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PELT (not to be confused with PELTS, the Argento-helmed episode of MASTERS OF HORROR) is yet another derivative tongue-in-cheek slasher movie that mistakes crude for entertaining and confusing for clever. It joins the insufferable trend of modern low-budget horror films that tread through a tired formula under the illusion that drenching bad writing in irony transcends cliche.
The movie features a barely-revealed antagonist in overalls stalking seven annoying, vulgar twenty-somethings; three douchey guys, three trampy-yet-vanilla girls and a character named John (Justin Walpern) who alternates between leading man-type and crazy loose-cannon. Every single character speaks in the same profane, painfully unfunny party-talk, alternating grotesque come-ons with shallow insults even while lives in danger. It all sounds like a 12-year-old boy’s approximation of R-rated jokes, and when the unconvincingly rural locals menace the kids, their dialogue is written in the exact same style.
So from the first scene of PELT there is not a single character who holds our interest, but that’s a common problem in today’s horror flicks. The contemporary formula is to forgo protagonists the audience could care about in favor of society’s most egregious nerve-graters; namely snotty, over-privileged young people. The idea is to get us excited to see their eventual torment as a form of violent wish-fulfillment. The problem is when the second halves of those films invariably focus on the peril of the featured shallow ciphers, as if we’d grown emotionally invested in them purely out of empathy. It can work for THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, in which sympathy and inhumanity are themes, but the characters in PELT are aggressively, oppressively annoying from start to finish. Their poorly staged deaths provide little relief, considering that the next character we see will be as loathsome and dull. The cast can’t help, and no matter how lasciviously the lens captures the bodies of PELT’s actresses, the intended eye candy can’t distract from acting so forced and terrible its not even funny.
Otherwise PELT doesn’t look half-bad from a production value standpoint, but the shot design ranges from flat to incomprehensible and the pace goes nowhere fast, turning an 86 minute movie into a seemingly endless dirge. PELT is also barely horrific; the handful of murders are brief digitally assisted sledgehammer hits (and one accidental run-over by truck) and the titular “pelt,” is acquired off-screen with little consequence to the overall story. All that tedium comes complete with a thumping, ostentatious musical score, production design that seems limited to the placement of objects on shelves, and not a single moment that’s even remotely worth watching.
The DVD features follow suit, with a padded, tedious behind-the-scenes featurette in which the cast describes the plot at least three times as “Seven kids go out into the woods and don’t come back.” Director Richard Swindell explains PELT as closer to “fun” ‘80s horror than “intense” ‘70s horror, but his insights into the film are limited to what kind of movie he attempted to emulate. Tellingly, Swindell spends much more time talking about the humor of the film than the horror. That includes the commentary track featuring Swindell with producer Brian Gore and the droll co-writer Oscar Gomez, all three of whom are so gushing and self-congratulatory you wonder if they’re attempting to convince themselves that everything bad in the movie is actually good. Sample comment; early on, Swindell starts to discuss a pair of shorts worn by one of the female leads with Expensive Poon printed on the seat. He trails off, then says “It’s just a horror film,” as if that means anything.
Swindell doesn’t provide a name or explanation for PELT’s bad guy in either the film or the features, as if those would be after-thoughts and the characters’ childish banter is the important part. From the commentary, Swindell and his collaborators come off as intelligent and articulate, but they seem to have misjudged the tastes of horror fans and aimed so low that PELT even falls short of pandering. You can tell that Swindell, Gore and Gomez are not stupid people, just bad filmmakers. The DVD also includes deleted scenes that are more-of-the-same, including an audio-only sex scene that is simultaneously chaste and over-the-top. The most edifying revelation from the features is that actress Amber Bollinger is much funnier than the tiresome character she portrays in PELT, and would likely be worth watching in a better movie.
Critical as you may be of CABIN FEVER or either HATCHET movie, in hindsight a worthless slog like PELT highlights the basic diversions provided by those flicks. The makers of PELT co-opted the Eli Roth/Adam Green approach to winking retro-slashers, but did so without a trace of talent or a thought in their heads as to how to either subvert genre conventions or deliver them in an entertaining fashion. If you’re hoping for a fun horror flick, avoid PELT.
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