31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.
Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Mondo Macabro LE Blu-ray. Regularly recommended Fulci.
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1970’s
Country of Origin – Italy
Master Classers: Fulci
The Advance Word: Many claim this to be Fulci’s finest film. I knew nothing but the film’s elevated reputation.
#5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
Lucio Fulci has never connected with me. When I first dove into Italian horror I picked up The Beyond as a result of many enthusiastic recommendations. It would become my first impression of Fulci. I didn’t dislike it, per say, but I’ve not felt the need to toss it into the DVD player again. The Anchor Bay tin resides at the bottom of a pile consisting of many special iterations of Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. I’ve seen some Fulci since, but not one of those so-called Fulci “essentials” has swayed my opinion that Lucio Fulci’s most popular films were exercises in tossing goop at the camera.
I know! Sacrilegious. Calling “the Godfather of Gore” a goop tosser. I oversimplify perhaps. I’ve found more value in his westerns and his oddball comedies like Four of the Apocalypse and The Eroticist. But I haven’t given up on you, Lucio.
When Mondo Macabro, my favorite boutique distributor of Euro-trash, announced a very special A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin Blu-ray release, I decided to once again dabble in Fulci. A giallo, no less!
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin checks into that cozy little giallo sub-genre that merges the genre’s psychosexual elements with a poliziotteschi. Part slasher, part police procedural, Lizard dives into the damaged psyche of Carol (Florinda Bolkan), a respected daughter of an even more respected politician. Carol finds herself experiencing vivid, dreamlike hallucinations consisting or orgies, LSD use and, ultimately, a bit of bloodletting. These dreams feature the hedonistic neighbor woman (Anita Strindberg) whom she openly claims to despise. Nice respectable modern women do not condone such behavior! After one such dream, Carol wakes to find herself at the center of a homicide investigation for the murder of the woman in her dream. Trippy.
Without traveling too far down the rabbit hole that is A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, I’ll just say that it seems rather clear that Fulci hates hippies and psychoanalysis, perfectly understand the tenants of the giallo genre (even if he finds pleasure in undermining them) and loves exploring the cinematic art of unified atmosphere. It’s this constant, unsettled atmosphere — the cockeyed and unpredictable camera angles and movement, Ennio Morricone’s score, the way color palettes shift from the realm of fantasy to reality — that makes this movie a special slice of horror cinema. If indeed it could be called “horror” — A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin errs more toward Agatha Christie than Dario Argento.
In his giallo guide So Deadly So Perverse, Troy Howarth says that while Fulci considered Argento’s films “sloppy in their construction but brilliant in their execution,” he considered his own attempts at gialli to be too mechanical. While I agree with the “mechanical” criticism of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Fulci’s film does not lack style. Lizard benefitted from the balance between the luxurious, flesh-filled dream sequences and the real-world investigation of the crime. As a result Fulci created a baseline series of oppositions in the movie: style vs. substance, the fanciful vs. the grounded, the uninhibited vs. the repressed.
Bolkan’s performance anchors the film. Without her wildly vacillating but still stoic center (and perhaps her wardrobe), A Lizard doesn’t convey the necessary emotional and psychological fragility. The old Welsh thespian Stanley Baker holds down the skeptical investigator role without too much wasted energy. His appearance surprised me as I wasn’t aware he ever ventured into genre work or international productions.
I have no prior experience with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, but Mondo Macabro’s release looks damn sharp. Nice contrast throughout, stable colors with expected grain levels. I noticed one minor instance of soundtrack hiss. The disc offers plenty of extras to dig through as well, including three documentaries, trailers, radio spots, an alternate opening, and an audio commentary from Fulci-doc filmmaker Kit Gavin.
Ultimately, I appreciated A Lizard more than I enjoyed it, at least at first glance. Fulci’s packed this film with elements ripe for dissection. The constant opposition of clashing forces, his personal thoughts on psychoanalysis, the social and moral upheaval of the late 1960’s. As opposed to The Beyond or House by the Cemetery, however, I look forward to revisiting A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. It feels like one of those films that will improve with subsequent viewings. Also, I won’t tell you what the hell the title means — to do so would be the ultimate spoiler of spoilers.
Blu-ray Verdict: Mondo Macabro’s releases have all been keepers. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin deserves the same fate. Back on the shelf with you to await your next summons.