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Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan), the frustrated wife of a successful London lawyer, is having bizarre, erotic dreams about her uninhibited neighbor, Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg), who presides over noisy sex and drug-filled parties in the house next door. One night, Carol's dreams culminate in violent death and she wakes to find that her nightmares have become reality - Julia has been murdered and Carol is the main suspect. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)

Note that I’ve recycled some portions of this review (mostly the beginning) from my review of Grindhouse Releasing’s Blu-ray release of The Beyond

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD
Famed cult filmmaker Lucio Fulci had worked in movies since the early 1950s; first as a writer, then as a director, beginning with I ladri ( The Thieves) in 1959. During the post-WWII era, Italian cinema was a fad-driven industry, so Fulci dabbled in a broad scope of genres, including comedy, pop musical, parody, peplum (sword and sandal), spaghetti western, Eurospy, historical drama, poliziotteschi, and giallo. But it was violent, often gothic-tinged horror that came to define his later career. Known by fans worldwide as ‘The Godfather of Gore,’ Fulci broke out of the Italian genre ghetto and into the international spotlight with a 1979 cash-in on George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead called Zombie (entitled Zombi 2 in Italy, in an attempt to trick audiences into thinking it was a direct sequel to Romero’s movie). Following Zombie’s surprise success (by some accounts, its international profits may have out-weighed Dawn of the Dead’s), he enjoyed a brief period of relative creative freedom – the type usually only enjoyed by the region’s arthouse darlings (Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni) and international superstars (Sergio Leone, Dario Argento).

Fulci’s most fervent fans tend to consider either City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella Città dei Morti Viventi; aka: The Gates of Hell, 1980) or its follow-up The Beyond (Italian: L'aldilà; aka: Seven Doors to Death, 1981) his masterpiece. It’s hard to deny the virtues of these unrestrained, graphically violent, stylistic magna opera, but I’ve grown to appreciate the director’s slightly more restrained giallo efforts. He broke ground for the genre with early entries Perversion Story (Italian: Una Sull'altra; aka: One on Top of the Other, 1969), Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si Sevizia un Paperino; aka: The Long Night of Exorcism, 1972), and The Psychic (Italian: Sette Note in Nero; aka: Seven Notes in Black, 1977). Later, he pressed gore to its limit with the slasher-inspired New York Ripper (Italian: Lo squartatore di New York, 1982) and attempted to resurrect the formula with the nearly bloodless and completely silly Murder Rock (Italian: Murderock - Uccide a passo di danza; aka Dancing Death, 1983). There are cases to be made for citing Don’t Torture a Duckling or The Psychic as Fulci’s best foray into the genre, but neither matches the pure extravagance of his second real giallo, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (aka: Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna and Schizoid, 1971).

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD
Though not as esoteric as his Gothic zombie movies – specifically City of the Living Dead and The Beyond Lizard in a Woman’s Skin might be his most outrageously arty film. Technically, he was following the trends, as gialli had started to embrace concept of dream logic in the early ‘70s. This was a reaction to the role objective flashbacks played in Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970). In Argento’s film, the protagonist keeps recalling the attempted murder he witnessed at the beginning of the film, hoping to remember something he missed. The impressionistic editing, slow-motion inserts, and enigmatic focus-pulling Argento and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro made famous was then mimicked by the workhorse directors (ones that weren’t born into industry royalty, like Argento was) that found a niche in the giallo boom and became a mainstay of the formula. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin was among the best of the best in this regard, joined by the likes of Sergio Bergonzelli’s In the Folds of the Flesh (Italian: Nelle pieghe della carne, 1970), Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark (Italian: Tutti i colori del buio, 1972), and Pupi Avati’s The House with the Laughing Windows (Italian: La casa dalle finestre che ridono, 1976) – all films that managed to tie the psychedelia of their dream sequences to their plots and themes.

