Monday, January 25, 2016

Pelts (2006)

Looking back on Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology series, the show was really the first of its kind. While the concept of genre anthology television shows had been around since the 50’s, Masters of Horror was the first horror anthology show where almost every episode was directed by, as the title of the show implied, a veteran of the horror genre. The series first season reads like a who’s who of well-respected genre stalwarts like John Carpenter, Dario Argneto, Tobe Hooper, Joe Dante, John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Larry Cohen and Takashi Miike (despite his episode Imprint (2006) , which was intended to be the season one finale being banned from broadcast in America) amongst others. While some of the episodes had a tendency to be hit or miss, the good ones were really good, some even great and along with Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch House (2005) and Miike’s Imprint, Argento’s Jenifer (2005) was undoubtedly one of the best, not to mention unusual episodes of the first season and an interesting stylistic detour for Argento. Several of the directors from the first season returned for the second including Carpenter, Hooper, Landis, Dante and Gordon. Argento too retuned to helm a second episode and just like Jenifer, the resulting film, the equally strange and blood-soaked Pelts was easily the biggest highlight of the second season as well as a highlight in Argento’s more recent catalogue.

Fur trader Jake Feldman (Meat Loaf) has only one desire, Shanna, a stripper whom he’s long been obsessed with. While watching Shanna dance one night, Jake gets a call from Jeb Jameson (John Saxon), a local fur trapper who claims he’s in possession of raccoon pelts that will make Jake a rich man. The pelts are indeed special as Jake soon discovers when arriving at Jebs house but he also discovers the dead bodies of Jeb and his son, an omen which Jake chooses to ignore as the pelts are cursed causing anyone who comes into contact with them to lose their minds. Jake plans on making a coat out of the pelts and proposes to Shanna that she wear it in a fashion show hoping to finally get what he wants, albeit at the price of his own skin.

Whereas Jenifer, Argento’s previous entry in the Masters of Horror series, was somewhat atypical for Argento in terms of subject matter and direction, Pelts has Argento’s fingerprints all over it from its grotesque, almost fairytale-esque storyline to its stylish visual design. It becomes apparent early on that Pelts is going to be a bizarre little film with the main plot device being cursed raccoon pelts driving people to commit horrific acts, and indeed it is rather outlandish, even absurd in spots especially when it comes too the origin of the raccoons and the history of a mysterious “ancient city”, yet Argento plays the film mostly straight which was a wise move as the films tone fits with the side themes of greed and obsession. Being made for TV the film only runs a brief 59 minutes but gets a lot accomplished in that short time frame and despite the fact that a logic is given for all the bloodshed that happens as a result of the pelts, the actual reasoning is again so odd that no mystique is ever sacrificed. What also makes the film so transfixing is Argento’s matter of fact presentation of the violence which is elaborate as it is unflinching. Faces are ripped apart inside animal traps, eyes, nostrils and mouths are sewn shut and sharp objects are taken to flesh culminating in an astonishing gore set-piece involving the magnetic Meat Loaf, who’s excellent by the way, in the role of the love to hate Jake, and his own “pelts”.

Considering the themes of selfish people getting their comeuppance working in the fur industry, Pelts could be interpreted as an attack on the fur industry however Argento claims that his intentions while making the film weren’t motivated be morals or politics but rather the idea that, despite the bizarreness of the plot, the story was as Argento puts it, a “classic” horror tale. What was intentional was the slick lighting as Argento wanted the film to be a display of colors and there’s little to no question as to who is behind the camera here. While obviously done on a much smaller scale than say Suspiria (1977) or Inferno (1980), Argento’s mastery of the color palate is ever present. Pelts also marked the first time John Saxon appeared in an Argento film since Tenebre (1982) and although his role is small Saxon is always a welcome addition to any film. Pelts was Argento’s last bit of TV work before returning to the big screen with the often misunderstood Mother of Tears (2007) and his two stints on Masters of Horror certainly do make for interesting additions to his filmography. Pelts is over the top, gruesome and at times sexy, but most importantly its an original piece of horror that showcases Argento’s knack for outlandish material and should serve as a breath of fresh air for those fed up with current bland genre offerings.

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