Posted March 3, 2014 by Jeff in Flicks

Monster Director Dustin Mills

The Ballad of Skinless Pete
The Ballad of Skinless Pete

In many ways, Skinless follows horror film conventions.  After oncologist Peter Peel (Brandon Salkil) discovers a possible cure for skin cancer, he decides to test the cure on himself to convince an investor to start manufacturing the serum. Predictably enough, his experiment goes horribly awry and he turns into a monster of sorts. Writer-director Dustin Mills talked to us in advance of the film’s theatrical debut this month via phone from his home in Toledo, Ohio.

How’d you come up with the concept for Skinless?
It’s kind of a weird story. We were making another movie. There’s a scene in that movie where a guy is exposed to a bath salt and he’s all red and has no skin. My buddy who was playing the part put a mask on and was wearing hoodie. He was being all creepy. We built a story that was a twist on the mad scientist story. It was about a guy loses his skin and becomes a monster. It was born out of goofing around.

The film opens with some full frontal nudity. Talk about that choice.
It’s not the first time I’ve done that. It usually gets people’s attention.

There’s something rather predictable about the plot in that we know that bad things will happen when Pete experiments with what he thinks is the cure for cancer. Was it hard to keep an element of surprise to what follows?
I hope that I was successful in this. The thing I wanted to do was create characters. That’s one of the reason that the cast is so small. I just wanted to create characters that the audience would care about. The reason you keep watching is that you want to know what happens to these people you like. They’re people who have a connection and history together. They explore this exaggerated version of their relationship through the lens of a monster movie.

Even though the doctor is kind of a jerk?
The key is that we made him a funny jerk. If someone is funny, you tend to like them. He is kind of a jerk. He’s not exactly a mean person. He just has emotional problems. He has issues.

Talk about when you first began to gravitate toward horror films.
To be completely honest, I’m not one hundred percent a horror fan. This is going to going to sound weird from a guy that made Skinless, which is gory and harsh. I don’t like harsh super violent movies that much. I like fantastical stuff. I like monsters and adventures and weird movies. I really like foreign films because they’re weirder than American films. The reason I make horror and watched a lot of it growing up is a basic love of monsters. There’s something appealing to me about monsters especially if you can sympathize with them. You can sympathize with Frankenstein’s monster and even with the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

If you understand the monster’s motivations or if you sometimes just feel bad for them, the movie is that much better.

Do you remember your first monster movie?
The first one I remember seeing is King Kong. That probably colored my entire experience. That was a sympathetic monsters. I grew up with Tremors and Little Shop of Horrors and Ghostbusters. I still watch them ten times a year.

When did you start making your own movies?
I started in 2009. I released The Puppet Monster Massacre in 2011. I made shorts when I was in high school on my mom’s VHS camera. I got serious about in 2009. I’ve made seven movies.

How can you get them done that quickly?
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t feel strange to me that I make them that quickly. We never rush. There are never any deadlines. I just make them the way I want and how I want. It just so happens that we’re sort of fast at making them.

What’s it like working out of Toledo?
It’s an interesting town. I don’t think anyone here knows I exist. I have a sizable fan base, especially in foreign markets. I have fans in Japan and Belgium and Germany and throughout the UK. I don’t have any fans in Toledo. The thing I like is that I found great actors. Brandon Salkil and Dave Parker and that help me bring the monstrosities to life.

Are you working on your next film?
Yeah, and I just released Kill That Bitch which just premiered on Indie Horror TV. It’s not as misogynistic as the title implies. I’m starting on three more that I’m making this year, but I can’t talk about them yet.

You have distribution for the films?
Some of them. I use different models. The first four through MVD and then Easter Casket and Kill that Bitch were self-distributed. I’ve been trying out different models to see what works the best. If you diversity, you have more checks coming from different places and you have a better chance of getting one.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].