Color, 1993, 88 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Ivan Nagy
Starring Ted Raimi, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, David Warshofsky, Richard Schiff, Blaire Baron
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), A-Pix / Simitar (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Any horror movie starring Traci Lords, '90s talk show host Ricki Lake, and Ted Raimi (of TV's Xena and brother of Sam) demands a look for curiosity value at least, and Skinner is... definitely curious. Yet another installment in the endless retellings of Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deranged, and Three on a Meathook, this one adds a dollop of postmodern Silence of the Lambs humor into the brew for a truly weird mixture of hardcore gore and pitch black comedy. Though the film is severely hampered by a low budget and a pace that could charitably be described as deliberate, it remains one of a kind and memorably grotesque in its more extreme moments.
Dennis Skinner (Raimi), a seemingly friendly average guy with a strong affinity for water, moves into a room rented out by a married couple, innocent Kerry (Lake) and Geoff (There Will Be Blood's Warshofsky), and occasionally wanders out into the streets to find victims. In several graphic and unsettling scenes he skins his victims and wears their pelts, with one black victim meeting a particularly tasteless fate. Meanwhile the disfigured Heidi (Lords), an escaped victim, attempts to hunt Skinner down and stop him as the body count continues to rise.
While hardly a masterpiece, Skinner earns points for effort with director Nagy injecting some visual style with candy-colored giallo lighting, and Lords cuts an impressive, memorable figure with her long bleached hair and trenchcoat. Some of the jokes do work, with Raimi delivering his lines con gusto and injecting life into the film when it threatens to drag to a halt. In fact, it's a shame Raimi and Lords don't cross paths on screen until fairly late in the film as their chemistry is so solid it could have easily ignited an entire feature by itself.
Unfortunately most of this film's effectiveness was sapped away by years of shoddy video transfers including a murky VHS release and a terrible DVD from A-Pix. Blotchy artifacts run rampant during the night scenes (about 80% of the movie!), and the sound exhibits some irritating distortion during loud moments (again, most of the movie). Oh, and it's also cut by eight minutes, running a scant 80 mins. 53secs. and reflecting the massive edits required to get an R rating for some video stores. In short, it's been impossible for just about anyone to properly evaluate this film until Severin finally brought it to Blu-ray in 2019. Trying to access the original film elements was a long, arduous process given how the production came together, but the results here speak for themselves with an impressive, drastically improved presentation that makes the film far more enjoyable to sit through in every possible way. The night scenes finally make sense, you can tell what's going on at all times, and the vivid colors look even prettier than ever. It also goes without saying that this is the unrated version of the film and not the incoherent R-rated edition, which ruined a long, pivotal, and extremely grisly sequence in the middle of the film. Audio options include DTS-HD MA English and French tracks, both of which sound pretty solid, with optional English SDH subtitles. Nagy turns up for "A Touch of Scandal" (20m3s), a 2007 interview shot at the start of a search for film elements (he's since passed away), in which he recalls migrating from Hungary to a refugee camp, getting a scholarship in New Mexico, and working his way to becoming a director after studying at UCLA with projects ranging from the great Deadly Hero to CHiPs and a ton of made-for-TV movies. Raimi turns up next in "Under His Skin" (14m24s), which covers not only his role here (which required research into psychopathic behavior) but his other filmmaking projects from industrial films to acting roles in titles like Blood Rage and Shocker. He also touches on the scene in this film that's easily the most offensive to modern audiences, and it ain't the long skinning sequence. "Bargain Bin VHS" (17m9s) with screenwriter Paul Hart-Wilden goes into his own affinity for horror and his fascination with serial killers, which he channeled into this script with elements from famous names like Ted Bundy. Particularly interesting are his explanation for the film's water imagery, which comes from the original intention to set the story in London, and a dispiriting anecdote about Hammer Films. "Cutting Skinner" (10m41s) with editor Jeremy Kasten is a lot juicier than you might expect, including a dive into Nagy's reputation as the onetime boyfriend of Heidi Fleiss and a discussion of some crazy deals involved in getting the film finished under less than ideal circumstances; it might actually be the best extra on the whole disc as he cheerfully charts out the illicit process of getting the film to final cut. (And no, the name of Lords' character is not a coincidence.) Don't miss this one. Also included is a lengthy outtake reel (11m39s), in full frame SD with timecode, devoted entirely to the flaying sequence with extensive coverage from every shot. A timecoded trailer is also included.
Reviewed on January 24, 2019.