Written and Directed by: Matt Venne (teleplay), F. Paul Wilson (short story)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: Meat Loaf, Link Baker and Emilio Salituro
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
No matter how uneven this whole Masters of Horror experience has been, I canít fault it too much because it gave us the briefest of glimpses of the Dario Argento of old. Or maybe I should just say the Dario Arengto of tolerable levels since neither of his efforts stack all the way up to Deep Red or Tenebrae . However, neither sink down to Mother of Tears or Phantom of the Opera either, which is a minor but notable victory at this point. Like Jenifer, second season offering Pelts returns Argento to just downright weird and nasty territory with a concept thatís just so outrageous that it needs someone deft enough to mix its transgressive spunk with real, gruesome style to rescue it from its own depravity. Surprisingly enough, Argento was that guy just six years ago.
Thereís not a whole lot to Pelts, and a succinct summary of its setup tells you all you need to know: Jake (Meat Loaf) is a sleazy, two-bit furrier who dreams of becoming rich enough to fulfill his wildest fantasies. As it turns out, the only thing he really wants is the stripper (Ellen Ewusie) at the local gentlemanís club, so he schemes to make her a beautiful fur coat that she can model for him on the runway in the hopes that sheíll finally give up the sexual goods. The only problem? His pelts might be haunted by the spirits of evil raccoons.
Horror has been full of killer critters, but killer raccoons are pretty rare, save for that early scene in Prophecy and Coons: Night Bandits of the Night (a Troma joint, in case you were wondering). Itís a wacky concept thatís done up especially wacky here, as the script also tosses in a raccoon lady who lives out in a spooky old dilapidated house and gives John Saxon the stink eye when he passes by. Saxon is Meat Loafís acquisitions man who traps and skins for the pelts, which makes him the first man in the line of fire when his prey begin reaching from beyond the great raccoon beyond to wreak big, bloody havoc. I think Peta would get a kick out of this sort of thing, since itís a damning condemnation on the fur trade industry, at least in the sense that everyone who engages in it ends up as a bloody heap.
Donít go looking too deeply into it--such politics are only skin deep, as it were, and that skin gets peeled off ferociously once Pelts really gets going (which doesnít take long). Nicotero and Berger have done consistently great work on this series, but Pelts might be their finest hour, as Argento lets them run wild to bring forth some most graphic eviscerations. Restraint is something that Argento has rarely valued, and itís gone even further by the wayside as he descended into the past decade with full force, and Pelts is no exception, almost to the point of excess. Argento shows us a shit-covered fan at one point in the form of a house littered with a couple of hollowed out corpses, and then uses a flashback to show us how the shit got splattered all over the fan in the first place--just because he can. The carnage is well-orchestrated too, as small notes are hit here and there before Argento crescendos with a delightfully perverse display of grue. By the end of the film, casting a guy named Meat Loaf in a film about haunted pelts seems like the punch line to a really sick, gory joke.
Speaking of Meat Loaf, heís pretty good; a lot of musicians turned actors rightfully get a lot of flak, but Loaf has a little more credibility than most given his collaborations with David Fincher and Patrick Swayze. In this one, heís a guy who pretty much lays it all out there in terms of his own sleaziness since he tries to force himself on his dream stripper before resorting to the dream coat scheme; heís pretty deplorable, and Loaf hams it up appropriately and portrays Jake as part real menace and part weaselly little shit. The surrounding cast is adequate enough, with Saxon similarly playing the fur trapper in broad fashion. Argento himself is also rather palatable, as the film moodily stylish and soaked in violence and sexual depravity, a mixture thatís obviously fascinated the director for most of his career. During the past decade, heís mostly coasted on that mixture, but, like Jenifer before it, Pelts doesnít just drop gore bombs with reckless abandon--itís a little more calculated and grand guignol than that, as Attila Szalayís arresting visuals and Claudio Simonettiís otherworldy score are fine compliments to the fantastical weirdness offered by F. Paul Wilsonís original short story.
Given Argentoís career track (and the early looks at his upcoming Dracula have been unsightly), maybe itís safe to say that his Masters of Horror stints were like the last gasps of pseudo-brilliance. While neither is among the most impressive in Argentoís own canon, theyíve each proven to be the among the most memorable in this series, which is something I wouldnít have expected going in. Even if we never get back the guy who directed Suspiria, I would take this Argento over whoever made Giallo. If nothing else, both of Argentoís Masters of Horror episodes are worthy of your collection; like its fellow episodes, this one received a pretty good treatment from Anchor Bay on DVD, as the disc is loaded down with the usual behind-the-scenes features, marketing materials, and a commentary with writer Matt Venne. Put it on your shelf and let it serve as a reminder that Argento hasnít totally sucked during the past decade. Buy it!
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