Skinner (1993) | Directed by Ivan Nagy
aka Skin Person Devil
Written by Paul Hart-Wilden | Starring Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords
Skinner is an American slasher flick that has been frequently and unfairly compared with Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991); overshadowed by a high-profile scandal involving its director Ivan Nagy (HBO’s The Hitchhiker), and his ex-girlfriend, the “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss; cut to shreds by the Motion Picture Association of America; whose original film elements were thought to be lost; and stars Ted Raimi (Evil Dead 2, Xena: Warrior Princess) in the leading role as Dennis Skinner!
Indeed, you would think the history behind this particularly grotesque ’90s slasher would be stranger and more shocking than the film itself…but then, to my absolute discomfort, I watched Ted Raimi skin a black co-worker, wear his skin and chase a terrified woman through an empty industrial complex; all whilst taunting her with offensive stereotypes. Thankfully documentaries like Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror exist to promote black horror films like Blacula and Candyman because… what the actual fuck!
I’m getting ahead of myself… Dennis Skinner seems like a normal enough guy (played by Raimi with likeable qualities) but he has a very abnormal hobby. At night, Skinner creeps through skid row, looking for potential victims to flay; his murderous intent driven by the experiences he had in his father’s mortuary as a child. One example: watching his own mother’s post-mortem examination!
With nothing more than his bag of “tools”, or rather an elaborate collection of knives, Skinner drifts around Los Angeles looking for “work” until he eventually stumbles upon a room for rent; advertised in the local paper by Kerry (Ricki Lake, Hairspray). Kerry apprehensively agrees to rent out the bedroom/en suite to Skinner and it is not long before the two develop a bond, driven by Kerry’s dwindling love towards her truck driving husband (David Warshofsky, Face/Off) whose lack of passion and long hours on the road has caused a divide between them. But will Kerry maintain these feelings towards Skinner once she discovers his true “face”?
“This really is the clothing… for a divine soul…”
With Skinner settled into his new home, and a new job as a janitor, his last victim Heidi (Traci Lords, Blade) now has her opportunity to strike! Hiding grotesque disfigurements and easing the pain through self-medication, Heidi has been trailing Skinner throughout California; looking for her chance at revenge! If you intend to skin someone alive, you better make sure they don’t survive!
Yes, Skinner is sick, slick and most definitely sleazy in its execution thanks to Greg Littlewood’s neon-drenched, film noir-like cinematography, Contagion’s industrial soundtrack, and KNB EFX’s impressive make-up effects that transform poor Ted Raimi from mild-mannered Dennis into the psychopath Skinner, covered bloodily from head-to-toe in various (literal) skinsuits.
Unlike The Silence of the Lambs, Skinner isn’t a police procedural. Strangely, the only person that appears to know what Skinner enjoys doing in his free time (and wants to prevent it!) is Heidi; another layer of sleaze when you realise that this name was given to Traci Lords’ character by Ivan Nagy. Is it a coincidence that his ex-girlfriend, and former madam of a high-class prostitution ring in Hollywood, shared the same name as his drug-addicted anti-hero?
Previously released by Severin Films in the United States, and presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the United Kingdom – courtesy of 101 Films – it is incredible that this uncut Blu-ray even exists. You see, Skinner was not greeted with open arms when it was sent to the MPAA; thus only slashed VHS copies of Skinner were thought to have survived. Documented on this disc – and via a limited edition booklet in its first print run – screenwriter Paul Hart-Wilden’s long and multi-faceted search for the ‘lost’ master resulted in Skinner being resurrected from obscurity in a mind-blowing, uncut 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative.
This high definition release also includes interviews with director Ivan Nagy (filmed before his death in 2015), actor Ted Raimi, and editor Jeremy Kasten. During each interview the cast and crew provide insight into all aspects of Skinner’s troubled development and production, the “Hollywood Madam” scandal that overshadowed its release, and ‘that’ aforementioned scene of blackface (Skinner was literally wearing his face!), which was never in Hart-Wilden’s script, and which Raimi admits was difficult for him and would not get filmed today. And for fanatics of KNB EFX, extended takes and out-takes of Skinner’s previously cut flaying sequence are available.
Skinner is disturbing, disgusting and most definitely depraved, but I also found it to be fascinating; particularly given those involved and its history from conception to release to 101 Films subsequent re-release. I adore 1990s slashers, but post-Scream everything became a little too slick, relying on mystery and thrills rather than shocking brutality. If you have the stomach for it, Skinner is worthy of your time, but be warned… It may just get under your skin!