the apple. Talk about a waste of time!

The queen, whose reaction to this entire scene has been one of frozen boredom, is told by the man that he gave her husband power in exchange for his throne. Somehow the king betrayed the man, thus resulting in his death, so now the soul of the queen’s unborn child must be given as payment. The man also puts a curse on all of the child’s descendents, pointing at the queen and speaking the Latin phrase from earlier. She faints (or dies, it’s not really clear), and we fade to black.

Now the setting is “Trottelville, U.S.A. 1982,” where Adam, our grim-faced hero, is met by his friend Barbara. Barbara wears a truly awful outfit consisting of a gray fedora, mittens, and a scarf that wraps around her head and is attached to two dangling mounds that look like white ferrets. A nurse at the local hospital, Barbara claims a scalpel turned into a knife similar to the one used in a Dungeons and Dragons type game she and Adam play often. As this is happening, a painting of Adam and Eve is taken out of a display window while two kids in bad knight costumes sword fight.

There’s even more symbolism throughout the film, and what’s so infuriating is that none of it seems to mean anything whatsoever. When Adam and Barbara go to the costume shop her dad owns and he works at, for example, a bald fellow in a gray jump suit walks through the shot. The back of his suit features a blank Tic-Tac-Toe board. When he walks by a second time, an X has been placed on this board. Also, an old woman tries on a tutu, and later a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Bull try on bunny costumes. Why? Who knows! None of it makes any sense!

The game, it turns out, is nothing more than a cheap cardboard castle glued to a flimsy piece of painted plastic. All rounds of this game are played in the dingy basement of the costume shop, and the players include a middle aged guy, a pervert named Jake who makes random sexual comments, and a black guy who gets about two lines. When Adam is asked who he wants to play, he blandly states, “I wanna be the warlock.” Man, this guy’s performance is riveting. He just emotes so well! At first he was grim and stoic, but now he’s obviously bored and malaise-ridden.

A few minutes later, when Adam repeats the Latin phrase about the Devil, we see the same jester puppet mysteriously fall from a nail on the wall. When Adam looks back, it is once again hanging peacefully. Dun, dun, dun! Confused but still looking incredibly unimpressed, he rolls a dice to determine his character’s stats. Barb is amazed when our boy rolls a 7 for Charisma, breathlessly stating it’s the highest score she’s ever seen. Will this come into play later? No.

The game eventually wraps up, but not after Adam notices a red light shining in the cardboard castle. No one else sees the light, of course, because they didn’t see the jester falling from his perch, either. Is the light explained? No, that would be silly. Adam stays behind while the gang shuffles out of the smoky basement, and he tries out the Latin curse on a painting of rabbits. Shockingly, one of the rabbits begins to bleed red food coloring. The horror…the horror!

Are you starting to understand why this movie would make an audience want to pull their hair out? Director Ota Richter, who also plays Tic-Tac-Toe Man, has made a film that is completely incomprehensible. He throws images and concepts at us, hoping something in the mix will stick and create some sort of message. A man shrouded in shadows and backlit fog pulls puzzle pieces out of a box and places them in a frame to form the same Adam and Eve painting from the store window. Obviously Richter wants the importance of the Genesis story to shine through, but heaven help me if I know why he stresses it so much. Sure, our hero’s name is Adam, but who cares?

In the next scene, Adam is helping students at the Trottelville Junior College get into costume for their big talent show. We’re shown two guys in sailor outfits who are putting lipstick on one another while a dubbed-in, effeminate voice whines, “This low budget crap couldn’t buy a bag of bird shit!” Great, homophobic humor. Thanks Ota Richter, master of filmmaking!

As Adam sits gloomily amidst all of these raging queers, a similarly fruity magician appears in the doorway. Hilariously, this magician gets his own happy-go-lucky theme music. He tips his hat to Adam and then magically…makes chips, beer, and a bunch of bananas appear in the room. Um, wow? The performers react way too giddy over the sight of food, hooting and hollering as if they just struck oil. Adam watches as his magician friend walks away, the theme music playing all the while.

I feel as if I’m rambling at this point, so here’s the gist of the talent show: The magician, whose name is Simco, does some really lame tricks before turning into the jester puppet. Then a terrible play is performed, and when one of the actors doesn’t show up Adam is made to go onstage in his costume. The play, about a king getting killed, cues a flashback to the opening scene. This leads me to believe Adam is the king’s descendant, so I guess I can be thankful for figuring something out.

Adam then stalks a girl from the play, shooting an arrow at her only to discover it was her reflection in a mirror (then why didn’t he see his own reflection?!). Then he rubs oil on her back while she dozes off before trying to strangle her, ultimately getting caught by one of the other girls. Finally, he uses the Latin curse while she acts out the Adam and Eve story, causing a puppet serpent to turn into an actual snake. This snake kills her, though the audience for some reason believes she died of a heart attack.

There is way too much stuff to talk about in this film, so I’ll leave you with some tantalizing details and let your curiosity lead you to a copy of the film for the rest. Just know there’s even more stupefying symbolism, including a man in a gorilla costume who speaks with a Humphrey Bogart accent. Adam runs around killing a bunch of women for no good reason, there’s a costume party, a fish tank that changes colors via remote, and much, much more. You’ll definitely have to watch it with a group of friends, since it’s so crushingly bad I’m afraid you won’t make it through the first half hour alone. But even so, I’m glad I own and have frequently viewed Skullduggery, since it proves my overall fortitude when it comes to standing up to crappy films. And if I can get through this putrid piece of garbage, I’m sure you’ll come out alive as well.

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One comment

  1. Well … this is the best I can do at the moment. Had a ridiculous night and got to thinking about crazee music I liked back in the day. I seem to recall there was a band from Manitoba named Skullduggery. i very much remember hearing the lyrics on college radio (which in 1983 was about as good as you could get other than live Avenues in NY). Anyway, the lyrics I remember, that haunt me, on days when I really feel frustrated every now and again .. “I’m gunna rock and roll this join, bring this shit house to its knees . . .and then I don’t remember the rest. I want to find this music. I was pretty sure it was a band named Skullduggery from Manitoba, 1983 .. . can you help> As I sit here listening to Tattoo You. Well, ya know, sometimes the past is more elegant than the future. Cheers – m



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