In one of his few starring roles, Ted Raimi plays the eponymous Dennis Skinner, the mild-mannered serial killer. We join a cross-country spree in process as Skinner boards at the home of Geoff (David Warshofsky) and Kerry Tate (
Ted Raimi is perfectly cast. Skinner himself is nearly a cipher, his personality largely unknown. What we do know about his past is vague at best; he drifts comfortably, his crimes unnoticed because of not only his preferred targets but also his unassuming demeanor. His politeness and quirky sense are humor are totally affected however, a strategic act. Whoever the “real” Dennis Skinner is, the audience never knows. Following Skinner is Traci Lords as Heidi, a prostitute who survived Skinner’s blade. Heidi’s skin is disfigured, horribly scarred, and she hides half her face behind a blonde wig. Lords’ performance is typically bad here, her vocal and physical handicaps poorly played; she can’t even limp convincingly. Heidi stays in a rundown hotel near the Tate home, spied on by creep hotel owner Eddie (Richard Schiff, an actor this film is lucky to have in a supporting role).
The camera, music and pacing of Skinner remind of Cemetery Man, and like that film, Skinner revels in moments of awkwardness. The dialog in Skinner has an eerie, subtle layer of echo. The score--by third-wave industrial band Contagion--is dated but nevertheless effective. Stylistically this film is better than it ought to be, considering that besides Skinner, director Ivan Nagy has only directed soft-core porn and bad television. Skinner almost looks like a Skinemax movie sometimes, except that there’s no sex, only bad vibes. Considering the script (by Paul Hart-Wilden), it’s ironic that Ivan Nagy dated Heidi Fleiss, and was suspected of being a former pimp himself. Wow!
The awkwardness of Skinner comes mainly from its characters and their interactions. This has something to do with the three principle performers.
Most of the violence here is elliptical, or at least happens off-screen. Skinner will lead a woman into an alley, a quick flash of violence will be seen, and then Skinner will emerge from the alley alone. While the torture and violence is left to the viewer’s imagination, Skinner contains much gore, courtesy of KNB EFX Group. In one disturbing sequence, Skinner is harassed by his coworkers at the factory. An ex-boxer named Earl (Dewayne Williams) slams Skinner against a locker, calling him a “loon.” In the next scene we see Skinner exiting the building at night, wearing Earl’s skin. Skinner begins to mock Earl, punching the air and repeating his catch-phrase: “I could’a’ knocked Tyson out!”
The factory is host to the film’s final sequence, the showdown between Heidi and Skinner. Geoff leads Heidi to the factory, where Skinner is holding Kerry hostage. Ineffectual because of her bum leg, Heidi is overpowered by Skinner. Hearing the commotion, an ancient night-watchman (Time Winters) feebly fires his gun in dumb desperation, fatally wounding Heidi and nearly hitting Kerry. He only manages to shoot Skinner in the leg. In the film’s final, frightening moment, Skinner—his arm around the dying Heidi—chuckles, “They love people like me.” He may be referring to the media, to his unsuspecting victims, or just to people in general. The construct he hides behind enables his brutal lifestyle; Skinner is conscious of this, and seems to find it hilarious. While this would have been a fine ending, Skinner perplexes with its final line (this is becoming an October Ordeal trend): “Doesn’t it just make you wanna scream, doesn’t it make you wanna rip a good one out!?” With this, Heidi screams her last scream and Skinner fades to credits.