Cast: Ron Silver,
James Coburn, Dennis Christopher
What is it about small towns that inspires stories about
I suppose it's a combination of isolation - such small towns are always
far from any kind of safety - and that it's easier to keep deep dark
and conspiracies with a small group of people. Skeletons
doesn't break any of these conventions, though to tell the truth I
have been disappointed if it had taken place in a friendly town
- much harder to build any mystery. And besides, the movie itself is a
well-done chiller, being unconventional in a different way than usual,
which I'll get to later.
Suffering a heart attack shortly after seeing the
battered woman he
wrote about murder her abusive husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning
Peter Crane (Silver) decides that it would be good for him and his
if they left New York City and spent a year elsewhere. They decide on
New England town of Saugatuck, and drive there, with Peter's wife still
wearing those godawful earrings she wore earlier.
The town immediately welcomes them with open arms. Linda
the real estate
agent greets them as they pull up to their home. Frank Jove (Coburn)
next door is a local journalist familiar with Peter's work who
becomes friends with the family. Mrs. Galloway is a great teacher for
Zack. After church the next day, the family meets Mayor Harley Dunbar
Bartel), and Reverend Carlyle (Christopher Plummer), whose family
found the town hundreds of years ago - all nice people. It seems too
to be true, but why complain? So what if the townspeople are and act
folks you'd only find in a 50s small-town TV show? So what if the town
looks like the Warner Brothers back lot? So what if the area out of the
town had that identifiable
area that you've seen in hundreds of TV shows (credits also thank Walt
Disney's Golden Oaks Ranch)? It's a damn perfect place to live.
Shortly after, Peter's peace is interrupted by a visit
from a woman
asking for his help. She tells of her gay son Jim (Christopher) being
for killing his lover. He's surprised to suddenly hear of this, but is
initially reluctant to get involved in any kind of investigative
After some coaxing, he decides to look into it a little. Looking at
house, he is shocked to see it heavily vandalized by homophobic
and is also shocked that Frank or the local newspaper hasn't reported
the case. Frank claims that "people here don't want to hear about such
things," and that his editor put pressure on him not to write about,
he secretly gives murder scene pictures to Peter. Peter then talks to
in his jail cell, who strongly denies that he was the killer. After all
this, Peter is intrigued enough to decide that even if he can't resolve
the case, it will make a good article.
But soon afterwards, things turn ugly. Peter is scorned
all over town.
His son Zack is unfairly punished by his teacher for nothing, and is
jumped and beaten by several students. A burning cross is placed on the
family's front lawn one night. Peter is worried enough to buy a shotgun
(in a very funny scene), but it doesn't help against the harassment.
he keeps working on his investigation.
Other screenplays would have Peter eventually discover
are controlled by an alien force. Or the townspeople are all androids a
la The Stepford Wives. Or underneath the city there's a huge
producing or keeping some technical marvel. Skeletons
such ideas to come up with an explanation that, though somewhat
still has many of its roots in believability. Though the secret would
very hard to pull off, it still could have happened in a real
town. Certainly more likely than androids or alien forces. Because the
movie is more believable, I was much more interested in what was going
to happen. Events don't happen out of the blue to make the screenplay
exciting, but happen as believable consequences for what happened
As well, the Crane family is both likable and believable; they're
but they make mistakes like everyone else. Sometimes their mistakes are
dumb, but these mistakes still remain believable. They know what's
and wrong, but are not always able to have or make things their way.
root for the family, and hope that they will triumph over their
because you'll have no idea if they will win out at the end or not.
Performances by everyone are excellent; James Coburn
gives the best
performance, giving off his suave charm and soothing voice to steal
scene. Dennis Christopher, an underrated actor, has only two scenes and
sits through them, but manages to make a memorable character.
Plummer picks up another low-budget-movie-role paycheck, though doesn't
treat such a role with any underperformance. Unfortunately, near the
of the movie he has an unintentionally funny line that ranks up there
of the Lepus' memorable quote of "There's a herd of killer
coming this way!"
Technical aspects of the movie are superb, with the
movie only showing
signs of its low budget in several shots near the end of the movie. The
end credits reveal that the movie was recorded in theatrical Dolby
(and THX). Combined with the fact that this widescreen-filmed movie has
some very awkward pan-and-scan clips, I wonder if this was originally
for theatrical release.
Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
See also: The Rivals, The Silencers, The