Masters of Horror: Pelts (US - DVD R1)
Gabe gives Dario Argento a good review. The raccoons made him do it
Jake (Meat Loaf) is a furrier who cares about nothing but himself, his money, and a stripper named Shannon (Ellen Ewusie). Shannon doesn't return Jakes affections, but though she finds him frankly despicable, is willing to tolerate him so long as cash is passing hands. When a trapper (John Saxon) contacts Jake with the news of the finest raccoon pelts ever captured Jake hatches a plan to win Shannon’s affections. The only problem is that the raccoon pelts in question turn out to be cursed, and those who come into contact with them have a habit of dying in very messy fashions.
Let's start things off on the right foot, Pelts is not a good movie in the classic sense. This isn't even a good movie in the context of the irrefutable world of Dario Argento. What Pelts is is an entirely stupid hour of messy, boobs and gore horror filmmaking. If someone were to ask me flat out, "Is Pelts a good film?", I'd laugh. If after five minutes of my laughter that inquisitor were still standing before me, I'd say, "Oh my God, no...but you have to see it.", then I'd laugh a bit more.
If you aren't familiar with Dario Argento's work, and want to understand his fans stay very far away from Pelts, it is not a good place to start. As a fan of the man, I'd say this was a simple cathartic release on the part of the maestro. Everything Argento's been working to achieve the last decade is tossed out the window. Gone is his concern with telling more 'mainstream' narratives, and nowhere can I find his newly found restraint. Thank God.
I've been craving a good Argento film for a long time now, and am entirely sick of his never-ending neuvo-Giallo revivals. His first entree in the Masters of Horror series, last years Jenifer, was a step in the right direction, and was rather unrestrained in the gore and logic departments, but something was missing. It still felt like Argento was trying to make something meaningful, and traditionally good. The last 'traditionally good' film the man made was Profondo Rosso, back in 1975. Most of his classics ( Suspiria, Tenebre, Opera) do not follow traditional narratives or techniques. This is what divides viewers on the director, and this is what makes him special.
Pelts is so much fun because it's so blatantly silly and X-rated. This is by far the most T&A and gory violence in any Argento movie ever made. Some of the gore scenes aren't even filmed in Argento's style (if he even has one), they look like the early '80s Italian gore flicks Lucio Fulci and Joe D'Amato used to make. This is a major throwback, to the point that I'm sure some viewers will see it as a back step. I don't see it that way. I see this as an old man regaining some of that youthful vigor that he never really had. Argento's films (with the exception of Phenomena, his own personal favourite) have always at least attempted a level of maturity and have almost always been played 100% straight. Argento made some silly movies, but he never saw them as such. He never made a Bad Taste, Evil Dead, or Shivers, and it seems he had one in him.
The strangest thing about the whole film is the fact that characters freak out about the supposed beauty of these raccoon pelts. I'm not a fur connoisseur, and if I'm off base, please forgive my ignorance, but raccoon? Aren't raccoons basically giant rats? Isn't their fur normally coarse? Shouldn't the most expensive fur coats be those made from more exotic or rare animals? I can buy the idea of these particular 'coons being mystically beautiful, but Argento really has to sell me on the idea these pelts being special. Digital sparkles and enhancements don't do the trick. Maybe if they were some kind of rare albino raccoons or something?
Most of the supporting actors take their roles a little too seriously, as does relative newbie Ellen Ewusie as the lead protagonist. Ewusie is really good at being naked and moving seductively, but not so good at reading lines or realistically emoting, which leads me to believe her acting career may have started somewhere outside of the standard Hollywood arena (if you get my meaning, nudge nudge). B-legend John Saxon hams it up in a relatively restrained manner, and the actors that mutilate themselves jump into the pain with fervor. In the end, and unsurprisingly, it is Mr. Meat Loaf that rules the picture. Loaf either 'gets' the role or is taking the whole thing with the appropriate grain of salt. He's disgusting, obnoxious, loud, and oddly loveable, as only a man named after a ground beef and ketchup based baked meal can be.
