Thursday, January 24, 2013

Skinner (Ivan Nagy, 1993)

If the sight of Ted Raimi, brother of Drag Me to Hell director Sam Raimi, running around a vacant lot to industrial music wearing the skin of another man wasn't messed up enough. The makes of Skinner, the only film in existence to feature Traci Lords' little seen Carl McCoy impression, have decided to up the ante a couple octaves by having Ted Raimi run around a vacant lot to industrial music while wearing the skin of a black man. Taking "blackface" to whole new level of creepy and awkward, Ted Raimi totally wears a suit made entirely from the skin of a black man. It's true, he does wear the skin of white women as well. But there's something really disturbing about the sight of a white man wearing the skin of a black man. The fact that he acts out what he interrupts as "black mannerisms" is what makes the scene even more disturbing. What's so disturbing about that, you ask? You're joking, right? Sure, wearing other people's skin is sick and twisted, but people, especially white people, act out the mannerisms of other races and cultures all the time. Anytime you hear a white man say the word "yo" while wearing a baseball hat that's been purposefully positioned to sit atop his head in an irregular manner, they're just imitating what they saw a black man do on television. Wow, when you put it that way, it doesn't sound creepy and awkward at all. Exactly. What Ted Raimi's character is doing is he's just taking cultural co-option one step further. Forget about wearing their clothes, adopting their mannerisms, or even burrowing their language, the evolution of white people will involve skin theft. Mark my words, human skin will be a major commodity in the not-so distant future.
I don't mean to be rude, but I didn't understand a word you just said. Yeah, I can see that; after all, it's pretty ridiculous as far as theories go. Actually, my lack of understanding had nothing to do with your theory; which, looking back at it, is, like you said, pretty ridiculous. No, I lost the plot somewhere around the time you uttered the line, "Traci Lords' little seen Carl McCoy impression." In fact, that's exactly when I started to tune out. Why's that? Are you for real? You don't mention Traci Lords and Carl McCoy in the same sentence and expect people to simple shrug their shoulders and go about their business.
Do people even know who Traci Lords and Carl McCoy are? Okay, now you're stating to annoy me. Sorry about that. But seriously, do people know who Carl McCoy is? Probably not. However, I bet Traci Lords knows who he is. While watching MTV some time in the early 1990s, Traci happened upon a music video for a band called the Fields of the Nephilim. And while watching the video (for, I'm guessing, the song "Moonchild"), Traci thought to herself: Man, my pussy is sore. And, after getting an ice pack from the freezer, she thought to herself again: If I ever get the chance to play a woman who desperately wants to exact revenge on a serial killer who tried to steal her skin, I'm going to use Carl McCoy, their charismatic frontman, as my inspiration.
Standing in the middle of a stream, Traci Lords raises her head and mutters the line, "He'll come back here...he's a creature of habit." You'll notice as she raises her head to say that line that Traci Lords is wearing the perfect hat for dramatic head raising. A black hat with a wide brim, one that is adorned with netting, Traci's hat practically screams Fields of the Nephilim. While her hat is screaming, "Out of mind / A righteous dream" (the lyrics to the aforementioned "Moonchild"), Traci's body language is giving off a decidedly Stevie Nicks vibe. Okay, so Traci's hat is Carl McCoy of the Fields of the Nephilim, and her body language is Stevie Nicks. Is that it? Let me see. Oh, and the way Traci's hair fell over her face reminded of Veronica Lake's famous peekaboo hairstyle.
It's obvious that Traci Lords is harbouring a grudge against someone. Who that someone isn't so clear. Though, I have a feeling it might be Ted Raimi, who we see wandering the very same stream we saw Traci Lords doing her Carl McCoy/Stevie Nicks/Veronica Lake impression. Wearing a pair of black Converse sneakers and carrying a bag of knives, Ted Raimi's Dennis Skinner seems to have a thing for water. Water?!? That's what I said. Anyway, as he's walking through the stream, the music of Contagion ("Scratch!") can be heard on the soundtrack. An industrial band who were sort of big in the early 1990s, Contagion (who I saw open for Front Line Assembly when they were called Bioharzard PCB) provide the right amount of eerie synth sounds for the film's plethora of lurking scenes.
Since he can't wander around in the water forever, Dennis Skinner shows up at Ricki Lake's house, with his big bag of knives, to inquire about the room for rent. Desperate to rent out their spare room, Ricki, I mean, Terry Tate, convinces Dennis to take the room, despite the fact that her husband, Geoff (David Warshofsky), is away being a trucker; I wonder how Geoff's going to react when he finds out that Ted Raimi is sleeping in the room down the hall?
She might look at home standing in the middle of a stream, but Traci Lords needs some place dry to spend the night as well. Given that Ricki Lake's room off the market, Traci, I mean, Miss Heidi, decides to get a room at a sleazy hotel. After grabbing the key from Eddie (Richard Schiff), the hotel's equally sleazy desk clerk (he likes industrial music and playing solitaire with nudie-cutie playing cards), Heidi limps to her room. Carrying a briefcase filled with syringes, Heidi takes the newspaper she just picked up and proceeds to cover the room's mirror with the pages; I guess she doesn't like to look at herself.
The newspaper Traci's character picks up, by the way, was the only real proof that the outside world exists in this film. Taking place in a universe that seemed otherworldly at times, the characters appear, in some ways, to be the only people on earth. Whether this was done on purpose or not is irrelevant, as the effect it creates is rather disquieting. Whenever I see extras in films I always wonder who are they are, and, in some cases, make up elaborate backstories for them. In Skinner, however, there are no extras, the film's realm belongs to the characters and to them alone. My favourite realm is the graffiti-laden concrete river bed that Dennis Skinner likes to wander in his spare time.
