Sunday, October 28, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 28

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

148. The Skin I Live In (2011- dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Themes of sexuality and identity have always been integral to the films of Pedro Almodóvar. In La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In), he plumbs them once again from Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula. The results are far more twisted than even the earlier dark comedies and dramas for which Almodóvar is known. The film takes both the transgressions of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Antonio Banderas’s unsettling intensity way, way beyond the pale. Banderas is Dr. Robert Ledgard, a scientist developing a form of indestructible artificial skin. The gorgeous Vera (Elena Anaya) is his seemingly willing, yet existentially despairing, guinea pig. Their relationship seems like a conscious echo of the father and daughter of Eyes without a Face. It is hardly so clear cut, much like the chronologically choppy first half of the film, which leaves the viewer bewildered but anticipative of how the jigsaw pieces will fit together. When they do, they do vengefully, and we realize the horrific extent of Ledgard’s madness and the even more horrific cause of it. The film’s scenes of physical violence are not as shocking as the psychological implications. Almodóvar forces us to empathize with both a mad scientist capable of particularly demented vengeance and the vile, misogynist/rapist who wreaked havoc on his life and complicates matters further by presenting a completely unexpected—and seriously unhealthy— relationship between the two. Most viewers will find this material very difficult to digest, but Almodóvar’s fearlessness in tackling it is heroic, as are Banderas and Anaya’s performances. The director called The Skin I Live In “a horror story without screams or frights.” While that may be true, it will haunt and disturb viewers more profoundly than most typical horror fare ever could.

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 2010s here.
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