Sometimes, it only takes one movie to make a point. I saw the Bruce Dern-Maud Addams picture Tattoo when it came out in 1981, and thought it pretty much the only movie about a mad tattooist who kidnaps a beautiful woman and inks her entire body for psychosexual kicks I needed to sit through … and, though I remember Dern giving good value lunacy, I’ve not been tempted to give it a rewatch. Nearly four decades on, here’s that same premise – which, given how often, say, The Blair Witch Project has been done over in less than half the time, can hardly seem excessive – with the addition of some light body-modification to keep up with the piercing scene if not the extremes of American Mary. It has excellent work from the quietly creepy Richard Brake – a familiar bit-part baddie perhaps best remembered as Joe Chill, the mugger who shot Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman Begins – as the obsessive, over-controlling needle artist and Natalia Kostrzewa gamely puts up with a lot as his fairly unsympathetic canvas-cum-victim, but the film still boils down to another chained-up-in-the-cellar abduction exercise.
Katia (Kostrzewa), a Polish girl couch-surfing in London and not exactly the sort of houseguest you’d be happy with, has unblemished skin but a lot of psychic scars (represented by a picture of her dead father in a locket around her throat). Tossed out of one flat, she imposes on matey Australian Lucy (Jo Woodcock) and is introduced to tattooist Bob Reid (Brake), who tentatively offers to ink a lotus on her. Called away by a family emergency, Lucy unwisely leaves Katia with £800 in cash that has to go to the landlord – the girl has just started frittering it away on a binge when Bob takes her back to his place and drugs her. She wakes up chained in a basement cell, and Bob starts to work on her. The transformation is effected in gloom with sinister purring and humming, and Katia goes through a familiar arc from futile angry resentment to whimpering compliance to attempts at manipulating her captor to perhaps becoming involved in her own make-over into someone who’d make a decent background extra in a Clive Barker film.
Outside the cellar, Lucy acts as plot motor to stir the police into investigating – but the able, lively Woodcock unbalances the film because her character is so much easier to care about than the ostensible heroine … and only those who’ve never seen a woman-in-peril movie before will fail to guess where her sub-plot is going to end. It gives some thought to an element of these stories that is often glossed over – that the captor has demands on his time (an ex-wife who needs him to look after their kids) which often come up inconveniently as he’s working out his evil schemes, though the scenes of the villain being a good Dad on day trips down the Thames feel more like padding than a turning of the suspense screws. Written by Dusan Tolmac and director Kevin Chicken.