Replete with prostitutes, the graffiti-laden (the artists who tagged the walls have long since died as a result of drug overdoses) concrete river bed is a veritable candy store. Except, instead of candy, this store mostly stocks stocking-clad sex workers. Asking a hooker wearing a white mini-skirt and black fishnets if she's "for sale," Dennis Skinner and the brunette prostitute head off to conduct their business in a more secluded area (though, you can't get more secluded than a graffiti-laden concrete river bed).
Oh, and by "their business" I mean, flaying. In other words, someone is going to get flayed tonight. Don't you mean "laid"? No, no, "flay." You see, this Dennis fella is a serial killer, one who removes the skin of his victims, sews the pieces together, and wears them like a suit. That's gross. Yeah, I guess it is. But as far as graphic footage of this act goes, we're spared from seeing any of the grisly details, for now. A quick shot of a knife slicing into flesh and a bloodcurdling scream is all we get for the brunette in the white mini-skirt.
As you would expect, Geoff isn't too pleased to find that a creepier-than-usual Ted Raimi has moved into his house. This causes to Geoff to rebuff Ricki Lake's sexual advances; are you insane, man? Look at her! She's wearing nothing but an oversize white t-shirt. Speaking of impromptu nightclothes, Traci Lords is currently writhing, Lina Romay-style, on her bed. In an earlier scene, we see that Traci's legs and arms are covered in bumpy lesions; hence her decision to wear knee-high boots and opera gloves at all times. When she's not writhing or injecting herself with drugs, Traci is either starring angrily at a picture of Dennis Skinner she carries around with her or wading ankle deep in a nearby stream.
The reason Heidi is always hanging out down by the water is because she knows Dennis Skinner will show up there sooner of later, as he seems drawn to water.
I don't know what it is about the graffiti-laden concrete river bed that attracts prostitutes, but Dennis Skinner stumbles upon yet another one while wandering around down there. Unlike his previous encounter, this prostitute approaches Dennis (she seemingly appears out of nowhere), asking him if he's "looking for a girl"? Wearing a pink dress and black stockings, the prostitute gives Dennis the lowdown on the service she provides and their respective costs. Rattling through the usual choices, Dennis' eyes light up when she says, "kinky is extra." Curious, Dennis asks, "How much is extra"? To which she responds, "Depends on how kinky." I know, this is awesome stuff.
You think that's awesome, eh? Check out what happens next. Just as the prostitute, who is slightly older than your average streetwalker, is about to take her stockings off, Dennis says, "No! Don't take those off."
I get teary eyed just thinking about how correct Dennis was to prevent the prostitute from removing her stockings. The reason I brought up the fact that this particular prostitute more advanced in years was because I thought, given the amount of experience she's had on the street, that she would be smart enough to not allow Ted Raimi to tie her up. I know, she stated that kinky was one of her specialties. But still, you don't let Ted Raimi tie you up; no good can come from it. I mean, weren't you a tad alarmed by the fact that he brought his own rope?
Well, it's too late now, as Dennis Skinner has just emerged from the bathroom wearing the skin that used to be attached to the body of one of her hooker peers. And, like I said, no good can come from this.
After finishing his nightly allotment of creepily lurking in the moonlight without the aid of a shirt, Dennis Skinner searches the graffiti-laden concrete river bed for another prostitute. When he does find one, a blonde in a tight pink dress and black stockings, Heidi is waiting for him. While her sting operation doesn't go quite as planned, Dennis Skinner now knows that Heidi is gunning for him. However, that doesn't stop him from removing the prostitute in pink's skin. And unlike his previous encounters, her flaying in shown in graphic detail. Talking aloud while removing the hooker's back skin, Dennis Skinner gives us a little insight into the inner workings of his warped mind.
In case you're wondering why the skinned hooker's pimps aren't out there protecting their product from a crazed, water-obsessed Ted Raimi, the prostitutes do eventually seem to get wise and avoid the graffiti-laden concrete river bed. Nevertheless, that doesn't seem to stop a seemingly random cavalcade of attractive women from entering the flaying fray, as a brunette in a floral dress is unceremoniously dumped there by her boyfriend.
Oozing–no scratch that. Percolating–nah, I don't like that either. Drenched–that will do for now–in enough foreboding atmosphere to keep even the most jaded of slasher fans happy, director Ivan Nagy (ex-boyfriend of Heidi Fleiss) has created a wonderfully ominous world filled with dark nooks and shadowy crannies. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it, as the film has basically just three locations: Ricki Lake's house, Traci Lords' hotel room, and Ted Raimi's graffiti-laden playground on the wrong side of the tracks. It just goes to show that you don't need lots of money to make an effective horror film. All you really need is Ricki Lake (whose character seems to dress like a twelve year-old girl, one who is constantly forced to go church), Traci Lords (who gives a brave performance as the damaged Heidi - "brave" because her bread and butter - her smoking hot bod - has been blemished on purpose), Ted Raimi (a man who does creepy right), and an unending concourse of stocking-clad prostitutes and dumped girlfriends (Blaire Baron, Roberta Eaton, Christina Engelhardt, Frederika Kesten and Sara Lee Froton). Get them and the film will pretty much direct itself. It also helps to have one of your actors channeling Carl McCoy, Stevie Nicks, and Veronica Lake simultaneously.