Fulci and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller rarely give the audience a chance to observe the film objectively. When they aren’t shifting focus and crash-zooming, they’re still implying perverted paranoia with more subtle editing techniques. Even expositional and procedural sequences are skewed by the maddening juxtaposition of wide-angles and extreme close-ups. And, when Lizard in a Woman’s Skin directly engages in nightmare sequences, Fulci pushes the dream logic to its illusory limit with bewildering, Dali-esque geography (the nightmare locations make no visual sense and appear to stretch into infinity), overlapping images, skipped frames, split-screens, and bloody and surreal special effects. Though he hadn’t yet scored an international breakthrough with Zombie, Fulci was still experimenting with extreme gore and, in its uncensored form, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is easily one of the most graphically violent films of the early ‘70s slasher boom. What really sets it apart is the fact that so much of the violence is usually tied to hallucinations, rather than traditional stalk and slash sequences. Sure, there is relatively long chase sequence that ends in a (non-fatal) knife slashing, but most of the bloodletting is likely imagined. Even the double breast stabbing murder at the center of the plot is only viewed from the perspective of Carol’s nightmares. We never quite get an authentic, straight-forward vision of what occurred.

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD
One sequence actually got Fulci and his producers into legal trouble for animal cruelty. In it, Carol hides from a stalker in a sanitorium and stumbles across some kind of grotesque experiment in which four living dogs have been strung up with their insides exposed. Tubes carry their blood to parts unknown and they whimper as their hearts continue beating and their guts leak gore into stainless steel basins. Italian authorities charged the director on suspicion of animal cruelty. Actors were forced to testify on his behalf and, when that didn’t work, special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi (the future inventor of the E.T. puppet) appeared in court with the dead dog props to prove that Fulci hadn’t actually gutted innocent critters for his movie (though, for the record, the effect was achieved using previously tanned coyote hides).

Speaking of plot, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin definitely won’t please the critics that complain about the giallo genre’s penchant for form over function. The storyline, credited to Fulci himself, Roberto Gianviti, José Luis, Martínez Mollá, and André Tranché, is pretty unsatisfying in terms of narrative function, mystery, and a satisfying climax. It is told largely from the point of view of a narrator so unreliable that she can’t even trust herself and the denouement is pretty obvious from the outset (by the way, the plot is semi-recycled from Perversion Story). In addition, Fulci and company don’t even really engage with the bodycount formula that basic gialli operated on. So much of the danger is explained away as delusion, that I can imagine even genre fans might be disappointed, similar to slasher fans’ original reactions to Fred Walton’s April Fool’s Day (1986), in which, spoiler alert, the entire movie turns out to be an elaborate prank. However, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a special case where the mechanics of typical giallo plotting – police procedure, murder mystery, multiple suspects, et cetera – are merely window-dressing around the more potent themes. It’s a film about the loss of identity, where nothing can be trusted as real as long as we’re in the mindset of our lead protagonist, who is also her own antagonist. Other gialli featured criminal cabals attempting to “gaslight” women into committing murder or suicide, but few were highlighted by women haunting themselves.

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD

Video


Lizard in a Woman’s Skin has a convoluted history of alternate cuts, including: a 95:30 minute, heavily censored US theatrical version; a 97:52 minute Italian video cut that featured most of the violence, but deleted some expositional scenes; and a supposedly complete 103:44 cut. It was so rare on home video for so long that fans happily passed around bootleg versions, until Shriek Show released an official DVD. Unfortunately, that DVD was a bit of a fiasco. It included an anamorphic version of the US cut and a 1.33:1 cropped version of the Italian video cut, which the company claimed was the only available source. Soon after Shriek Show released an anamorphic ‘remastered’ DVD of the 103:44 version, which was frustrating. Other uncut or very nearly uncut anamorphic discs were put out by Federal Video in Italy and Optimum Releasing in the UK. The first Blu-ray was released as part of a limited edition, BD/DVD/CD soundtrack combo-pack by Le Chat qui Fume in France. According to specs, it ran a slightly shortened 102:59. Now, Mondo Macabro has released the first-ever North American Blu-ray (technically two of them – one LE with a red cover and one standard release with a blue cover) and it runs 104:11 minutes, making it the longest available version.

