“SKULL WORLD” (Movie Review)
Though this writer lives and works in the Toronto area, I admittedly am ignorant of the legacy of Skull Man aka Greg Sommer. We’ve run in the same circles, I’ve seen the man himself at the odd party, but I never once considered who, or what, he was.
After watching Justin McConnell’s (THE COLLAPSES) riotous documentary SKULL WORLD, I feel like I missed out on quite a bit of fun. And McConnell’s film is indeed fun, tons of it. How could it not be, with a character like Sommer in almost every single frame? Greg Sommer is an unapologetic metal-head in his late 30s who lives in his mom’s basement, is losing his hair, and still lives to party. But this Clutch-loving, denim obsessed dude is no mere aging, cast-off waste case. By day he digs graves but at night, midst a flurry of toy monsters, posters and cross-eyed pop culture in his basement, he stitches together corrugate cardboard and designs elaborate, packing tape fortified body armor. The purpose? So that he can don a rubber skull mask and become the legendary Skull Man, leading his equally crated minions into a blow-out battlefield dubbed “box wars.”
What’s a box war? Good question. I didn’t know either, until I popped the disc into the player. A great deal of my adoration for SKULL WORLD stemmed from that ignorance. Box wars consist of grown men and women who spend their free time cobbling together cardboard suits, inventing ridiculous characters and beating the hell out of each other in open fields all over part of Ontario and, strangely Australia, the birth place of the oddball “sport.” To see these cheerful lads and ladies rhapsodizing—most of them with tongues jammed deeply in cheek—on the spiritual gravitas of the box wars is nothing short of astonishing.
But really, what makes McConnell’s study of Sommer and the secret society in which he reigns so great is that he doesn’t judge his subjects. He doesn’t laugh at them, he laughs with them. See, McConnell met “Skull Man” almost a decade ago and, like most people floating in Sommer’s orbit, had an initial freakshow fascination that turned into a respect which lead to a friendship. He spent several years following him, from his origins with a shot-on-video gonzo variety show, to his evolving Skull Man persona to his rise as a myth in the world of the box war. Sommer is an extreme personality, one who would be very easy to portray in a negative light, easy to label as someone a bit, well, sad. But McConnell refuses to do so. There are moments, subtly inserted, where we do see inside the wounded soul at the center like when after getting some prime ink in Canada’s national newspaper, Sommer gets a friendly call from his long estranged father. We do see the shift in his otherwise cartoonish, defiantly GWAR-esque persona. We see the child inside who just wants approval and just wants to be loved. But McConnell doesn’t dwell on this, unwilling to pander to cynicism. It’s a commendable move and one that has indeed caused some critics to moan.
But what SKULL WORLD is about, and what Sommer and his alter ego are all about, is simply recognizing that everyone is wounded. Sommer knows that life is a blip on a cosmic radar and that the only thing that is real is to live in the now, embrace that moment and define life by the rules you create. As he says in one sequence, he’s not doing anything illegal or harmful, he’s bringing happiness to others by doing something creative and defiantly different. So then, does the film that documents his inimitable SKULL WORLD
SKULL WORLD is out now on DVD and Blu ray. Look for it.