Masters of Horror: Pelts (TV)
Directed by Dario Argento
Original Airdate: December 1st, 2006
Most horror fans are at least conversant with the name Dario Argento, writer/director of films like Suspiria, Deep Red, Opera, Tenebrae, and Phenomena (Creepers here in the US; I have a soft spot for that movie), even if they haven’t seen his many films. Of course, he also took a turn on Masters of Horror last season, directing Steven Weber in "Jenifer". Many people were less than satisfied with his installment. It had its flaws, but I enjoyed it so was interested to see what he’d do a second time around. And he starts off with a bang ... or a flash. A camera flash, highlighting a crime scene drenched in blood and two dead bodies.
Meat Loaf (I wish he’d drop the Aday again, it just sounds silly) stars as Jake, a sleazy small-time furrier who seems to have a problem with his pelt supply, the problem being that they’re sub-par in quality and he’s not making any money off cheap fur coats. Jake is the kind of guy that wants money for all kinds of things, most notably at the moment to impress the object of his desire, a stripper named Mira (Melissa Gonzalez) who can’t stand him.
Lucky for him, trapper Jeb Jameson (John Saxon) and his somewhat squeamish son just recently came into possession of some very special raccoon pelts that they acquired during a late night poaching trip among some ancient ruins on the lands of a crazy old woman called Mother Metter. When Jake and his assistant Lou (Link Baker) arrive to pick up the pelts, they find the bodies of Jameson and his son, but it doesn’t stop them from taking what they came to get – the pelts are just too beautiful.
Not to mention deadly. Any synopsis I came across read that they claimed revenge on anyone who attempted to wear them, but that’s not true. It seems the spirits of the vengeful coons strike out at anyone who defiles their pelts, more than just anyone who tries to wear them. A seamstress and a cutter both fall victim to their gruesome revenge, and neither attempts to wear the pelts, but they both work on the coat. The fact that the pelts (with a little subtle help from CGI) are especially beautiful and make people want to possess them and then punish them brutally for falling victim to the lure is a story device I like, a sadistic little catch 22. There’s no way to break this curse or put things to rest, no happy ending.
Meat Loaf isn’t going to win any Oscars, I’m sure, but he does a great job being slimy. During one scene, when Jake takes a lap dance too far and pushes Mira up against a wall, he was truly loathsome. Meat Loaf isn’t the only decent thesp either; John Saxon, probably best known for his role as Nancy’s dad in A Nightmare on Elm Street, is great as Jeb Jameson, and it’s a shame his role is so brief. The other actors, bit players that they are, do a good job of at least not being stumbling blocks to the story.
Writer Matt Venne, who’s bringing us White Noise 2: The Light, did a good job of developing believable characters, even if we don’t get to see very many facets of their personalities. I don’t know how much of that owes to the short story by F. Paul Wilson and how much to Venne’s adaptation abilities, but it makes me at least a little more hopeful for White Noise 2.
The exact nature of the raccoons and the ruined city in which they’re captured isn’t fully explored. I’m not sure if it is in the short story, but I like that we weren’t beaten over the head or spoon-fed an explanation. As long as there aren’t any huge plot holes (and none jumped out at me here), I like a story where you can speculate after it’s done about certain aspects, like whether the lost city was of a society that revered raccoons or of raccoons itself, or if the raccoons were somehow possessed by spirits of the denizens of the lost city, or what...
Of course we can’t talk about "Pelts" without talking about Argento. A lot of his signature style shows up in this episode, more so than was in "Jenifer" I'd say. The whole episode is painted with his color palette, which means you’ll see a lot of red – both in the background décor and in the grue. Argento has never been a stranger to gore, and he’s definitely not stinting here either. In fact, he’s more than generous. It’s brutal and cringe-worthy, and honestly, I loved it. It made the little girl in me clap with glee (yeah, the little girl in me is a gorehound, so what?) Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger did gorgeous work. Bravo, boys!
While Dario didn’t use his patented "killer’s eye view", there was quite a lot of his look to the movement of the camera, the feel of the sets, and the music used (the episode is scored by Claudio Simonetti, who’s worked with Argento a lot in the past). Argento normally incorporates sensuality into his stories in some way, shape, or form, and while I wouldn’t say "Pelts" possesses a sensuality, it definitely is knee-deep in a seedy sexuality that lends itself well to the subject and makes the simple, luxurious sensuality of the fur coat stand out nicely.
"Pelts" isn’t a deep episode with a message the way "Pro-Life" was attempting to be unless you maybe want to read an environmental conservation or animal cruelty message into it, but despite its subject matter it really didn’t feel like it was trying to do that. It’s not a complicated morality tale or anything like that either. What it is is a decently acted, solidly written, stylish looking, and gore-filled hour, and I was genuinely entertained the whole time. All in all I was pretty happy with Argento’s second time at bat, and I think anyone looking for a good time will be too.
4 out 5
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