India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.
"I'm gonna find ya, rip off the skin from behind ya."
— "Skinner," 1993
I’m no expert on murder, but I’ve seen enough true crime to know it’s harder than it looks. (So much for my plan to collect my parents’ life insurance.) There’s no such thing as a perfect crime, and killers who aren’t caught are usually lucky rather than the masterminds you see on TV. And if getting away with one murder is difficult, imagine how tough it is concealing multiple homicides. Honestly, being a serial killer sounds like a full-time job—except the only benefits are mutilated corpses and a spot on Death Row. I’ll pass, thanks.
Anyway, back to business. In case you haven’t figured it out, Skinner is the story of Dennis (Ted Raimi), a serial killer who, well, skins people. Unsurprisingly, the film’s execution is as half-hearted as its title: rendering it more comedic than scary. What can I say? For the most part, the 90’s was a dry spell for the horror genre.
Serial Killers Are Supposed to be Scary
Skinner's biggest problem is the fact that, despite being a murderer, Dennis is far from intimidating; his dorky glasses and bad haircut are more reminiscent of a kid who spent his high school career stuffed in a locker rather than a cold-blooded killer. Of course, appearances can be deceiving—but not in this case. For even as he butchers his victims, Dennis' maniacal laughter and rambling monologues render him more pathetic than terrifying. He's trying so hard it’s almost sad.
Then there’s Skinner's obsession with water. Throughout the movie he is constantly turning on the faucet, staring at a glass of water like it's the most fascinating thing he has ever seen, or even stepping into a river fully clothed. The closest we ever get to an explanation is Dennis' remark that he enjoys watching light reflect off the water's surface, but there's obviously more to it than that. Maybe he enjoys jacking up his landlords’ water bill? I suppose the writers thought they were giving the villain a memorable quirk, but instead they succeeded in adding yet another head scratching element to an already confusing movie.
Also, Skinner’s origin story needs work. While conversing with his victim's corpse—as one does—Dennis explains that at the age of six he was forced to witness his father autopsy his mother. Despite his initial repulsion, after sneaking back into the room containing his mother’s body and putting her skin over his own face, Dennis was hooked.
What. The. Hell. First of all, why would Dennis’ dad perform an autopsy on his own wife? Even if he was a medical examiner, I’m pretty sure this would be viewed as a conflict of interest and someone else would be asked to perform the examination. Furthermore, no autopsy—no matter how extensive—requires the removal of a person’s face. And most importantly, what six-year-old (even a disturbed one) would think to wear his mom’s skin like a facemask? Even Ed Gein didn’t start that young.
Stalking is Hard Work
Still, disappointing though Dennis might be, his stalker is even worse. Yes, I said stalker. Don’t worry; Heidi (Traci Lords) is no fan of the titular Skinner. Rather, she’s the one person who managed to escape Dennis’ clutches—though not before having half her skin removed. Sadly, we never discover how Heidi accomplished this miraculous feat, nor do we learn how she survived Dennis’ ministrations at all (I imagine one would be quite vulnerable to infections after having so much skin removed). But I digress.
Heidi is determined to kill Dennis—understandable, given that he filleted her like a fish—to obtain revenge for herself as well as his other victims. The problem is that she’s the worst stalker I’ve ever encountered. (Admittedly, I have as much experience with stalkers as I do serial killers, but even I could do a better job tailing someone.) For despite constantly proclaiming that she is going to kill Dennis, Heidi spends most of her time doing drugs in her (appropriately seedy) hotel room. When she does follow him, our would-be assassin is so obvious it’s embarrassing. Not to mention that it never occurs to her to find out where Dennis lives and attack him there. Instead, Heidi follows her foe around town while he goes on a murder spree, trying (and failing) to disrupt his bloody antics. At least she's getting a good workout...
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