Skinner (Home Video Review)

Starring Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Richard Schiff

Directed by Ivan Nagy

Distributed by Severin Films

With social media aflutter over the recent white-hot Netflix documentary about Ted Bundy, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2018), as well as the upcoming Zac Efron-led biopic (calm yourselves, ladies), now seems like a good time to shine a light on one lesser known, fictional counterpart to that handsome devil: Dennis Skinner (coincidentally, played by a Ted, last name Raimi). Directed by Ivan Nagy, one-time boyfriend of infamous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, Skinner (1993) is a film that has flown completely under my radar for the past 26 years. Once Severin made the announcement I was a little miffed I’d never heard of a “sleazy” serial killer drama starring Ted Raimi, Traci Lords, Richard Schiff, and Ricki Lake. That’s one helluva interesting cast. Also of note: KNB handles the FX duties. Skinner is as sick, slick, and sleazy as the images that title conjures up; this film is two parts Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and one part The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and it just became one of my favorite discoveries this year.

Dennis Skinner (Ted Raimi) is a loner. He’s handsome and capable and sharp, mild-mannered even… but he’s also a serial killer. Dennis roams the downtown streets at night, luring in hookers with his charm and setting them at ease before bashing their brains in and skinning them alive. Then, he stiches their remains together and wears it like a suit. Adhering to the old adage of “the clothes make the man”, Dennis takes on the personality of whoever’s skin he is wearing. But slicing up street walkers is tiring business and everyone needs a place to lay their head, so Dennis rents a room from Kerry (Ricki Lake) and Geoff (David Warshofsky), a couple living in a spacious house, giving them plenty of room to squabble about marital problems.

Dennis sees Kerry as an opportunity, not only to give her a Mr. Right but also to give him a person to which he can fully reveal himself. Unfortunately, the real Dennis Skinner isn’t a doting husband; he’s a disturbed man wearing a suit made of human skin. Caught up in his own personal maelstrom of murder and marital strife, Dennis also has to contend with Heidi (Traci Lords), a disfigured would-be victim (and junkie) out to punish the man who deformed her.

This feels like a film that should have been buried under the weight of 2019 standards, but Severin threw all fucks to the wind to bring slasher fans a heinous piece of work that could easily offend sensitive types. There is literal blackface. I won’t spoil the surprise of “who” but there is a scene in the film where Dennis is chasing a woman, in broad daylight, in an empty industrial zone and he is wearing an entire body suit made from the skin of a black man. And as he chases this woman he taunts her – in the guise of this black man. Any filmmaker doing something like that today would be torn to shreds on social media before their film wrapped production for the day. The thing is, though, it isn’t racist. Dennis didn’t hate the black man he killed because he was black. A scene earlier shows Dennis wearing a woman-suit, and he speaks as though he is that woman. Black-man-suit? Black man voice. Viewers who are eager to be triggered and offended will scoff but, then, if you’re buying and watching this film you likely and hopefully don’t fall into such a category.

A film so unrepentantly nihilistic and dark needs a soundtrack commensurate with that vibe. Enter Contagion, an industrial artist who has opened for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and other well-known acts. The soundscape here is bleak and cold, constantly ominous. Again, I was reminded of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer because there, too, the music is dissonant and minimal. There is no repeated motif or hummable melody supporting Dennis’ actions. It’s all Spartan and mechanical.

Where the film falls short for me is with some of the dialogue and nearly all of the murder scenes. Oh, and Heidi’s revenge; her poor, inept revenge. Raimi has several scenes where he’s able to chillingly convey the mind of a deranged killer; then, in others, he’s a bit too “Chop-Top” for me, taking the gallows humor dangerously close to actual comedy territory. The murder scenes are sloppily put together, like they were an afterthought. Worst, though, is the Heidi plotline. The film seems to be building up to their big reunion, but it bungles this moment horribly and then attempts to rebuild tension for their climactic encounter. Too late. That momentum was killed thirty minutes ago.

Despite some of these shortcomings, the film is highly entertaining and shockingly well done for a picture shot in around two weeks with little money. KNB’s practical effects occasionally show their seams but the FX work they do is still leagues better than nearly anyone else then or now. Nuanced, committed performances are all around and the overall vibe is definitely sketchy and unsettling. Chances are most horror fans haven’t even heard of this one, let alone seen it, making Severin Films’ release a hot ticket for all the right reasons.

The back cover states the 1.78:1 1080p image has been taken from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative – and the results are some of the best yet from Severin’s catalog. This isn’t the most pristine picture or something incredibly polished – film grain is moderate-to-heavy and definition is often average – but this disc is likely pushing the limits of what was originally captured on camera. Close-ups exhibit a lot of fine details. A true indicator of the proficiency of the transfer is how well the image tends to hold up in shadow; answer: better than I expected. Contrast is stable, with black levels often looking nice and dark.

There isn’t much to examine in regard to the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Contagion’s score clangs through with cold clarity; the harsh soundtrack’s use of electronic sounds are perfectly reproduced. Dialogue is presented cleanly and with no hissing, though it does occasionally sound a tad muted. Much of the sound design here relies on silence and speech. Subtitles are available in English.

Special Features:

  • 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 & Extended Takes
  • Vintage Trailer

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