IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE SKELETON KEY (2005)

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skeleton key poster

The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on THE SKELETON KEY is a reprint from 2011.  John Hurt, who passed away in January, appears in the film in a supporting role.

—Michael 6/8/2017

 

I first reviewed THE SKELETON KEY (2005) when it was released theatrically in 2005.  I liked it then, and I was curious to see how the film would hold up several years later.

THE SKELETON KEY is a Hoodoo tale set in New Orleans.  Hoodoo is different from Voodoo, as Hoodoo is African American magic while Voodoo comes from Haiti, but in movie terms, they’re pretty much the same thing:  black magic, evil spells, and witchcraft.

Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) accepts a position to care for stroke victim Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) in his southern home.  Devereaux  is paralyzed and has lost the ability to speak, and he’s become too much for his wife Violet (Gena Rowlands) to care for on her own, and so their lawyer Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard) hires Caroline.

Violet gives Caroline a skeleton key that supposedly opens every door in the house, but Caroline discovers that the key doesn’t open the door to the attic room.   Violet informs Caroline that the room is off limits, and she tells Caroline the tale of how over a hundred years ago the room belonged to two servants who practiced Hoodoo.  When they were caught teaching their black magic to the children of the house, they were murdered, but supposedly, their spirits remain in the house.

Caroline begins to believe that Violet isn’t “all there,” and when the mute Ben tries on several occasions to communicate to Caroline, asking for help, apparently fearful of his wife, Caroline concludes that her patient’s life is in danger.  She even confides her fears to Ben’s lawyer Luke Marshall, who tells her he can’t believe such a thing, that it doesn’t make sense to him.

Caroline decides that it’s up to her to save Ben from his deranged wife, but as she attempts to rescue him, she discovers there’s more going on inside that attic room then she at first believed.  It all leads to a twist ending that is actually better than most.

THE SKELETON KEY is a mildly entertaining story of witchcraft, black magic, and ghosts.  The best part about the film is the strong performances by the leads and a well-written plot that doesn’t fall apart in the end.

Kate Hudson is very enjoyable as Caroline.  She’s a likeable heroine, a sincere character who you worry about once her life is in danger.

The best performance in the movie though belongs to Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux.  She’s extremely believable as the southern woman set in her ways, fearing the ghosts who still live in her house, respecting the Hoodoo magic conjured up by those in the know, and who does not trust the young Caroline in her home.  It’s a terrific performance.

Peter Sarsgaard isn’t bad as the lawyer Luke Marshall, and as much as I like John Hurt as an actor, he’s largely wasted here as stroke victim Ben Devereaux.  He doesn’t speak, and he barely moves.  And no aliens explode from his chest.

THE SKELETON KEY is also a very atmospheric movie.  The scenes in and around the mansion give it a strong sense of place.  You can almost taste the jambalaya and smell the humidity in the air.  Director Iain Softley did a nice job capturing a spooky feel in this movie.

THE SKELETON KEY is definitely “quiet” horror.  Ehren Kruger wrote the screenplay, and he keeps things tame and mysterious, as opposed to shocking and in-your-face.  The movie does have a pretty decent twist ending, as those things go.  Most twist endings I see coming a mile away.  Not so, here.  Plus, a lot of twist endings seem tacked on, added just to make things different.  This twist works because it fits in perfectly with the story.

One thing THE SKELETON KEY is not is scary.  It’s not going to give you nightmares, but this doesn’t mean it’s not a successful horror movie.  It is.

It reminds me of some of the old Val Lewton horror movies, which were also subtle in the way they depicted horror, films like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) and THE LEOPARD MAN (1943).  THE SKELETON KEY isn’t as good as these old Lewton classics, but it is similar in mood and tone.

THE SKELETON KEY is not a classic of the genre, but it does tell a good story, and it’s teeming with Hoodoo atmosphere.  It also gets better as it goes along and finishes strongly.

As the weather begins to heat up, and the humidity begins to rise, and you’re reaching for that tall glass of sweet iced tea, you might want to pick up THE SKELETON KEY.  It’s the perfect complement to a sultry evening.

—END—

 

 

 

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NEWS FROM THE CASTLE

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Karloff-Frankenstein

Welcome to NEWS FROM THE CASTLE, my new column on this blog, the place for news and tidbits about movies, books, the horror genre, and about yours truly, Michael Arruda. I’ll be sharing these news items with you with a little help from my friends.

FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER:  Help, good!

ARRUDA:  Yes, it is.  So, what’s on tap today, my friend?

FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER: Tap, good!  (Lifts frothy mug).

ARRUDA:  Yes, tap is very good!  Anyway, today on NEWS FROM THE CASTLE, we’re bringing you news about my current EBook IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, available now from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.  It’s a collection of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT horror movie columns, which I’ve been writing for the HWA since 2000.

The collection contains 115 reviews, and today’s treat—.

FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER:  Treat, good!

ARRUDA: — today’s treat is the list of movies reviewed in the book.  Basically, it’s a sneak peek at the book’s table of contents. This way you can see what movies are covered in the book, and if there are any that you want to read about feel free to go to www.neconebooks.com and order yourself a copy. Enjoy! Here’s the list:

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

ALIEN— 22

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR— 25

ALLIGATOR PEOPLE, THE— 28

AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, THE— 31

AN AMERICAN HAUNTING— 33

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON — 36

BATMAN VS. DRACULA, THE— 39

BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES— 42

BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN, THE— 45

BLACK ROOM, THE— 48

BLACK SABBATH— 51

BLOB, THE (1958)— 54

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE— 57

BODY DOUBLE— 60

BRIDES OF DRACULA, THE— 63

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)— 66

COMEDY OF TERRORS, THE— 69

CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES— 72

CORRIDORS OF BLOOD— 75

COUNTESS DRACULA— 78

CREEPING FLESH, THE— 82

CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE— 85

CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, THE— 90

DARK KNIGHT, THE— 94

DEADLY MANTIS, THE— 97

DRACULA (1931)— 101

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE— 104

DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS— 107

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN— 110

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1932)— 114

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!— 117

DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS— 120

EQUINOX— 123

EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE— 126

EXORCIST:  THE BEGINNING— 130

4D MAN— 133

FOOD OF THE GODS, THE— 136

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN— 139

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN— 142

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED— 145

FRANKENSTEIN – THE TRUE STORY— 148

FRIGHT NIGHT— 151

FURY, THE— 155

GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE— 158

GHOST SHIP— 162

GHOUL, THE (1933)— 165

GODZILLA 2000— 168

GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO— 171

HALLOWEEN (1978)— 174

HALLOWEEN II (1981)— 177

HELLRAISER:  INFERNO— 180

HOLLOW MAN— 183

HORROR EXPRESS— 186

HORROR OF DRACULA— 189

HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE (1959)— 192

HOUSE OF USHER (1960)— 195

HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, THE— 198

HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, THE (1923)— 201

INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT, THE— 204

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS— 207

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)— 210

INVISIBLE GHOST— 213

INVISIBLE MAN, THE (1933)— 216

INVISIBLE RAY, THE— 219

ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, THE (1977)— 223

ISLAND OF TERROR— 227

ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED— 230

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE— 233

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN— 236

IT!  THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE— 239

JEEPERS CREEPERS—243

KING KONG (1933)– 246

KING KONG (1976)— 250

KING KONG (2005)— 253

KING KONG ESCAPES— 256

LAND UNKNOWN, THE— 259

LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, THE— 262

LORD OF THE RINGS – THE RETURN OF THE KING— 265

M— 268

MADHOUSE— 271

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE— 274

METROPOLIS (Giorgio Moroder version)— 277

MUMMY, THE (1932)— 281

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE— 284

OBLONG BOX, THE— 288

OMEN, THE— 292

OTHERS, THE— 295

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)— 298

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943)— 301

PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, THE— 304

PLANET OF THE APES (2001)— 307

PROJECTED MAN, THE— 310

PROM NIGHT (1980)— 313

PUMPKINHEAD— 316

REPTILICUS— 320

RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, THE— 323

REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES— 326

SEVENTH SEAL, THE— 329

7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, THE— 332

SHAUN OF THE DEAD— 335

SKELETON KEY, THE— 338

TALES OF TERROR— 341

TARANTULA— 344

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA— 348

THAW, THE— 351

THEM!— 354

30 DAYS OF NIGHT— 357

TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE— 360

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH— 363

VAMPIRE BAT, THE— 367

VAMPIRE LOVERS, THE— 371

WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE (1953)— 375

WHAT LIES BENEATH— 378

WICKER MAN, THE (1973)— 381

WOLF MAN, THE (1941)— 384

ARRUDA:  Hope you find something here you like.  That’s it for now.  We’ll see you next time on NEWS FROM THE CASTLE.

FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER:  News, good!    (looks at his mug)  Mug, empty, bad.