The first DVD release from the second season of Showtime's Masters Of Horror series features Dario Argento's take on F. Paul Wilson's short story, Pelts.
Jake Feldman (Meat Loaf from Fight Club and The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is a repugnant and abrasive man who runs a sweat shop type business that makes fur coats. His business hasn't been super successful, but he holds out hope that one day it's going to make him rich. Jake is also obsessed with a foxy former model who now works as a stripper at a nearby gentleman's club named Shanna (Ellen Ewusie). He spends a lot of his spare time and most of his spare money to have her entertain him, though she won't accept his offers of money for sex and she shows more interest in one of her fellow dancers than in Jake.
One night, Feldman gets a call from a drunken hillbilly trapper named Jameson (John Saxon of Enter The Dragon and A Nightmare On Elm Street) in the middle of a session at the club. Jameson has trapped a dozen or so raccoons and tells Feldman that these are the most beautiful pelts he'll ever see. What he doesn't tell Feldman is that these raccoons were caught on land where he shouldn't have been hunting in the first place. Feldman and his assistant head out to Jameson's remote home and find him in bed with his head bashed in. To make matters worse, his son is downstairs and the poor boys' face has been chomped off by a clamp trap. Before they call the cops, they swipe the pelts and head back into the city. Feldman has his employees start on the coat so that he can tell Shanna that he wants her to model it for him, in hopes that this will lure her into the sack with him so that he can finally stick it where he wants to stick it. It works, but there's a lot more to this coat and the pelts that it's made of then either Feldman or Shanna realize.
Gorier than pretty much anything Argento has done in the past, Pelts essentially relies on a few key special effects sequences and rather than attempt to build suspense the story instead opts to go for the gross out. There's nothing wrong with this approach, in fact the movie is a lot of good, gory fun, but it doesn't leave much of a lasting impression once the movie is finished. To Argento's credit, he paces the film really effectively and the story builds nicely even if the very premise is more than a little silly. The film does play around with a few interesting ideas in that the death scenes are related to the ways in which animals are killed in the fur trade. Likewise, the effects of the selfishness and greed of the two central characters are laid out in the open in a reasonably interesting manner. Unfortunately, you can't help but wish that things had been just a little more cerebral than they turned out to be.
Performance wise, Pelts is in good shape. While the idea of a Dario Argento movie starring Meat Loaf might sound like a horrible idea on the surface, he's actually quite a decent actor and he does excel and playing slime-ball characters. When cast against Ewusie, who plays Shanna as a cold and rather calculating gold digger, they do have an interesting chemistry together and once you throw cult favorite John Saxon into the mix (who, sadly, isn't in the movie for all that long) you wind up with a very good cast for this picture and they do an admirable job with the material they have to work with. Regular Argento collaborator Claudio Simonetti provides a decent if by-the-numbers score for the picture that helps provide some emotion for a couple of key scenes and the cinematography is also quite smooth. Despite this, Pelts isn't a classic. The story is a little too underdeveloped to make much of an impression past the gore effects. It's entertaining, it's fun, and it's well done and for those reasons it's worth seeing but Argento is certainly capable of better.
Like every entry in the series so far, Pelts is presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. Slightly darker than it probably should be (though this is a stylistic choice) in spots, things look pretty good on this disc. There are some mild compression artifacts present here and there, possibly due to the fact that this release is a DVD-5 and not a DVD-9, but aside from that the image is decent if a bit on the murky side. Color reproduction looks accurate and flesh tones look lifelike, and there's a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail present through the majority of the movie. Not a flawless transfer, but a perfectly acceptable one.
Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. The 5.1 track trumps the 2.0 by using some fun directional effects in the rear channels during a few key scenes which add to the atmosphere and the ickiness of some of the effects pieces. Either way, even if you opt for the scaled down 2.0 mix, you'll find little to complain about here. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Claudio Simonetti's score is properly balanced and it doesn't ever overpower the performers and the levels all appear to be in check.
While not quite as 'extras heavy' as previous Masters Of Horror releases, Anchor Bay has still assembled a decent selection of supplemental material for this disc, starting with a commentary track from screenwriter Matt Venne. What makes this commentary enjoyable right off the bat is Venne's obvious love and enthusiasm for what he's doing. He talks about adapting F. Paul Wilson's short story and some of the changes that were made in the transition from page to screen and he also talks about working with Argento and how Dario opted to tweak the script on his own during production. The man is obviously quite enamored with the chance he was given to work on this project and it certainly seems like he had a great time here, as he has nothing but praise and adulation for all involved.
From there we move on to the first of two featurettes, the thirteen-minute Fleshing It Out: The Making Of Pelts. This segment combines some interesting behind the scenes footage and interview clips with Argento, Meat Loaf, and Ellen Ewusie and a few others, all of whom praise the project and one another. Argento is quick to point out that the movie isn't a political statement of any kind while Meat Loaf and Ellen explain their character's motivations and talk about their time on the set. While it would have been nice to see John Saxon sit down and talk about his work here, this is still an otherwise reasonably interesting featurette. It's rather amusing when Mick Garris pops up and describes this entry as season two's 'wet episode.'
The second featurette, All Sewn Up: Mastering The Effects Sequence, is a look at how the needle sewing through the face scene was accomplished and it's a pretty interesting segment. It shows us how the digital effects were combined with traditional special effects to create the final version of the set piece that we see in the movie.
Rounding out the extra features is a text bio of director Dario Argento, a storyboard gallery, a still gallery, and the screenplay in DVD-ROM format. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
While Pelts is far from Argento's best, it's still an entertaining and gory little movie with a few interesting twists and a surprisingly good performance from Meat Loaf. Anchor Bay's presentation isn't as sterling as some of the releases in the series have been so far but there's still quite a bit of added value in the extra features department. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.