Directed By: Dario Argento
Starring: Meat Loaf, Link Baker, Emilio Salituro
Trivia: This movie was originally released as a 2nd-season episode of the Masters of Horror TV series
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Italian director Dario Argento was at the top of his game, turning out such classics as Bird with the Crystal Plumage (one of the earliest Giallos, and still very effective), Suspiria (a visual feast, considered by most to be his masterpiece), Deep Red, Opera, and Phenomena. Alas, many of his recent movies have fallen well short of the mark. Do You Like Hitchcock?, a 2005 made-for-television film, is utterly forgettable, and I wish to hell I could forget 2007’s Mother of Tears (the last entry in his “Three Mothers” trilogy, after Suspiria and 1980’s Inferno). Though not perfect, 2006’s Pelts, originally released as a season two episode of the Masters of Horror cable TV series, is nonetheless one of the better pictures he’s turned out in quite a while.
Like he's done many times before, poacher Jeb Jameson (John Saxon) has just trapped a number of raccoons. With the help of his son Larry (Michael Suchanek), he carries them back to his workshop and skins them. It’s at this point Jeb realizes this most recent round of pelts are the most beautiful he’s ever seen. Hoping to cash in, he calls sleazy furrier Jake Feldman (rock star Meat Loaf), who’s in dire need of some primo furs to turn his business around. The next day, Jake and his partner Lou (Link Baker) arrive at the Jameson house, only to find Jeb and Larry dead (Jeb was beaten to death and Larry’s face was sliced off when he “fell” onto a bear trap). But Jake is too preoccupied with the gorgeous pelts to take any notice. Figuring they’d make a coat beautiful enough to win the heart of Shanna (Ellen Ewusie), a stripper he’s fallen in love with, Jake loads the pelts into his car and drives them back to his factory. Sure enough, the resulting coat is stunning, but when more people turn up dead, it becomes apparent to everyone except Jake that the pelts are cursed, and are somehow causing people to take their own lives.
The film’s central message, that the fur industry sanctions cruelty to animals for the sake of high fashion, is certainly nothing new, and the manner in which the movie depicts this cruelty is far from subtle (both Jeb Jameson and Jake Feldman are portrayed as loathsome characters willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want out of life). Yet despite its heavy-handedness, Pelts features a number of unforgettably brutal sequences, all designed by a team of effects artists that included Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Wishmaster) and Howard Berger (The Mist). The scene in which Jeb Jameson meets his end is powerful enough (enchanted by the furs, his son Larry walks into Jeb’s bedroom and bludgeons him with a baseball bat), but many of the deaths that follow (all suicides) are even more grotesque (in a bit of irony, each character dies in a manner fitting their respective professions, i.e. a sewing lady stitches her nose, mouth and eyes shut, thus suffocating herself to death).
Along with its ham-fisted approach to the story, the final sequence in Pelts, while undoubtedly gruesome, is far too over-the-top, and might evoke more laughter from an audience than it does screams. In the final scheme of things, however, Pelts is an entertaining movie, marking a definite improvement over the films Dario Argento has turned out in recent years.