Director: Ivan Nagy
Script: Paul Hart-Wilden
Cast: Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake, David Warshofsky, Richard Schiff, Traci Lords
Running time: 90 minutes
There’s a very specific appeal of mid 90’s indie horror, whether it’s the outrageous clothing, the gloriously lo-fi synth soundtracks or the grungey makeup effects, these films are often very marmite in their nature. They’re also often quite the treasure trove to horror connoisseurs; 70’s and 80’s horror largely have their standout “must watch” films, either thanks to reputation through things like the Video Recordings Act (the video nasties) or because they are widely regarded as trendsetters in the genre. So for me, I’m endlessly fascinated with these 90’s films, some of which are treats, some of which are trash – Skinner sits firmly in the middle. Be warned – there are a couple of spoilers in this review!
A satisfyingly skeezy and grimy film, Skinner follows the titular character, Dennis Skinner (no, not the Labour politician) as he arrives in town accompanied only by his terrible 90’s fashion sense and a bag of “tools”. Played by Ted Raimi in a rare leading role, Skinner is immediately established as a bad egg. For one he’s being followed by the scarred Heidi (Traci Lords) who is hellbent on killing him, and he spends much of the opening scenes sleazing around Kerry (Ricki Lake), his new landlady. It’s not long before we find out Skinners true nature and, yes, he very much takes after his name. Dennis enjoys luring prostitutes into the factory where he works before murdering them and liberating them of their skin which he then wears. The delightful chap.
Skinner is a very hard film to pigeonhole. Sure, it’s a horror film but it’s also weird to the point of almost self satirising the slasher genre. Skinner and Heidi are very much a battle of the unhinged, two damaged characters and Raimi and Lords liberally eat up the scenery in their respective roles. It’s hard to tell who we’re supposed to be rooting for, especially when the supporting cast are largely given rather one note roles. It’s also a remarkably oppressive film. While it doesn’t shy away from the gore, there’s definitely a very dreamlike quality to the visuals, with repeated motifs of water that feel like an attempt to give the cinematography an arthouse edge and do certainly add a degree of isolation to the film. On top of that, many scenes are shot in surreal lights, purples and greens which only adds to the weirdness.
It’s also worth noting that this is a film that’s not really aged well. While Heidi is a strong, albeit damaged, protagonist, the other female presences in the film are largely there to be disposable or, in the case of Kerry, to be morose about her failed marriage and ultimately taken advantage of. Sure, this is largely a product of its time, but then we get to a scene part way through the film that is… uncomfortable. Having been wronged by a co-worker, Skinner enacts his revenge by killing and skinning him before wearing him to chase another woman down to her death. In and as of itself that sounds a bit nasty, but the real problem here is that the co-worker is… well, he’s a black man. And Skinner “does an accent”. And it is SUPER awkward, even for a film from 1993. It’s very telling that the bonus features have a recent interview with Raimi in which he voices his regret for filming that scene, a sentinment with which I can wholeheartedly agree.
Despite that, however, I quite enjoyed Skinner. It’s a weird enough exploitation flick to be great beer and pizza viewing and the VFX are pretty decent and gloriously squelchy. Presentation wise, it’s also had a nice clean up, although the image retains a fair bit of grain at times. The audio is a little on the muffled side, however, so your mileage may vary. If you can get past its unlikeable characters, oppressively weird tone and moments of extreme political incorrectness, Skinner is worth the time for fans of odd horror flicks.
- Limited edition booklet includes ‘Finding Skinner’ – Screenwriter Paul Hart- Wilden on the long and multi-faceted search for the ‘lost’ Skinner master
- A Touch of Scandal – Interview with Director Ivan Nagy
- Under His Skin – Interview with Star Ted Raimi
- Bargain Bin VHS For A Buck – Interview with Screenwriter Paul Hart-Wilden
- Cutting Skinner – Interview with Editor Jeremy Kasten
- Flaying sequence out-takes and extended takes
The bonus features comprise largely of interviews and a booklet we sadly didn’t get to check out. What’s interesting here is the focus on the history behind the scenes of this film. Director Ivan Nagy was at the centre of the 90’s Heidi Fleiss scandal and the release of this film was largely swallowed up in that. The interviews, especially with the late Nagy, explore that to a degree and add an interesting, if not entirely savoury, angle to the film.
For gorehounds, though, the out-takes and extended takes of the “flaying sequence” will give you a better view of the genuinely fabulous visual effects used.