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Skin I Live In, The

7/10

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Bianca Su√°rez, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Marisa Paredes

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Part horror film and part psychological thriller, this new and impressively scored film from Almodóvar offers us a scientist just as mad as any of those who created apemen, zombies and monsters in the 1940s and beyond. Not sure about the casting of Banderas as the scientist, but at least the erstwhile heartthrob keeps a tightly unsmiling countenance as Dr Ledgard, who specialises in skin grafts, dabbles in 'transgenic therapy' and has a torture chamber in the cellar. He is, of course, as mad as a hatter.

When his wife runs off with his equally mad half-brother Zeca (Alamo), their car crashes and she is burned beyond recognition. Ledgard gradually restores her to life but, when she catches a glimpse of her reflection, she throws herself out of a high window.

The suicide is witnessed by her daughter Norma (Su√°rez), who becomes mentally disturbed. On her (too early) release from a psychiatric hospital, Ledgard takes her to a party, where she is raped by the drug-fuelled Vicente (Cornet), goes fatally mad and also takes her own life.

A vengeful Ledgard kidnaps Vicente and, after keeping him in the cellar, performs a sex-change, with the help of colleagues, on his hapless victim, who turns into Vera (the beautiful Anaya, last seen as the wife in Point Blank).

The re-emergence of Zeca, and his subsequent rape of Vera, is the prelude to a symphony of death.

Also in the mix is Ledgard's housekeeper (Paredes, a star of Spanish films since the 1960s) and mother of himself and Zeca. 'I've got insanity in my entrails,' she groans.

The film is overslow and its flashback to earlier events is a bit ungainly and confusing. But it is undoubtedly stylish, Anaya is a star in the making, and the film will delight all those fans who feared that demented doctors, once so popular in black-and-white days, no longer roamed the earth.

David Quinlan

Spain 2011. UK Distributor: Pathe. Colour by deluxe.
121 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 21 Aug 2011