One of the best films to come from the fertile mind of cult Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, New York Ripper), A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is also one of the prime examples of a classic giallo thriller (a genre of Italian cinema named after the popular pulp crime novels published in the 1960s, dubbed ‘giallos’ because of the cheap yellowing paper they were printed on).
In the best giallo tradition, the plot of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is convoluted yet ultimately simple and obvious, and seems to serve ostensibly as a vehicle for the film’s cinematic style. Carol Hammond, a classy and wealthy but seemingly bored London housewife (played by beautiful cult Euro starlet Florinda Bolkan) is traumatised by vivid, sex and violence drenched dreams which feature her permissive, party-loving neighbour Julia Durer (the equally stunning Anita Strinberg). When Carol awakens one morning to discover her dreams have transcended into reality and Julia has been discovered brutally murdered, she is fingered as the main suspect and must try to decipher her dreams and discover whether or not she is a cold-blooded murderess with a memory block or the victim of an elaborate frame.
Coming off like a Hitchcock film on acid, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin literally pulsates with a psychedelic vibrancy, with some intense erotic imagery and moments of gaudy, extreme violence that foretells some of Fulci’s later career choices. The sequence where the institutionalised Carol stumbles upon a quartet of still-living, whimpering dogs hung up and dissected in a laboratory is truly disturbing and ghastly, and it’s not too hard to see why this scene was cut from most prints during the film’s initial theatrical run (the dogs, and a horde of attacking bats, were created by noted mechanical effects expert Carlo Rambaldi, who would go on to work on such notable films as E.T. and Alien. Ennio Morricone’s sparse but hypnotic soundtrack perfectly complements the film’s surreal tone and style, and would have to rate as one of the great Italian composer’s more underrated scores. The film also looks sumptuous, with nice sets and some ostentatious but stylish early-seventies wardrobes worn by the female leads. With their elegant and striking looks, Florinda Bolkan and Anita Strinberg are both effective in their roles, and are well supported by Stanley Baker (as a Scotland Yard inspector), Jean Sorel and Leo Genn as Carol’s father Edmond Brighton, a distinguished lawyer trying to clear his daughter’s name.
Umbrella’s release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin utilises a mostly sharp widescreen print that offers you the options of watching the film either in Italian language (with optional subtitles) or English dubbed. While the Italian language soundtrack is best, the dubbed version doesn’t distract too much due to the film’s UK setting. The colours of the transfer are vibrant and do justice to the lush cinematography of Luigi Kuveiller. A couple of the re-instated nudity and violence sequences are a bit grainy due to the source material utilised, but it’s nothing too distracting. Unfortunately, no special features are present, making Shriek Show’s two-disc special edition from a few years back still the ultimate release of this film. Considering some of the special editions of genre films which they have released in the past, it’s a shame to see Umbrella content to put out bare bones releases of late (in what is surely a cost-cutting measure for the company).
A perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with the giallo, and an essential addition to the DVD library of any established fan of the genre (not to mention the army of loyal Fulci cultists).
Available on R4 DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.