Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo
In Theatres Now
Plastic surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is working on a mysterious woman (Anaya) in his private clinic: who is she, and how did she come to be his only patient?
Mad scientist movies have long been out of fashion. The recent Human Centipede apart, it is necessary to look as far back as the 1980s for the last heyday of mad scientists like Dr Herbert West in the Reanimator movies or Seth Brundle, self-experimenting in The Fly. Spanish art house director Pedro Almodovar has exhumed the mad scientist movie and refashioned it through the prism of his own obsessions into a frosty melodrama of transformation.
Owing an obvious debt to Georges Franju’s Les Yeux san Visage, The Skin I Live In also harks back to the ghoulish greats of the 1930s and 1940s, especially movies featuring Boris Karloff as either the misguided scientist (The Devil Commands) or the mad doctor’s victim (Frankenstein, The Raven—as in this Karloff/Lugosi potboiler, The Skin I Live In features an on-the-run criminal who wants Ledgard to change his face).
As with so much of Almodovar’s work, this is a film of physical and spiritual transformation, a gothic concoction, yet unlike his earlier work it is related in an austere and straightforward way. It’s almost as though the director has decided that the story he is telling is simply so outlandish that he has to depict it as simply as possible in order for the viewer to buy in to it.
Banderas offers an icily cold performance as Ledgard, the surgeon pursuing his own obsessions and his need for revenge through his work on Vera. As the obscure object of his desire, relative unknown Elena Anaya takes all the risks in a naked (in all senses) performance that offers the few flashes of passion in the film.
After the mysterious set-up, a lengthy flashback sequence (seemingly presented as Ledgard’s dream/memories, but not always playing by the rules implied by that) outlines the back-story in a temporally mixed-up way that adds complication rather than complexity to the story. Any fan of Amodovar’s past work or anyone who has ever sat through a late-night Universal or Columbia mad scientist movie should figure out the plot twists here pretty quickly.
Verdict: A sci-fi/horror B-movie for the art house crowd, The Skin I Live In has much to offer fans of classy horror. 8/10
Brian J. Robb