If you talk Italian horror you talk first and foremost of Argento and Fulici. I confess that of the twenty odd films and television episodes that Dario Argento has directed, I’ve seen exactly 3 – and two of those are "Masters of Horror" episodes. For a guy who runs a horror site, this would seem inexcusable. And, well, I don’t actually have an excuse.
It just hasn’t come up. Profondo Rosso, Tenebre, Inferno etc. are all on my radar, there just always seems to be a reason to let ‘em slide on down. If it weren’t for the "Masters" episodes at the tip of my remote, my exposure would be even less. Fortunately, his episodes have been highlights of the touch-and-go series. Season 1’s Jenifer is a stronger outing than Pelts (which hit DVD last Tuesday), but his sophomore trip is still worth a once over if it crosses your late night television path.
Meat Loaf, yes, that Meat Loaf, plays Jake, an Emperor of Sleaze fur trader obsessed with bedding (read: raping) his favorite stripper. One of his deeply redneck suppliers returns from a supposedly cursed chunk of the woods with traps full of raccoons. Good ‘ole Jeb skins ‘dem coons right proper and the resulting pelts become objects of rapture. Jeb’s skinning apprentice is the first to fall under their spell, bashing in Jeb’s skull before taking a face first plunge into a steel trap.
Jake finds the wondrous pelts and brings them back to his shop with the intention of making a coat for his stripper to model in an upcoming show, as an oh-so-devious ruse to make her open up to him. The pelts themselves capture each worker one by one, causing them to try their hand at all kinds of body art.
The story may sound familiar because it is familiar. The pelts are simply a substitution for any number of things in object-obsessed stories. The characters, especially Meat Loaf, are all disgusting. Too much camera time is spent on skirting the viewer with lap dances.
Yet all these things mesh together under Argento’s goal of sheer viewer revulsion. Watching Meat Loaf paw at, lust after and attempt to rape a stripper is flat gross. It is a deadpan, convincing performance and the singer deserves credit for it, but it certainly isn’t pleasant to watch a woman shove her bare ass in his sweaty face. The whole thing has an air of seediness that can’t be shaken.
The gore is all self-inflicted and goes straight for a squirm factor over a quality set-up/pay off. The effects themselves, except for the intentionally far out climax, are all believable, but the content is little more than surface shock.
The discomfort here shouldn’t be over sold, however. Watching it all come together won’t make you vomit – it never really does anything too bold or original – but it won’t put you to sleep either. One’s own overall enjoyment will boil down to how much you enjoy the sleazier side of the genre. There would have been a time, probably when I was in high school, when I thought possession-inducing pelts and strippers was a riot, but these days it doesn’t impress me much.
The saving grace is that the story, when mixed with its director’s style, reaches such levels of absurdity that you can’t help but crack a smile at some point – even if that point comes after the credits roll. Once things slip far from reality, it is too jovial not to at least chuckle at.
I may not have seen much Argento, but I’ve seen enough to know he can do far better than this. It is television for a select crowd. Even if you aren’t a fan of the things hinted at above, if you’re bored at 1am and Showtime is just a button press away, you could do worse. But, if you’re actively looking for something to get your heart pumping, Pelts isn’t it.