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Skinner
(1993)
 

Director:Ivan Nagy                                                   
Cast:
Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords


Despite some notable qualities, Skinner ends up being much ado about nothing. When the last scene fades out, we are lead to ask, "What was the point of all of that?" Ostensibly, the movie seems to be an excuse for blood and various gruesome activities, but there's not much of this shown in the course of the movie. There is some black comedy - extremely black at times - but there's not much effort to bring this up as well. There are some motions towards psychological exploration, plus examination of people living close to the poverty line, but none of these motions is really explored. In fact, the movie itself is filled with lost opportunities both numerous and varied. Though I would never call any part of the movie terrible, or even bad in the regular sense (for one thing, it's not boring), I felt quite unsatisfied at the end. It was like sitting down to what you think will be a full course meal yet only getting a bowl of tomato soup. Not bad tasting tomato soup, but that's all you are served, and you know you've had better.

Ted Raimi plays the title figure, Dennis Skinner, a drifter of sorts who rents a room in the run down house owned by Carey (Lake). Despite Skinner acting a little odd, she is glad for both the extra income and the company, because her truck driving husband is hardly there. What she doesn't know is that Skinner is more than a little odd - he is in fact a serial killer who, after killing his victim (usually female), likes to skin the corpse and wear the skin. As soon as Skinner has settled in, he resumes this habit of his, though he doesn't know that at the same time, a mysterious woman (Lords) in a black hat and overcoat is stalking him for some mysterious reason...

Traci Lords has never exactly been in the best of movies; with the exception of Cry Baby and Blade, I can't think of any other acceptable movies she's been in (and those two movies were merely acceptable entertainment.) It's not just her notoriety about her past that's to blame for this, but it's also for the fact that she simply isn't a good actress. I will admit, though, that her role in Skinner is one of her better efforts; her pouty, silent persona fits the character she plays here. Also, she doesn't have that much dialogue to mangle, so in the end, she squeaks barely into an adequate performance. She couldn't help the fact that her character is desperately underwritten. We eventually learn her reasons for stalking Skinner (which won't be surprising to most viewers), but that comes fairly late into the movie, and until then her scenes of her showing what an awful life she now has. This could have been compressed to one or two scenes. Also, there is a flaw surrounding her motivations towards Skinner, because (without trying to reveal it) what we do learn about Skinner makes no sense as to why she is in the condition she is in now. There could have easily been a flashback scene showing us exactly what happened in the past, but we have to make our own theories as to what happened. Plus: How did she track down Skinner? Not explained.

Raimi, on the other hand, is very good overall in his role. He is at his best when his role requires him to show his insanity in silence or in a subtle manner. When Skinner stares closely at flowing water, or emits a small smile when he shyly talks to his landlady, we believe that this skinny, nerdy-looking man is deep down inside stark raving mad. Raimi has the burden of the movie, appearing in almost every scene, and he manages to carry it off. But there's one scene (after he kills a black co-worker at the factory where he works) where Raimi makes a complete jackass out of himself; director Nagy makes Raimi do something supposedly shocking and with dark humor, but ends up being both incredibly offensive and out of character for Skinner. The scene includes Raimi shrieking, screaming, and running around, and it goes on forever. There is absolutely no point to this scene, and one has to ask why it was included in the first place.

Other performances, by Lake and the few others in the cast are good, and seem very fitting for the white trash locale of the movie. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that director Nagy had seen the movie Combat Shock before directing Skinner, because the feel of this movie is at times very close to the Buddy Giovinazzo cult classic. The characters in this movie seemed very resigned to living the rest of their lives in this atmosphere, and the locations are appropriately run down and scummy. However, in several sequences when Skinner goes out looking for a victim, Nagy reuses the same alley location, trying to hide it by shooting at different angles, but he fails to dupe the audience. (And I don't accept Skinner returning to the same particular location again and again to find a victim - no serial killer is that dumb.) The movie also has some serious production flaws. The sound is echoy, and the look of the movie suggests the movie was shot in an early form of HDTV, or in videotape that was doctored to look like film in the editing process - whatever the process, the movie is quite blurry at times. The lighting is also erratic, embarrassingly so in the scene where Skinner ties a hooker on a bed; the intensity and color of the light changes greatly in every shot.

What really shoots down Skinner, though, is that it's pretty pointless. What the movie is more or less about is repeated scenes of Skinner stalking and killing people, and returning home later that night. If you think the gore and blood in the killings might make up for that, you are sorely mistaken. Most of the actual murders take place offscreen. And there is only one "skinning", though I have to admit it's quite good, both bloody and realistic. There seems to be promise early in the movie with the relationship between the lonely Carey and Skinner, but this is soon abandoned. A key scene between the two later in the movie is never shown at all, and we have to make deductions as to what happened. In fact, there are several other scenes that seem to be missing in this movie (including: What did Lords exactly do to that hotel manager? Where did that guy introduced in the climax disappear to?) The movie moves along very awkwardly without these scenes. Maybe these missing scenes were in the original script, and Nagy decided to "skin" them out, in order to make the movie more lean. If so, he didn't realize that he cut out a lot of the finer cuts of meat in the process.

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See also: Video Violence 2, To All A Good Night, Madman

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