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: √
Laser Moon 1993
Directed by: Douglas Grimm
Starring: Harrison Le Duke, Bruce Carter, Traci Lords
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Whilst everyone with even a passing interest in horror films would agree that the eighties was the most popular period of the slasher, perhaps it was wrong to state that the genre had completely died before the beginning of the next decade. Shifted maybe, but not died.
You see, watching as many of these films as I do, allows you to spot the patterns that a part time viewer would miss out on. I’ve noticed that there were a lot of ‘thrillers’ released following the closure of the initial golden times that continued the slasher tone throughout the years that horror had given up on it. Titles like, The Babydoll Murders, Extramarital, Dead End, Out of the Dark, Whisper Kill et al took elements of the slasher genre, dunked them in a ‘cop on the case’ coating and then marketed them as suspense flicks. With lashings of nudity, a masked killer, lingering POV shots, stalking set pieces and a brazen final girl, many were not all that different from our favourite brand of horror that’s seen here on a SLASH above.
But where does the dividing line of separation come in to effect? When do we say that a film lacks the ingredients to join its siblings on this site? Let’s take for example the obscure ‘thriller’ from 1999, Resurrection. It was released obviously to cash in on the craze started by Se7en, but it includes a killer in a VERY cool mask, has a large amount of gore and a typical slasheresque revelation scene. You could maybe mention that it differentiates itself by focusing more on the Police and their hunt for the maniacal madman, but ladies and gents let’s not forget Night School from 1980, Pieces from ’82 and countless others that have included hardened detectives.
If you look up serial killer films on Wikipedia, you’ll find many stalk and slashers listed there, which proves that I’m not alone with this theory. Nevertheless, I would never call Se7en a slasher, or Silence of the Lambs, Citizen X, Zodiac, The Bone Collector, Just Cause etcetera etcetera. I guess that the crux of what I’m saying is that with such a huge similarity between the two styles, the structures can become blurred from time to time and leave interesting results.
Laser Moon has a masked killer stalking bunnies too, but instead of going all out for slasher classification, it’s tried to make itself into something of an engaging mystery. It tells the tale of a media personality whose ratings have dwindled excessively over a recent period. Add on top of that the fact that his marriage has crumbled and you could comfortably look at him as the perfect advert for anti-depressants. Things get worse when he is targeted by a loon who claims to be the elusive killer that has been offing young women around town. Can he pull himself together in time to help bring the madman to justice?
Cigarette smoke fills a dimly lighted room as a low key jazz song accompanies the opening credits. It was an intro that brought to mind those old cabaret places that you see in the movies of yesteryear. Places a downtrodden cop goes to drink a shot of bourbon and fill up his ashtray. In fact, there’s a skit in one of the Naked Gun sequels that involves one of these bars and makes fun of the fact that they have become totally passé. Admittedly, these are great settings in filmland to develop a character’s feeling of depression or solitude. The problem here is that once the director sets that dreary tone, he forgets that it’s not a good idea to keep us there.
I’m no stranger to tedious movies, because maintaining a good momentum is a hard to come by skill in filmland. I couldn’t escape the bizarre feeling though that these filmmakers were well aware of the snooze-inducing pace and were actually quite comfortable to paddle within it. There’s a murder in the first five minutes that gives us the impression that we are going to see a few more, but to the best of my recollection the masked maniac only turns up once again before the showdown. Between that we get a mid-section filled with the development of flat characters and a couple of strange sub-plots that don’t go anywhere at all. It became more and more frustrating as the runtime rolled on and in the end I fast forwarded through to see how long I’d have to wait to see another killing. I obviously had to spin it back after to watch through for this review, but if I hadn’t seen the masked maniac again, I definitely would have just turned the TV off and gone to sleep.
The main issue here is that writer/director Douglas Grimm has filled the movie with dialogue that attempts to be moderately intellectual. There’s nothing wrong with that you may think, but it makes the film play more like a character study, which clashes with the concept of a thriller. We end up getting rapped up in the breakdown of the protagonist’s marriage and an obsessed fan called Maria, which makes us loose track of the nut job on the streets. I forgot to mention by the way that said nut job here is armed with a surgical laser and that is a new one for me. To be honest I assumed that such devices were used much in the same way as a scalpel and not a ray gun that can blast a hole in someone’s head instantaneously? Anyway, the majority of the slasher parts are weak and uninspired (kudos for the lovely LOVELY babes that play the victims though) and I was astounded by the low level of authenticity on display. Let’s see how many films you can name in five seconds that have a serial killer calling a radio station? I managed three (City in Panic, Open House, Play Misty for Me). And you…? Yawn.
So this film is undeserving of the amount of words that I’ve given it. I was actually eminently frustrated in places whilst I was waiting for some action. It all ends with an incredibly far-fetched twist that borders on the incomprehensible. (Without leaving a spoiler, I’d have to say that it would be impossible that no one would notice). It’s become a platitude to call a film a ‘cure for insomnia’, but Laser Moon would work perfectly in that way. Whilst it does generate a slight level of interest, it fails miserably by advertising itself to the slasher and thriller crowd, because we like our shocks fast and slick. Moon has the speed of a Easter Mass when you’ve had one too many red wines beforehand.
Co-star Traci Lords, who tries her hardest and looks great here, has spent years trying to erase her porn star past. I can imagine that this picture does not improve upon the worst of her memories from those times. It’s not only that the film is lazy, it’s that watching it makes the viewer feel the same way. Fantastic sleep aid, but little else.