While we have some great companies in the UK releasing genre titles there’s a huge amount of output going on Stateside as well. Production houses such as Synapse, Blue Underground, Severin, Vinegar Syndrome, Code Red and Mondo Macabro really deliver the goods, often region free and more importantly uncut compared to some of the versions which fall foul of the censors over here. Of-course import costs and long delays getting them make buying these an expensive and frustrating experience and at times we are left salivating by unavailability at home or whole sections of catalogues simply not being available or ever likely to be here (Vinegar Syndrome’s more ahem adult orientated titles for example). Still a lot of titles do make it over here and are pretty much identical to their stateside equivalent and one just has to cross fingers and be patient to be rewarded by a film such as Raphael Nussbaum’s Pets (1973) arriving on 88 Films here after it has already been available from VS for some time. Skinner is another such example, Ivan Nagy’s 1993 film has never been released in the UK before but has been out via Severin for a while. Now thankfully you can see it here for the very first-time, completely uncut courtesy of 101 films; hurrah and we even beat them with a DVD copy (for those still in the stone ages) and a limited-edition booklet about the film.
The title probably part gives the game away here on what sort of film you are about to sit down and watch and yep we are basically in serial killer, stalk and slash territory. Of-course you have seen this type of film countless times in the 80’s and by the year it was released Jason had already gone to hell and things were in a complete doldrum before the post-modern slasher was reinvented by Wes Craven with Scream (1996) and the floodgates opened all over again. Skinner is partly notable due to the fact of just who is in it. Ted Raimi plays the lead Dennis Skinner and he has a fun pastime keeping him busy (clue it’s not politics). Having got minor placement in Scott Spiegel’s excellent Intruder (1989) it is clear that he really relishes the chance to cut loose and before I sat down to watch this for the first time I was expecting a film in the same vein as both Intruder and Bill Lustig’s seminal slasher Maniac (1980) and to be fair we get the tone and atmospheres of both here to a slight extent. Any crazed killer needs an object of affection as well as a slew of quick dismemberments in minor roles and here we have two to focus on. First there is trusting landlady Kerry played by Ricki Lake (yes that one) and second there is the strange and damaged Heidi (Traci Lords) who seems to be shadowing Dennis’s movements and waiting for the time to strike. The past and present are going to eventually catch up but there is a certain amount of mystery in the air.
Another major player here is the grotty and totally deadbeat setting of the film that is Nightmare USA through and through. Riddled in graffiti and abandoned buildings it is the sort of place only hookers for some inexplicable reason seem to be on the streets. Of-course Dennis with his bag of tools is not complaining about that in the slightest. Everything is pure skid row and leaves, like Maniac and other films such as Combat Shock (Buddy Giovinazzo 1984) & Deadbeat At Dawn (Jim Van Bebber 1988), a real feeling of grime about it. When Dennis goes about his work and I am not referring to the day job as janitor at a large handy warehouse he manages to land, it is time for the FX to shine. Seeing as they were dished out by KNB FX we know we are in safe hands and the victims are most definitely not. The process from which the film’s title takes its name is done in very gruesome detail, yes Maniac is an inspiration but it is also one that has stemmed from a certain lunatic clan from Texas and due to one part of its innovative team can be followed right down through to the present day to recent episodes of The Walking Dead. It’s probably the main appeal of the film apart from seeing Ted Raimi go absolutely barmy (psychologists would have a field day) and catching Ricki Lake in a somewhat sleazy flick just around the time she was about to start out as a talk show host.
I enjoyed Skinner for what it was, a somewhat obscure film from a somewhat obscure director whose Deadly Hero (1975) is the only film I really know of before he did a few TV shows (CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch) and went into less salubrious nude and casting couch film territory. It must have been hard at the time this was made to inject any originality into the slasher film but along with the unhinged madness of the movie and the at times irreverent silliness of it this is definitely worth a watch for enthusiasts of the sub-genre. It also kind of paved the way for other more modern gore-fests and atrocities such as the revolting and banned in the UK likes of Murder-Set-Pieces (Nick Palumbo 2004) and Gutterballs (Ryan Nicholson R.I.P 2008) and although not as excessive as either of these definitely notches up some belt holes in the politically incorrect stakes.
After the skin we arrive at the bones in the form of the extras. First up is a posthumous interview with the director who passed away in 2015; “A Touch of Scandal: An Interview with Ivan Nagy.” Taking place in 2007 when search for the film components had apparently just began this 20-minute piece takes us back to the early days of the Hungarian director and his moving to the USA at 18, a refugee after a revolution in his home country. This fills in a lot of gaps of a director who as I say I knew nothing really about and it his photography that he 1st gained attention from, especially for album cover work winning a Grammy for a B.B. King sleeve. At age of 32 his calling as director was finally achieved with low budget picture Pushing Up Daisies (1973) a tale of a heist by a gang dressed up as nuns. As he humorously states he has been making low budget pictures ever since. For those interested Code Red released Deadly Hero in the USA and it can be tracked down (at a price). He worked in the strictures of television for far too long but eventually got out and led an interesting life, and was embroiled in the scandal of his ex-lover Heidi Fliess, and vilified by Nick Broomfield in his documentary about her. He describes Skinner as a street picture and going back to his roots. Interestingly it was originally intended to be shot in England and was offered to Hammer who turned it straight down due to its disgusting content. The fact Traci Lords character is called Heidi now makes a lot more sense.
Ted Raimi is the next interviewee who we get under the skin with over a 14-minute piece. Somewhat oddly he mentions his first feature as being Blood Rage (1987) but there is no mention of work with brother Sam on The Evil Dead, Crimewave and Thou Shall Not Kill Except? Citing Shocker (Wes Craven 1989) and Josh Becker’s Lunatics A Love Story (1991) as work leading up to Skinner he says he played the part straight in the audition leading up to being cast in the main role and was also surprised at the lack of gore in the original script. Naturally things changed in that respect. He looked to Gacy and Dahmer as inspiration to understand his character rather than Gein as one might expect. Due to budget restrictions shooting was fast over about 2 ½ weeks and he speaks about working with KNB FX who as he points out would become famous working on Oscar nominated movies. The film was so offensive it could not be done today he says and yes, the particular scene he is mentioning was one that I was definitely surprised about and I can’t help agree. I’m glad he filled us in about some of the locations too, such as Echo Park and downtown LA long since gentrified since the filming. Nobody involved in the film was surprised about it being critically panned on release, Silence Of The Lambs (Jonathon Demme 1991) it most definitely is not…
The title “Bargain Bin VHS for a Buck: An Interview with Skinner Screenwriter Paul Hart-Wilden” speaks for itself and the author states he could bore to death with trivia about serial killers. Ed Gein and what he did with the bodies was his inspiration for Skinner as was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre as genesis for his script. It would no doubt have been quite different if set in the London Docklands area where it was originally conceived but as mentioned Hammer were having none of it when approached. Finally the door opened for him with funding but only with the proviso that Nagy was attached as director and that’s pretty much where his input ended until he saw a screening of the finished product. What’s also interesting is the virtual disappearance of the movie and the task of finding it again which was all down to Hart-Wilden and something that took over 10 years. Sleazy and scummy are words used by Jeremy Kasten in regards to director and the film which he ended up working on post production wise. He enjoyed all the putting the film together though and all the drama revolving around Nagy at the time. He tells an interesting tale of his involvement and speaking of scuzzy well anyone who saw his remake of HG Lewis The Wizard of Gore will realise his movie career didn’t exactly get any better. Completing the disc we have quarter of an hour’s worth of outtakes and a trailer and that is pretty much everything you need to properly skin up with. I definitely appreciated the depth of the extras as they tell a tale that’s actually as interesting, if not more so than the film itself. Skinner is available as part of 101’s Black Label limited edition range from the link below.