video uploaded by monkeyfarminc


  1. You know, ever since "Silence of the Lambs" came out in 1991, it seems that on-screen serial killers have jumped on the whole "skinning their victims and wearing the skins as sexual dysfunction/identity issues" thing. Case in point:

    This film looks unpleasant and grimy.

    I checked out the link to Ivan Nagy's IMDB profile. Its kind of sad. A few Ross Hagen movies in the 70s, some tv shows and made-for-tv movies in the 70s and 80s, this grim little thing, and then straight to hardcore porn. Then nothing. Sad.

  2. Your Carl McCoy references are not lost on me. No, no, no they are not.

    Nagy's next "movie" was the cheesecake Jacqueline Lovell video. It might be the Citizen Kane of one girl cheesecake videos, although I don't know how much credit he really should receive for that.

  3. @ido: I didn't expect a clip from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. :D

    Unpleasant and grimy is what I asked for. ;)

    @Thomas Duke: I'm not surprised. Your love of Carl McCoy is, after all, quite legendary around these parts. Okay, I just made that up. But I'm sure you dig his style.

    Jacqueline Lovell? Citizen Kane? One girl cheesecake videos? What a weird combination of words.

  4. @yum-yum: i've been watching Aqua Teen since the beginning. i fucking LOVE that show. Seasons 1-3 were amazing. Fucking made me die. but... then they really ran out of ideas. i actually stopped watching it. started watching the last two years online and there has been an improvement. but then there's been SQUIDBILLIES.

    only other thing decent on Adult Swim is VENTURE BROTHERS, which is absolutely pure genius.

    @Thomas Duke: I was just going by what I saw on the IMDB profile. Some of the titles looked more.... sleazy than others. Was "Skinner" his was shot at making an artistic statement after years of working in commercial television? Or was it those early Ross Hagen films that satisfied the creative urge ("rrrrr... chili peppers burn my gut..."). Maybe we'll never know.