According to series creator Mick Garris, Dario Argento's contribution is the second season's wettest, with hugely disgusting set-pieces that rival the director's most recent and bloody feature film, La terza madre / Mother of Tears (2007).
The effects team went all-out in meeting Argento's grisly vision by constructing finely detailed gore for the film's nastiest sequences that include a head mashing, facial trauma by bear trap, sewing one's face up, disemboweling by shears, and slicing one's skin off to form a bloody vest. There's also the crunching of a raccoon head, and post-trauma details like flies buzzing on mashed up or sliced craniums.
The most jarring aspect, however, is the fusion of Argento's style and grisly fetishes with a script written by American Matt Venne; translation: the dialogue doesn't stink, the characters are fleshed out (whoops), and there's a unity of themes that intermingle throughout the revenge plot of angry raccoon spirits who possess those who touch their skins to horrible self-inflicted trauma.
Base on the story by F. Paul Wilson, the tale has some striking similarities to The Keep (1983), Wilson 's best-known work that was cinematically buggered up by Michael Mann. In place of gold, the obsession for the trappers and furrier head Jake Feldman (Meat Loaf) is perfect, soft pelts; and the treasure is not held in some giant impregnable old fortress, but the ancient remains of some pagan church (or whatever the hell it is) where raccoons thrive. The dangers, though are the same: when greedy men transgress onto private land and exploit the riches of forbidden wealth, they're dead meat.
Screenwriter Venne integrated a lot of references to Argento's canon, making the episode rather fun for the slight and sometimes obvious nods that include black gloves, knives, and a rumply protectoress known as Mother Mayter. (Get it? Get it?) There's also heavy nudity, girl-girl frothing, and boobery – three naughty quotients Argento has increasingly been indulging in his most recent work. Also of note is the casting of John Saxon (who played the slimy agent in Tenebre) as the elder trapper who gets his face mashed up.
The title design is retro-seventies (sort of mimicking the Suspiria font), and Claudio Simonetti's synth score makes use of some classical and vocal cues reminiscent of Opera and Phenomena. Most of the cues work, but the vocal theme applied to the haunted pelts gets silly very fast, and gives scenes of hypnotized victims a goofy, campy edge, which may not be quite what the director and composer intended.
The episode's strongest elements, after the gore, are the performances, with Meat Loaf giving an amazing performance as the obsessed, sex-crazed furrier who eventually fashions a vest of his skin.
Pelts may be one of Argento's most satisfying American productions because he was primarily a gun for hire who didn't impose too many of his fetishes into a simple, fluid narrative.
Venne's commentary track provides an excellent overview of Wilson 's story, changes for the script, and changes mandated by Argento. Venne is surprisingly scholarly at times, which elevates his comments on working with the famous director from fanboy to something more erudite, and he also provides a decent overview (often quite witty) of his entry into screenwriting as a dual film and English major graduate.
The DVD's extras include storyboard samples of the trappers' demises, the usual making-of featurette with some cast and crew interviews (sadly, not Saxon), as well as creator Garris and director Argento. The effects featurette focuses primarily on the face sewing sequences, and Argento's fans should be pleased with the balance within the 58 min. running time.
Most important impression from this particular episode: the effects people are KNB are sick, sick bastards.
This title is available separately, and in a life-sized skull that houses the complete Second Season of Masters of Horror which includes "The Black Cat," "The Damned Thing," "Dream Cruise," "Family," 'Pelts," "Pro-Life," "Right to Die," "The Screwfly Solution," "Sounds Like," "Valerie on the Stairs," "The V Word," "The Washingtonians," and "We All Scream for Ice Cream."
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan