Lizard in a Woman's Skin
Review by Rod
= Highest Rating
to a public statement made in the wake of disappointment with
their first release of this film on Region 1 DVD, Media Blasters/Shriek
Show have reissued it in a more fan-pleasing cut. The original
release had a beautiful print of the censored American version
with the uncut Italian version presented full-frame, culled
from a videotape source. You could have heard the howls of outrage
through your computer screen. I have to admit I was one of those
disappointed by this and it did keep me from buying the DVD,
but now that they've gone to the trouble of putting together
the longest cut of the film possible I'm happy to say it's well
worth the money. The two-disc set released in 2005 is reviewed
refer you there for a (spoiler-free) plot rundown.
Lizard in a Woman's Skin
is one of director Lucio Fulci's handful of non-supernatural
thrillers and is in my opinion one of the best of its type.
Most would term it a giallo but I'm not sure it fits
the mold —
it certainly doesn't line up easily with genre conventions.
Made early in the cycle it doesn't sport any of the stereotypical
elements so repeated in the decade to follow. There is no black-gloved
killer and a surprisingly small number of murders. But don't
let those surface inconsistencies keep you from seeing the film.
This sucker cooks with so much visual style and wit as to make
some later entries in the genre pale into transparency. Made
at a time when Fulci was at the peak of his creative powers,
he seems to have wanted to craft his own mystery story using
the German-produced Edgar Wallace krimi films as his
template. As with that long-running series we have a London
murder, plenty of suspects, other dark crimes lurking around
the edges and ace Scotland Yard detectives trying to unravel
the mess. There's even some light comic relief from the cops
that made me think of the Eddie Arent character in so many of
the krimis. As with those films the police are shown
as highly competent, serious-minded pros struggling to track
down a wily criminal. This was not always the tack of most gialli,
with their amateur Hitchcockian heroes trying to do what
the cops can't manage. Although there is a bit of that here
(Florinda Bolkan's character trying to track down the two hippies
she's seen in a dream) it's mostly the police doing the work.
And just like the krimis they do eventually unravel the
knot and apprehend their criminal —
here in a fantastic graveyard scene with dialog that reminded
me a bit of the psychologist's speech at the end of Psycho.
But even as Fulci
obviously looked to Germany's Wallace adaptations for inspiration
he was definitely looking elsewhere for the style he employed.
The first half hour of Lizard is
a delirious, almost psychedelic mix of handheld camera shots,
jump-cuts, jagged editing and very unconventional sound design
that keep the viewer off balance and wondering in what direction
the story is going to lurch. This has the effect of making the
audience a bit on edge, eyes darting around to the corners of
the frame to try to anticipate the next move. That's right!
Years before NYPD Blue made shaky-cam the standard of
'realism' in television filming techniques, others used it to
give a more logical impression —
i.e., the feeling of being disoriented. Using his edits and
camera placement for maximum effect Fulci shows he's not using
this wild style just to dazzle but to advance the story. In
a simple leapfrogging fashion he takes information just presented
and jumps to the next scene with it leading the charge. He sometimes
has the dialog overlap from one scene to the next to push things
forward. It makes for exciting, compulsively watchable stuff
even if I began to fear at a certain point he might be rushing
things along to keep us from being able to closely examine the
mystery. Luckily this is not the case as the final resolution
does stand up to close scrutiny.
The film begins with
a bizarre Morricone scored credit sequence with white titles
over a red-on-black image that remains oddly out of focus. Clearly
Fulci is warning us about things to come. He starts the film
proper with a nightmare sequence that in hindsight shows us
all we need to know about Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan)'s
mindset. Terrified, she stumbles through a moving passenger
train car (classic film sexual symbolism) while trying to gain
entry to several compartments. But the elderly, 'respectable'
occupants ignore her chatting among themselves (standard outsider/alienated
symbol). Clutching her long fur coat (symbol of wealthy upper
class) about her she rushes down the corridor (birth canal/rebirth?)
which changes and suddenly she's surrounded by an orgy of naked
men and women joyously embracing. Then she's falling through
a black nothingness to land on the bright red bed of Julia (Anita
Strindberg), who laughs as the two women begin making love to
each other. Now if that ain't repressed homosexual attraction
I just don't know what else to call it. And you can say all
you want about the director simply enjoying the sight of two
hot women groping each other. It all still fits perfectly with
the carefully laid out resolution an hour and a half later.
Not to mention that the ingenious dream imagery that he conjures
up that at first appears pointless (the huge flying bird for
example) which snap into focus as wish fulfillment later on.
stylistic approach culminates in a number of whacked out brilliant
cinema moments that are a must see for fans of strange film.
The most striking is the nightmare murder of Julia in which
Carol sees herself stab the nearly naked woman to death while
zombie-like hippies watch from above. Starting out as a repeat
of the train car dream it advances through images of the corpses
of her family arranged around a dinner table, the shadow a huge
bird flying over the courtyard of her flat's building and violent
shots of blood drenched gore. And that's before the murder!
It's an amazing, graceful bit of colorful madness that has the
desired effect of placing us in the same bemused mindset of
the various suspects. How could she have dreamed of things that
she couldn't have seen? And then how could the hippies from
her dream be real? Great stuff!
stated before the cut of Lizard in
a Woman's Skin presented
here is uncut but pulled from several different sources. This
becomes evident when some sequences showing a bit of print damage
and a little grain pop up. Also, certain of these scenes are
unique to the Italian version and therefore were never dubbed
into English. These parts are presented in Italian with yellow
subtitles making it obvious what AIP thought was unnecessary.
This is a minor complaint for me since I'd rather see the whole
thing than a shortened pristine edit. That said, there is at
least one scene included in this cut that in hindsight might
have been best left on the cutting room floor. (I find it strange
to be agreeing with AIP's notorious chopping crew for once.)
The first non-English sequence takes place after the murder
but before Carol's husband has been allowed to view the flat
where the crime occurred. We're told that Carol has been frantically
running around trying to find her fur coat and then later the
family dinner is interrupted by a phone call from a gossipy
friend. This sequence is the very definition of extraneous giving
us nothing we don't get better in the following few minutes
of the movie. Still, in the end I'm glad to have it even if
the other additions are better integrated and much more satisfying.
re-release is a single disc affair and Shriek Show has done a
commendable job. The film is in anamorphic widescreen and except
for the already mentioned sections of lesser sharpness it's a
very pleasing presentation. They've ported over their 5.1 remix
of the English soundtrack along with the original English and
Italian Mono as well. The Italian track is subtitled showing the
many minor differences in dialog between the two versions. The
extras are pretty praiseworthy also with a great 30-minute interview
with Fulci expert Professor Paolo Albiero. He discusses the director's
career and Lizard in particular in
an engaging manner with a number of insights I found fascinating.
This is a fine, scholarly but never dull talk and is one of the
best DVD extras of the year so far. This is followed by a short
history of the film's censorship from Prof. Albiero and a chance
to see the original Italian title sequence. The final extra is
a reel of Fulci trailers. Of course, the sad thing to note is
the exclusion of the fantastic documentary Shedding the Skin
from the first release. A very well-produced love letter to Lizard,
it has interviews with surviving cast and crew members and visits
to the film's shooting locations. 3/18/07
By 2009 this disc was OOP, and no longer carried by Amazon.