Equaling the man’s abundant work is his generosity. Within a day of my first contacting Mastroianni about SKINS, we were talking for hours about his career. Within a week I had a package of nearly a dozen of his movies for me to watch. So it came as no surprise when Armand was not only open to talking about SKINS, but that he was more than willing to help put me in touch with the pair of screenwriters, Ed Polgardy and Dale Schneck, he had worked with in developing this project. It did, however, come as a surprise when I suddenly had a copy of the 25-year-old screenplay in my inbox. Over the next few months, all three men were incredibly gracious with their time as they filled me in on their one-that-got-away. So please join me below as I peel back the layers on the making (and non-making) of SKINS.
The first public announcement regarding SKINS came on December 10, 1986 with the following small blurb in Variety: “Dale Schneck, Edward Polgardy and Armand Mastroianni have scripted the horror feature "Skins," planned for filming by Heritage Entertainment with Mastroianni helming.” The trio had actually met in 1982 when Mastroianni was told about Schneck and Polgardy by his agent and he found the duo hilarious. Schneck had actually been Polgardy’s manager for a period, before they decided to start writing screenplays together. Mastroianni found them to be a productive bunch and knew they would eventually write something together.
“We had some springboards that we came up with for TALES,” Polgardy concurs. “There was one about a meat locker called ‘Cold Storage.’ And SKINS was one of those. We had sent them into [TALES script consultant] Tom Allen and he got sick after that. And we decided we didn’t want that one story to go without doing something with it.”
“We wanted to go back to something of a more classic creature film,” Polgardy says. The group retreated to the Pocono Mountains, where they bounced ideas and concepts off each other. When they emerged they had a feature length horror script that took influence from sources as diverse as Don Siegel’s classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) to Stephen King’s novel SALEM’S LOT. The screenplay sets the tone right away with a cover page that evocatively describes the history of their unique creatures, the Eurynomes.
SKINS script opening (click to enlarge)
© Mastroianni, Polgardy, and Schneck (1988, 2013)
|Writers Mastroianni, Schneck, and Polgardy|
Working on SKINS gave Mastroianni a chance to indulge in his favorite pastime of playing with audiences’ emotions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the script’s opening where Jenkins picks up a young hitchhiker and begins literally sizing the boy up. But not for his potential as a victim in the traditional sense, but for his valuable epidermis that he can offer to his master. “You think this guy is a serial killer, picking up this kid,” Mastroianni reveals. “And the kid starts feeling creeped out because the questions start getting personal. He is
|Mastroianni's tracks to terror|
It also allowed the director an avenue to attempt to put up some previously thought of ideas onscreen, as displayed in the film’s penultimate chase scene that takes place at the town carnival. “I’d come up with these set pieces in my head,” Mastroianni explains. “I thought I’d love to do a sequence at the end where it’s on a roller coaster on fire. The first problem with being on a roller coaster is there is no way to get out because you’re strapped in your seat. Most people are cringing because they are already afraid of the steep hills and all. Now imagine if this creature were on the back of it, jumping from car to car towards them while the thing is on fire from all the electricity and stuff.”
Excerpts from the SKINS roller coaster scene
© Mastroianni, Polgardy, and Schneck (1988, 2013)
“The thing I liked about SKINS,” Polgardy adds, “is that it had an incredible drive literally. I mean, it started and it just had an incredible momentum that led to those last scenes in the movie. You felt like you got on a rollercoaster in the story and you do get on a roller coaster at the end of the story. We really had a lot of fun doing that.”
|Smart Egg plugs SKINS in Variety circa 1988|
“What the hell has that got to do with a furrier,” Mastroianni remembers wondering about the proposed decision to move the location from New England to the West Coast. Schneck agrees that New England, where fur trapping is much more prevalent, was the better place to place their action. “The whole idea of a creepy environment in the North was what we writers had always pictured,” he says.
Original SKINS ad:
|The Man of the Writers' Nightmares|
Smart Egg advertised the film as part of their roster in February 1988, even going so far as to pencil in a July 1988 start date with a December 1988 delivery date for exhibitors (“They’re still waiting,” Mastroianni jokes). Preproduction, however, was fairly limited on the film. Polgardy does recall that preliminary talks were done with special effects legends Tom Savini and Mark Shostrom to get their feel for the project. Additionally, FX artist Bryan Moore did some groundwork design sketches for the creatures and even created a prototype of what a Eurynome would look like sans skin (see picture). While no legit casting sessions were held, Polgardy remembers one big name being thrown around to play the main villain. “They were considering David Bowie to play David Chambers,” he reveals. “We were looking at one key name and then some younger stars [in main roles].”
The SKINS crew:
Top Row (left to right): Schneck, Mastroianni, Eurynome prototype, Bryan Moore
Bottom Row: Producer Luigi Cingolani, Polgardy
Mastroianni was disappointed that he couldn’t get the project going and DOUBLE REVENGE proved to be his last project with Smart Egg. He rebounded quickly though as he soon found himself in another world literally as he started work on the WAR OF THE WORLD television series. As for the fledgling screenwriters, they were also let down by the turn of events. “I think we were all very disappointed that we had come this far…then nothing,” Schneck says.
|Mastroianni & Polgardy, together again|
“It is not time specific either,” Mastroianni adds. “There is a lot of that story that I still feel very close to. I like the journey you go on watching it. You have no idea what you are in store for. You don’t know where this movie is going.”
Perhaps Schneck sums it up best with his thoughts on pumping some blood back into SKINS. “I do believe that the concept of stolen identities is even more relevant as a theme now than it was back in 1988,” he says. “I would still love to see Armand and Ed make this horror film into something very special.”