Masters of Horror: Pelts (DVD)
Directed by Dario Argento
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Skinning animals for their fur doesn't sit well with some groups, but would they be so quick to protest if the killing of little fuzzy beasties had an almost instant Karma effect? Could a man overcome the deadly curse surrounding the pelts of certain creatures if it meant he'd get some sweet pudding? Meat Loaf may proclaim that he would do anything for love, but he wouldn't do that … or would he? That is the question surrounding Dario Argento's latest Masters of Horror contribution, "Pelts."
Jake Feldman (check out our audio interview with Meat Loaf here) is a very rough and horny pelt selling man in this episode. He berates his workers, hates almost everyone, and doesn't understand rules like "look, but don't touch." What he cannot touch is the very sexy runway model turned stripper Shana (Ewusie). She won't take his money in exchange for sex, but Jake knows what she really wants deep down. The trouble is finding a way to exploit that aching.
It's not long before Feldman gets a call from a trapper (Saxon) who has gotten his hands on some amazing raccoon furs. They shine almost hauntingly and seem to be a bit pissed off that they are no longer attached to their original owners. Though it is never fully explained, outside of a small awkward scene involving an old crone, the pelts can possess or Jedi mind-trick their murderers into committing pretty nasty acts. Too bad Jake doesn't get this information upfront and never pieces two and two together even when he is skinning himself.
"Pelts" plays off two of the seven deadly sins: lust and greed. Argento knows how to use these oh, so well in this episode. Jake lusts after Shana, and greed drives his judgement even when he stumbles into the site of a gruesome murder upon picking up the cursed animal skins. Why contact the cops while you are still at the site when you can grab the coonskins and inform them anonymously from the highway? Nothing must get in your way of having these perfect pelts. And what's this? Your workers seem to be killing themselves ever since you brought in these lovely furs? Screw them; you gotta get that coat finished so you can have short, rough sex with a stripper. That right there is what a true saint would do! Well, isn't it?
Sex, nudity, lesbianism, man teats, and fake breasts show up on the roster of many bad direct-to-DVD teen flicks; but it takes real talent to make them sexier than your average porno. Naked flesh isn't shown in this episode to excite male audiences alone; it is there to throw you into the position of Jake. Argento wants you to know why it is so irresistible to this man.
Erotic as "Pelts" may be, it is also pretty gory. Dario doesn't like to cut away from the splattery goods if he can get away with it, and boy, does he throw a lot at us. PETA members will no doubt take up arms at the detail of the skinning and skull pounding shown because they may think of it as cruel exploitation. One can almost smell the stench of dead animals when the camera moves through the skinning shops. If that doesn't turn your stomach, fiends, than maybe the human casualties will.
It is boasted that one of "Pelts"'s final effects shots is a "first ever." It may be true, but horror fans have seen plenty of people skinned alive in such classic series like Hellraiser, but what may set this skinning apart is that the skinner is in fact the one being skinned. Meat Loaf cuts himself a very nice flesh "wife beater" and presents it to Shana as a gift during the episode's climax. Keep in mind nothing is really cut away from the scene. We see Loaf etching the pattern into his skin and actually pulling all the flesh up and over his head, thus revealing a nasty, sticky mess underneath. This is one jaw-dropping FX sequence that would have looked totally real if only the skin tone had matched a tad more.
For all the entertainment value of "Pelts," we are also given a pretty meaty set of bonus features. The two featurettes, All Sewn Up: Mastering the Effects Sequence and Fleshing It Out: The Making of "Pelts," aren't the typical cheerleading sessions used to drum up excitement about a project. This time we actually get a very detailed look into what goes on during the making of the popular series. Even the magic of some shots are dissected as the audience gets a point-by-point lesson in digital and practical FX. Tech nerds rejoice!
There is a slight sag in the extras department as the stills and storyboard galleries come up short on substance. This feature could have used some expanding as only one scene is used in the gallery. While it does showcase the construction of an awesome FX shot, there was no need to stop at just this one. Come on! We want to see how someone storyboarded a woman sewing her entire face shut!
The best of all the bonus features is the commentary featuring writer Matt Venne. This is a man who doesn't like to shut up, and that is a good thing. Every little bit of detail from changes to the original story all the way down to naming off rare plants that grow in certain areas come pouring out of Venne's mouth. This is what audio tracks ought to be like, people, not just the occasional, "Hey, that's the day craft services forgot to put Swiss cheese blocks out."
To put it simply, "Pelts" is one of the sickest and sexiest films from Argento. The Masters of Horror series is learning and improving both on television and on DVD instead of finding a certain niche and sitting comfortably, at least in regard to this installment.
All Sewn Up: Mastering the Effects Sequence
Fleshing It Out: The Making of "Pelts"
Audio commentary with writer Matt Venne
Dario Argento bio
Screenplay (DVD-ROM Only)
4 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5