Have You Heard Of?… returns with Michael Hauss casting an eye over the Masters Of Horror episode Pelts (2006), directed by genre favourite Dario Argento and starring Meat Loaf and John Saxon.
**This review contains spoilers**
The celebrated auteur Dario Argento directs Pelts and he’s made a good little TV film here. Argento is an Italian director who directed horror-giallo masterpieces like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), Deep Red (1975), Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) among others. In recent years, Argento has made a string of films which were critically panned by fans and critics alike, like Mother Of Tears (2007), Giallo (2009) and Dracua 3-D (2012) to name a few. Pelts, while artistically different from any of his other films, lets Argento paint a bloody picture of lustful pursuit. It is not far removed from his later work in terms of gore and nudity, but it boasts a very good script (which his later work lacks) with which the competent cast and Argento himself are able work very effectively.
This film was made for the Masters of Horror series, an anthology series which ran for a few years on Showtime and featured many renowned directors including Tobe Hooper, John Landis, John Carpenter and Lucky McGee directing hour-long horror related episodes.
The film is really driven by the performance of Meat Loaf, playing a short-fused businessman named Jake Feldman who is obsessed with a stripper at a local strip club. Meat Loaf plays the character as a middle-aged, oily, horny pervert who is being driven mad with animal-like lust for a stripper named Shanna (Ellen Ewusie). Early in the film, during a private lap dance, Jake attacks Shanna like an animal and she needs a chair to hold him back as the lion tamers of old used to do.
A old drunk poacher named Jeb Jameson (John Saxon) is poaching on an old hag’s land, where he finds his traps full of raccoons who have the most beautiful pelts. Jeb and his son kill the raccoons (who all have identical coats) by crushing their windpipes with their boots and taking metal bats to their heads.
The old hag’s property stands upon the remains of a now fallen “lost city” as the old hag calls it. After removing the fur from the raccoons Jameson, who is slurring drunk, calls Jake, who happens to be at the strip club again watching Shanna doing her dance for the rowdy crowd. Jameson says “you’ve never seen pelts like these… make you a rich man!” Jeb’ s son is cleaning up the pelts and seems to be enraptured with them, rubbing his hands and face across them. He cracks a big smile, grabs his bat, and goes upstairs to Jeb’s bedroom where Jeb lays passed out on his bed. The boy awakens and taunts his father, before bashing his head in with the bat. He then goes downstairs and messes with a trap which removes his face.
The next morning, Jake and his friend Lou (Link Baker) arrive at Jameson’ s house to see the pelts and walk into the garish scene. Lou reacts by throwing up, but Jake seems to be enjoying, gaining pleasure even, from the grisly scene. As they leave the house, the first thing Jake says is “can you believe them pelts?” He speaks not about the carnage or loss of life… but of the pelts. His mind is constantly driven by his lust for Shanna, espeially what riches these pelts can bring him, including the sexual conquest of her.
They take the pelts and head to their small furrier shop to start the construction of a coat, to be worn in an upcoming fur fashion show during which Jake plans to showcase Shanna wearing the coat.
Jake wants to acquire more pelts, so he drives to the old hag’s shack deep in the woods and enquires about securing more of them. The hag tells Jake that the “pine lights” (as she calls raccoons) are the sentinels of the lost city, and she prefers to keep people off her land to protect them. The hag chases Jake after he asks for a couple of the raccoons from the house. She yells: “they have not had their final say, they’ve not finished with you yet!”
In some ways the films is a tract against the fur business and the killing of non-edible animals for their pelts alone. The actions of animalistic and sadistic men like Jameson and Feldman are, metaphorically, used to drive home the point that men like them, not the raccoons, are the real animals. Each step from the capture and the killings of the raccoons is repeated upon the people who had something to do with the act in the first place – from the trapping of the creatures to the finished coat, from bashing in the heads of the raccoons (an act committed by Jameson, who then gets his his own head bashed in) to the seamstress sewing the coat together and later having her own eyes and air-holes sewn closed. Finally there is Jake and his self inflicted torso-skinning.
The film is not for the faint-of-heart, as the blood ‘n’ guts are plentiful and there’s ample nudity and adult situations, including a lesbian scene and a graphic simulated sex scene. Jake Feldman, essentially an animal in human form, reverts back to the most primal stage in the end after fulfilling his animal sexual lust on Shanna. He then tracks his prey (in this case, Shanna) with a pelt of skin he has carved from his own torso in his hand. He tracks and chases her down with animal ferocity: always the beast in human form, it seems.
John Saxon plays the grizzled, sadistic old trapper in the film and, as always, turns in a good performance. Saxon is an exploitation legend, having appeared in many films including Queen Of Blood (1966), Enter The Dragon (1973) and Cannibal Apocalypse (1980). Unfortunately, his character is killed off around the twenty minute mark. Shanna is played by the ravishing Ewusie (Bones, 2001, and Fantastic Four, 2005) who spends most of the movie in a state of undress or in sexual situations. She nails the part perfectly and has the moves and attitude of a stripper down pat.
This film is just a bit too graphic for my liking. The gore scenes are extravagant but linger too long on bodily mutilation. However, the script is well done and brings an interesting and different concept to the horror genre. The actors are all excellent and the direction, for the most part, is fluid and keeps the film rattling along. Like I said earlier, it’s not for the faint-of-heart and, at a mere 60 minutes or so, there’s not much time wasted on padding so the movie rushes by. Meat Loaf (who looks like raw Meat Loaf at the conclusion) carries the whole film brilliantly, turning in an excellent performance. For me, Pelts is a definite 6 out of 10.
Mom Rating: 6/10