The practical effects, the real stars of the show (sorry Meat), come from the Oscar award winning mind of Howard Berger and his KNB crew, and are pretty damn obvious considering the credentials. My personal favourite is an assistant that cuts himself open with a set of mean looking scissors and unravels his intestines. The man is very obviously in a harness, the skin colours do not match, the skin itself is far too thin, the intestines are too high in the body, and for such a fat man, the guy doesn't have to deal with removing any lard to get to the guts. Later there's a mixed practical/digital effect that starts off very convincing and goes to Hell. Yet the amount and frequency of these effects is still enough to turn even a jaded stomach. Well done writer, not so well done effects crew.
But all these positives and negatives mix into a great way to waste an hour of your life, assuming you like gore, nudity, sex, and so-naughty-it's-good moments. Had the effects been more convincing, the actors more subtle, or the story made more realistic sense, Pelts may've been a good film. It would've also run the risk of being an all out failure. Whether he's done it on purpose or not, Argento has transcended a logical analysis with this picture, and made a piece of trash art that is entertaining in spite of itself.
Season one of Masters of Horror had some general problems with compression noise and loss of detail, though these problems varied from episode to episode (the R2 discs looked especially bad). This marks the first episode release of season two, and though still problematic, the transfer is a good start. We've still got some low-level noise, but this time around details are much sharper. Colours are brighter without blooming as well, but are occasionally blotchy.
2001's Non ho Sonno saw Argento reuniting with members of Goblin, the super group that scored his classics Profondo Rosso and Suspiria, as well as Argento's cut of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Goblin member Claudio Simonetti has stayed on for Argento's following features, including this one (all in all, Simonetti has scored or had a hand about half of Argento's films). Curiously, the score, while effective, is not very Simonetti-esque. It recalls Argento's really work with uber-composer Ennio Morricone, and is eerily dreamy, as if the raccoons themselves have been given a voice.
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very crisp and tight, but the surround channels aren't very aggressive beyond the score and other on screen music. Dialogue is garbled a bit in some of the louder scenes, but still discernable. For such an over-the-top film, the soundtrack is mostly subdued, with the exception of the finale, which is a fit of music and screaming.
The first season batch of Masters of Horror discs were worth the purchase for the extra features, half of which focused on the 'master' himself. Unfortunately Argento's history is found on his first season release, Jenifer, and producers are left with little more to say about him. Instead we focus on the making of the film itself.
Argento stopped doing English commentaries (and I beleive commentaries all together) after Anchor Bay's Tenebre release. He doesn't enjoy the experience. For our commentary, first time writer Matt Venne steps up to the plate. Venne is a geek, a big geek, but a charming one, and he knows his stuff. He's very prepared and personable as well, perhaps too much so, and I'm sure his tone will bother some listeners. But I say he does a good job here, and is sure to give credit where it is due, though he over annunciates the ‘G’ in Argento every time he says it.
The making of featurette, entitled Fleshing it Out is a fluff piece and an advertisement, but still has just enough information and entertainment value to be worthwhile. Series producer Mick Garris refers to Pelts as the second season's 'wet' episode, and appears to have been genuine appalled by some of the levels of violence. Meat Loaf jokes about the film and his involvement, which he attributes to his daughter, a big Argento fan. Ellen Ewusie seems to be taking the whole thing a little too seriously, but her seriousness mixed with Loaf's abandon is amusing. And of course, it's always fun to watch Argento struggle try to explain the point of any of his films in broken English.
We're also privy to a brief behind the scenes featurette on one of the films gorier scenes in which an actress sews shut every hole on her face and suffocates. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst effects in the entire film, at least the later half where the camera fixates on the actress's lips as they are obviously digitally altered. It's kind of sad realizing how much work went into a sequence that is ultimately a failure.
Like previous Masters of Horror releases, the disc also houses a series of trailers, still galleries (this one includes a storyboard comparison), a director Bio, and a DVDROM version of the script.
Pelts comes highly, highly recommended too fans of sloppy and silly horror, but I stress again that it is a flawed mess of a film and not the best representation of its director's skill. If you're looking to 'get' Argento, don't bother. If you're looking for insight, or even allegory, don't bother. If you're a member of PETA hoping to see a venomous attack on the fur industry, don't bother. If you want to have a good time and turn your stomach a bit in the process you've come to the right place.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th February 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Writer Commentary, All Sewn Up: Mastering The Effects Sequence, Fleshing It Out: The Making of Pelts, Storyboards, Stills, Trailers, Script DVD-ROM
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Meat Loaf Aday, Ellen Ewusie, John Saxon
Length: 58 minutes
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