9/19/09

How Low Can You Giallo? - Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)

Lucio Fulci is best known as the Godfather of Gore, but before his Royal Goriness put giant splinters through eyes, drills through heads, or met up with Dr. Freudenstien, he made a few of the most deftly crafted gialli of the era. Not long back, I got a chance to check out Perversion Story (1969), and I greatly enjoyed watching Lucio put together a film with impressive camera work and a twisty plot. It was quite a departure from other films of his I had seen. Where his later work hit like a wrecking ball, his exhibited a velvet touch when it came to directing gialli. So when I was looking for films to include in this month’s giallo feature, I knew I had to check out another of his thrillers.

Filmed two years after Perversion Story, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin [Italian: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna] reteamed Fulci with the star of his previous film, Jean Sorel, and Florinda Bolkan perhaps best known for playing Lolita in the film version of Terry Southern’s Candy. The film also marked the first pairing of Fulci with his longtime editor Vincenzo Tomassi who would work with the director on nineteen of his films. Also working on Lizard was Luigi Kuveiller, the cinematographer who would go on to shoot Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dario Argento’s Deep Red. Kuvellier and Fulci would pair again many years later for the director’s late entry into the giallo genre, New York Ripper. The contributions of both of these men should not be diminished when you’re taking about this flick. The clever editing and dreamlike qualities of the filming enhance every aspect of the director’s vision for the film.

As Lizard in a Woman’s Skin begins, their contribution is immediately prominent as the film opens with a dream sequence that is a dark, disturbing, and erotic affair. It clearly sets the tone for the rest of the film with its disjointed imagery and sexually charged situations, and as the story begins in earnest, we meet Carol Hammond (Bolkan), a disturbed socialite, as she describes the dream to her psychoanalyst. He dismisses the dream as her subconscious exploring her hidden curiosities into the decadent vice filled world of her neighbor, Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). However when her dreams take an even darker turn with Julia being murdered, Carol is shocked to find that real life has mirrored her dream. All the evidence points to Carol being the murderess, but did she commit the crime, or was it her philandering husband (Jean Sorel); murderous hippies whacked out on acid, or does the secret to the mystery lie just under the skin?

Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin contains very little of the stereotypical traits expected of a giallo. Sure it starts off with some nudity and blood (though not a glove in sight), that quickly fades into the background. I didn’t miss it at all though because for the next ninety minutes I was treated to one of the best examples of how to use misdirection and red herrings. I would be highly suspect of anyone who claimed to unwrap the mystery contained in this film before the dramatic final reveal. The script by Fulci is perfectly balanced between scenes of pure dialog, moments of interesting imagery, and even manages to put in a chase through a gothic church for good measure. So while the bodies never stack up, boobs don’t show up every five minutes, and the blood does not flow in rivers, Fulci carves out a niche for himself with a reserved and stylish film. Those are two words not usually found in reference to Lucio’s work, but when it comes to his gialli, it’s a pretty accurate description.

To enhance Fulci’s suspenseful script, the acting in the film needed to be spot on, and for the most part, it was. Florinda Bolkan brought to mind a more angular version of Edwige Fenech. While she is not as ravishing as the gialli queen, she provides a solid performance that really pays off in the final act of the film. By the time the secrets are revealed and I had a chance to reflect on her performance as a whole, I was much more impressed than I had previously even thought. Jean Sorel also does a fine job, but much less of the film depended on his performance unlike his turn in Perversion Story. The two performances that struck me as most entertaining were Penny Brown and Mike Kennedy as the hippie couple, Jenny and Hubert. No matter if they were menacing poor Carol, messing with the police, or grinning wildly under the effects of LSD, they both gave performances that were interesting to watch.

Fulci truly found a way to combine the era of psychedelia with the giallo genre, and the capper to all the visual flair of the film is the incredible soundtrack from legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. While he has done other great scores for gialli, I found that his compositions for Fulci’s film had more in common with his experimental album work than with anything I’ve heard him do for film before. It really enhanced the tone and style of the film which had so much to do with the setting of ‘70’s London, the end of the hippie era, and the interesting choices that Fulci made with both camerawork and costuming. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is not a film of parts. Instead it seems like one complete film where all the elements came together seamlessly to create this world.

Lizard in a Woman's Skin did establish Fulci as a director who was not beyond using a bit of gore in his films. In one dream sequence, Carol is confronted with the slit open bodies of several dogs, their hearts still beating. Fulci was dragged into court on charges of animal cruelty, and it became the first time that a special effects artist, Carlo Rambaldi, was compelled to bring his effects into a courtroom to prove their movie magic. If you’ve only experienced Lucio Fulci as the filmmaker behind Zombi 2 or City of the Living Dead (or worse yet House of Clocks), then I urge you to check out his early work in the giallo genre. It shows a director with an assured hand working in a genre that he’s unfortunately less known for. For this film alone, if no other, Fulci deserves to be included on any shortlists of giallo greats. So check it out, and beware of creepy smiling hippies.

Bugg Rating



7 comments:

  1. Agree with the Phantom- a real gem this one.

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  2. I just don't get it, I guess. I think this movie sucks... one of the worst in my collection.

    JM

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  3. Compelling review... maybe I'll finally get around to this one at some point!

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  4. This has made it up to #7 on my Netflix. I should get to next week and now I'm really looking forward to it.

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  5. @Tower Farm

    I will admit this is not a movie for everyone but it would mostly appeal to those who are fans of Italian genre film first. It is important film for Fulci fans as it is sort of in that transition period where he begins to move to a more horror oriented later career- from the frothy comedies such as Operation Luna to the zombie and gore films of the late 70s early 80s was a big step and this film is one of the stepping stones.

    I suppose this one would appeal to fans of Sergio Martino gialli too. But for a more general horror fan I suppose this is not the easiest film to get along with- it is one of the more over complicated gialli but stylistically is very familiar to fans of the giallo of the period.

    If you are not primarily into the Italian stuff then there are far more easy gialli to get along with than this one. Including Fulci's Don't Torture The Duckling.

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  6. Ive seen it twice now, and I still am not very fond of it. I prefer Duckling out of Fulci's two gialli, but I dont think he holds a flame to Argento in terms of the gialli construction. I have just found the film to be entirely uninteresting with spotty pacing. I understand why it is highly revered in the subgenre, I just prefer many other films to this one. You hit on a few points I hadnt considered though, so I will keep an open mind on the next watchthrough and hopefully I can find a new appreciation for the film!

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