Anchor Bay // 2006 // 59 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 13th, 2007
Fur is murder...literally!
The Masters of Horror series provides us with horrific visions from directors fans just can't seem to get enough from. If ever there was a director with a rabid following, Dario Argento ranks near the top of the horror heap. Pelts is his second season offering for the series, and it's just as "wet" and gruesome as the previous Dario entry Jenifer. Peta would be proud to present Masters of Horror: Pelts, the one DVD that'll make you want to stay far away from anything made of fur.
A sly old poacher (John Saxon, A Nightmare on Elm Street) traps the most beautiful raccoons he can find for the exquisite fur. He plans on selling them to a sleazy furrier (Meat Loaf, Fight Club) who in turn wants to make a drop dead coat for a stripper he has his eye on. It all should go smoothly, but the 'coons carry a curse. Seems the little critters have supernatural guardian powers even in death, and anyone who comes in contact with the pelts is brutally punished in an "eye for eye" fashion.
Dario Argento is in fine form with this outing, and the fans of Italian shock cinema will not be disappointed. True to his fashion, Pelts is a gory giallo-style shocker dripping with trademark visual cues and bloody, uncompromising kills. This has to be one of the goriest installments in the series, and would have a hard time earning an R-rating from the MPAA if it hit the big screen. If you're a fan of over-the-top deaths which don't flinch or cut away just as things get nasty, this is the "must own" title of the Masters of Horror collection. The make-up team revisits territory Clive Barker began exploring in Hellraiser. The effects guys know exactly how to handle the material, and give the gore sequences the right tone to become brutal fun. Nothing in Pelts looks "too real," and this stylization keeps the episode from being unwatchable. We're treated with everything from a man getting his face beaten in with a baseball bat to a skin removing climax which will make your flesh crawl.
In addition to lots of squishy gore, what makes Argento a strong director is on display with Pelts. Dario remains an amazing visualist, and the lighting and sets are masterfully controlled along with camera moves. The color palettes are amped up in every setting, and it's fun to see rural America through an Italian director's eyes. Every aspect seems controlled and studied, all with a hyper stylized fairy tale look. The score is by frequent Argento collaborator Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame, and it compliments and completes the signature feel. Pelts by necessity of "made for TV" is a low budget affair, but the effects and flair work in harmony to get the points across gruesomely as possible. Fans will recognize the project immediately through the extraordinary flair as part of the Argento cannon.
Pelts feels like fantasy, but is played seriously even if the events are over-the-top. The cast is led by Meat Loaf who pulls off his role (and assorted bits of skin) believably. He's not seen as a great actor in the traditional definition, but he commits to characters and disappears into their flesh. Here Loaf's physical stature is as important as his larger than life persona. He's playing a hungry greedy man, and he's the perfect choice to embody an overstuffed fur maven. John Saxon makes a brief but effective appearance as the man who kicks off the curse. He's worked with Argento before, so this is a reunion for the pair. Ellen Ewusie (Bones) plays the beautiful lesbian stripper, and Brenda McDonald (Hellraiser: Hellseeker) appears as the creepy matriarch who knows the raccoons are not ordinary. The ensemble works, and keeps things moving well.
The DVD contains a shocking amount of bonus materials for such a short feature. Pelts runs sixty minutes, but there are two featurettes on the making of the episode as well as a commentary. First up is a behind the scenes featurette with all the major players offering their take on the project. Argento, Meat Loaf, and other cast and crew members tell us what it was like on the set. The second featurette concentrates on a specific effects shot where a woman takes a needle and thread to her face, an iconic image that has been used extensively in the marketing for the Masters of Horror series. Writer Matt Venne offers commentary from a screen writer's point of view. It's his first huge project, and he's more than excited to share his process on getting a script produced. There is also a photo gallery, text biography for the director, and storyboards offered to round out the material. DVD-ROM enables you a look at the script. This is a loaded affair which affords an in-depth look at what amounts to a single episode of a tv series. Transfer is solid with great black levels and color contrasts in a clean widescreen format. Surround sound kicks out the score and screams nicely.
Like most entries in Masters of Horror, the story is a little weaker than the style and passion the director brings to the project. Pelts is better than most, but at sixty minutes it remains uncomplicated and melodramatic. It plods along at a brisk bloody pace, but we see every move coming miles away. You'll find the supernatural explanations brief, and I was left wishing we had more insight into the raccoons that haunt the story. Perhaps that keeps it sliding into overkill, but all the same the animals don't get much of a starring role in their own revenge tale. You feel the constraints of only having an hour to tell the story, and sometimes the narrative suffers for it. And let's not sidestep the fact this one defines "gratuitous." You get tons of exploitation from extra gore to naked ladies all with shock as the only motive. It feels like a "guys" movie.
Masters of Horror: Pelts is another outstanding DVD which offers shock fans the chance to see a director they revere fill up an hour. Dario Argento makes the most of his chance to craft an American television production, and he cements his status as the king of beautiful carnage created on a dime. Political overtones abound, yet the story is more a thrill ride than an anti fur morality tale. We get a stylish, wet, bloody chapter that is well worth checking out for horror fans who like Italian. Anchor Bay and Starz Home Entertainment provide a robust features filled DVD that offers enough supplemental material to take the sting out of only having one episode of a television series on a disc. Meat Loaf, supernatural raccoons, lesbian strippers, and enough gore to make you squirm? Who could resist.
Guilty of being a gory thrill ride with a PETA approved message, Pelts will have you decked out in pleather and fake fur from now on.
Review content copyright © 2007 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 59 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fleshing it Out: The Making of PeltsAll Sewn Up: Mastering the Effects Sequence
* Audio Commentary with Writer Matt Venne
* Storyboard Gallery
* Dario Argento Biography
* Still Gallery
* Screenplay on DVD-ROM