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Tattoo + The Skin I Live In quad poster

Love stories and horror are synonymous with the movies, and Lost Reels provocative new double bill presents two of the most unusual - and terrifying - films of passion in cinematic history. First is the virtually forgotten and completely out of circulation, Tattoo (1981) starring Bruce Dern and Maud Adams. Described by Variety as, “your standard boy-meets-girl, boy-kidnaps-girl, boy-tattoos-girl-against-her-will love story” the film caused controversy when first released, gained an ‘X’ certificate in the UK, and is a genuinely bizarre, outrageous cult curio. Second is The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) (2011), Pedro Almodóvar’s brilliantly subversive foray into provocation and horror starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, and Jan Cornet. Unique within Almodóvar’s filmography, it’s a film first-time audiences should know as little about as possible while at the same time being prepared for one of the most perverse and unsettling experiences a trip to the cinema can provide.

Tattoo (1981), directed by Bob Brooks. Colour. Cert 18. 103 minutes.

A virtually forgotten film, Tattoo has been out of circulation since the VHS era. Starring Bruce Dern and Maud Adams the story concerns an unhinged tattoo artist, Karl Kinski (Dern) who becomes obsessed with a fashion model, Maddy (Adams), and after an abortive attempt at a relationship, kidnaps her so she can “bear the mark” by him forcibly tattooing her entire body. This incendiary scenario was conceived by director Bob Brooks, co-scripted by Brooks and Joyce Buñuel (daughter-in-law of Luis Buñuel) and marked the final project from legendary producer Joseph E. Levine. Meeting with controversy and even protests upon its US release, the film quickly disappeared from view despite a wonderfully creepy and committed performance by Dern, strong support from co-star Adams, and interesting background players including Leonard Frey, and a young Cynthia Nixon who appears briefly as a teenage prostitute. Influenced by Taxi Driver (1976), Dern’s simmering impotent Kinski is in many ways another Travis Bickle - lonely and adrift in a neon-lit New York teeming with permissiveness and vice that simultaneously fascinates and disgusts him. Unavailable in the UK for almost forty years this ultra-rare screening marks the cumulation of more than three years research by Lost Reels to locate the rights and film materials to bring this imperfect but interesting cult film back to UK audiences.

Tattoo image 1

Tattoo image 2

16mm print courtesy of Lost Reels.

The Skin I Live In (2011), directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Colour. Cert 15. 120 minutes.

Clearly influenced by Georges Franju’s surrealist classic, Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage) (1960), upon release Pedro Almodóvar’s mystery/horror film was viewed as a strange and anomalous side-step for a filmmaker better known for flamboyant, colourful relationship dramas. More than a decade later the film remains an exception, and a precious one at that. Antonio Banderas plays Ledgard, a brilliant wealthy plastic surgeon who has imprisoned a beautiful young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya) in the laboratory of his isolated palatial home. Vera’s entire body is being covered by a new type of synthetic skin, the reason for which we do not know. Is she the surgeon’s wife who purportedly died in the flames of a fatal car crash or is she a different woman being refashioned into her image? Flashbacks and flashforwards begin to untangle this question - and add further mysteries - as a complicated and surreal tale of passion, accident, and obsession unfolds - as woozily colourful and cinematic as it is unsettling and macabre. Not for the faint of heart, The Skin I Live In is a must-see, unique genre hybrid from one of the world’s most flamboyant and admired filmmakers.

Operating Table

Banderas and Vera on couch

35mm print courtesy of Park Circus.