Masters of Horror is an anthology horror series from 2005. Showtime invited famous and emerging horror directors from around the world to create original one hour horror films with seemingly no restrictions. A few directors chose to come back for the second season and delivered very different stories.
In Pelts, Meatloaf plays a ruthless fur trader running a sweatshop. He discovers the most beautiful and rare pelts he’s ever seen. These raccoon pelts seem to glow in the light, leaving people in awe. They are also capable of driving people to horrific acts of violence. Coming in contact with the pelts causes extreme acts of violence connected to the methods used to capture, kill, and skin the raccoons.
Dario Argento returns for his second episode in Masters of Horror. Stylistically, it’s the Argento you’d expect to find in a horror film. There are super saturated bursts of color to create clear focal points onscreen. There’s also a large ensemble cast that all play important parts in the world of the story, even if their own story is not important to what the camera focuses on.
If Jenifer is a representation of Argento’s new style of thriller, Pelts is a representation of Argento actually experimenting for once. For one thing, this is quite a political text from Argento, who is usually more interested in crime and secrets, not hot button social issues. Pelts is a harsh critique of the fur industry. There are no heroes here and no one with any hand in the part of the commercial fur trade is treated well.
For another, Pelts is a paranormal slasher and cursed object film. Argento doesn’t typically deal with these styles of horror. Even when he plays with supernatural elements like witches and psychics, there are actual people responsible for the violence happening in the film. Everything in Pelts can only be explained by interacting with the irresistible raccoon pelts. The violence is predictable once you see the pattern connecting the deaths. It is incredibly shocking to see happen to humans, especially when the people are doing it to themselves.
Unfortunately, Pelts is also representative of one of the nastier trends in Argento’s later work. His crime thrillers often feature graphic scenes of sexual assault, exploitation, and far worse for shock value. These are not revenge films. The victims do not get a chance at justice. They often wind up with worse punishments than the villains. His films in this mode are driven by outrage, not justice.
Pelts is not an exception to this rule and is actually one of the more egregious examples of this. I mean, the literal plot of the episode is the fur trader is obsessed with having his way with an exotic dancer. This character is treated as a prop in the story. The pelts are treated with more respect than one of the only women to have lines in the entire episode.
If you can get past this issue, Pelts is one of the stronger episodes of the second season. Argento knows how to tell a horror story and this is one of his most unusual and unexpected films. His signature play between beauty and cruelty is the substance of the episode and it works. The whole thing is a bizarre piece of violent weird fiction.
content warning: nudity, sexual content, foul language, gore, violence against women, sexual assault, animal abuse, death by suicide
Up next: S2E07 “The Screwfly Solution,” directed by Joe Dante