Directed by: Ivan Nagy
Starring: Traci Lords, Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Skinner was released three years before Scream and at a time when the slasher genre was most definitely at its lowest ebb. This is not so much an entry in the style of Halloween, Friday the 13th et al and instead plays more like Maniac or Bits and Pieces and gives the killer the majority of the screen time. These type of plot structures owe more in heritage to Blood Feast than they do Blood and Black Lace, but in the blur of the early eighties overkill period, they were pushed together and can now both be classified within the category.
Skinner is cut of somewhat finer cloth than the majority of titles that were hitting the bottom shelves during the early nineties. This is visible in the cast, which is perhaps the most intriguing thing about the feature. Ted Raimi is a cult figure amongst horror fans, because despite the success of his brother Sam, he is quite a selective actor and prefers cameos in low-budget projects. Also along for the ride is Ricki Lake, before she lost a few pounds and became a huge draw for prime time US television. Traci Lords gets top billing and she is an actress with one of the most interesting stories that I can remember. By now everyone’s aware of her porn star roots and the fact that her one false ID card almost brought down the entire Adult industry. It’s the effort that she has put in to reinventing herself, even though she has so many haters in the entertainment sector that has allowed me to develop a respect for her. Obviously a beautiful woman, she plays down her looks here and accepts a role that offers her the chance to rise above her reputation. From what I understand, she has become her own worst enemy by blaming others for her earlier career choices, when it was fraudulent behavior on her part that allowed her to get work in X rated films in the first place. I prefer to look at her talent for dramatics over her previous ‘convictions’ though, and was keen to see how she’d get on in a ‘skin flick’ that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase.
A drifter rents a room from a lonely housewife and begins to build a relationship with her. Little does she know however that he is a twisted sadist who flays hookers that he picks up on the street. Before long, he decides to reveal his darkest secret…
Director Ivan Nagy has done an amazing job of building a desolate world for his plot to boil in on the smallest of funding. Skinner is a bleak, dreary feature, which takes place in a grimy graffiti filled world of depression and there’s no redemption for any of the characters that carry the story. The plot revolves around the madness of Dennis Skinner and his murderous lust for blood, but the other players also lack morals. Traci Lords’ Heidi is a one of his former victims with a morphine addiction and an unhealthy obsession for revenge, whilst Ricki Lake is an insecure housewife that falls to the temptation to commit adultery on her stay away husband. I was impressed how they showed quite cleverly the ways in which people are insensitive to the feelings of others and the script conveys the struggles of everyday life in a poverty-stricken hell hole.
All the actors get a chance to shine and Lords has a couple of very good scenes. Raimi’s best part is the goriest of the feature, which is missing from R rated prints. He describes the roots of his madness to a hooker that he just killed whilst he mutilates her corpse; and it builds up to the money shot of him ripping off her entire face. He is cool, calm and chilling as the deranged serial killer and he pulls it off with believable efficiency. The effects from KNB are uncomfortably realistic and the parts that see Raimi stalking for victims in a suit made of skin are creepy and amusing at the same time. There’s no pressing suspense or tension, but it’s not that kind of film. Instead of aiming for edge of your seat tension, the director was looking for sleazy depravity; and he succeeds in delivering it.
This can’t really be called much of a gore flick, because only one murder allows KNB to unleash some of their talent, but there’s a fairly large body count. Even if the majority of the victims are those of the ‘walk on to get killed’ variety, there are no major gaps or moments where the film feels that it will become tedious. Funnily enough, the musical accompaniment was provided for the most part by Keith Arem, who soon after would build a mega successful career as a director and composer for big budgeted video games, including the Call of Duty series. He does nothing exceptional here, but his subtle under-scoring adds somewhat to the moody atmosphere. Ivan Nagy shows no real flair for creative conveyance, but at the same time, maintains a solid momentum. He boasts almost as interesting a life story as his lead actress, especially because of his notorious relationship with Heidi Fleiss. He was already a convicted bookmaker when the two met and he went on to introduce her to the world of prostitution. Lords’ character here has been named after Fleiss, so maybe there was still something between them when this was developed? I’m sure that his first-hand experiences in those areas helped him to deliver such a grim virtual landscape on screen.
This entry may be a tad off-key for some viewers and it kind of ends with a feeling of nothingness. There’s no questions answered, no bonds built and no mysteries solved. The cast members are nobodies to us, the viewer and with such a long runtime, I would have appreciated some more development. With that said, it remains effective in its gruesomeness and outrageous in its delivery.
Although Skinner is no hidden gem, it does have a few powerful sequences and deserves praise solely for that. I have not seen many horror movies that carry such a dense lake of morbid surroundings and it breaks the ‘happy ending’ mould.
Final Girl: √