Mondo Macabro’s press release claims that this 1.85:1 (maybe closer to 1.87:1?), 1080p transfer was remastered from the film negative, but they don’t supply any source specs (based on the Studio Canal intro, it’s safe to assume that it came from a French source). Italian genre fans have learned to be suspicious of such claims, because (as regular readers will remember) a number of Blu-rays were culled from inferior CRT negative scans from the region. Happily, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. While it isn’t the absolute best transfer of its kind I’ve ever seen, it exhibits very few of the typical telecine noise and DNR effects that have plagued similar releases. The majority of the grain structure appears accurate – none of those streaky digital blips – with only select blurry images showing the fuzzy telltale signs of CRT mistakes. I’ve included screen caps from the Shriek Show extended release, so that readers can compare the Blu-ray’s increased clarity, tighter details, and lack of blocking effects (specifically in the bright reds). Also note that the title cards are different, as if the slightly longer runtime wasn’t enough verification that the two releases were taken from different sources. In fact, the Shriek Show disc was taken from multiple prints, which meant that the previously censored sequences were in significantly rougher shape, including big tears, overcranked whites, and blotches. The Blu-ray is more homogenous with far fewer print damage artefacts and a more constant gamma/contrast balance. The one thing I’d chalk up in the DVD’s favour is the colour timing. The Blu-ray features more vivid and consistent hues, but it skews ever so slightly yellow. Having never seen the film in theaters I can’t claim that one colour timing is more accurate than the other, but I am drawn to the slightly cooler version.

For a more specific breakdown of the differences between the versions, including some Italian-only scenes that were filtered to appear more dream-like, see here and here.

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD

Audio


Shriek Show DVDs included unnecessary and underwhelming 5.1 remixes, but Mondo Macabro has wisely stuck to the original mono English and Italian tracks. Both are presented in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 and, for the record, both are dub tracks, because Lizard in a Woman’s Skin was shot without sound. I often say I prefer an English dub because English-speaking stars tend to dub themselves in these movies, but, this time, the bulk of the cast is Italian, French, Brazilian, Argentinian, or German (among the leading cast, only Stanley Baker and Leo Genn are native English speakers). There’s also very, very little difference between the two tracks aside from the dialogue. Sound effects, music, and even non-dialogue vocals (whistling, grunting, screaming) tend to match. The English track has the slight edge in terms of volume consistency and elemental separation, especially when it comes to the music. Composer Ennio Morricone supplied variations on the avant-garde jazz riffs he’d developed for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The most clever thing about this particular score compared to the many similar ones Morricone composed for other gialli is the fact that the lead detective whistles the dissonant theme song.

There are a handful of scenes that are not available in English. In these cases, the subtitle track automatically displays subtitles for those listening to the English track.

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD

Extras


  • Commentary with Pete Tombs and Kit Gavin – Tombs, the author of Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema Around the World, and Gavin, the director of Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered (Volume 1), which was a three hour and forty-five minute long collection of interviews with Fulci’s colleagues and collaborators, come together for this brand new retrospective track. It’s a well-paced, info-packed commentary that covers the behind-the-scene story, the histories of the various contributors, Fulci’s artistic inspirations, and (most valuable to myself) they mark the differences between this longest cut and the shortened versions. Unfortunately, the sound of the film itself is too loud on the track and it can be difficult to discern what they are saying, especially when Morricone’s music kicks in.
  • Shedding the Skin (33:50, SD) – This 2005 retrospective featurette was directed by Gavin and was originally included with Shriek Show’s original two-disc DVD. Hosted by actress Penny Brown, it covers the early history of giallo and Fulci, leading up to the release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. It includes interviews with stars Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, and Mike Kennedy, and makeup artists Franco Di Girolamo and Carlo Rambaldi.
  • Dr. Lucio Fulci's Day for Night (32:10, HD) – This rare video interview with Fulci (conducted sometime before his death in 1996) was conducted/directed by Antonietta De Lillo. The maestro, who is seated in a wheelchair, but still quite lively, talks and talks and talks about his childhood, his education, his musical talents, his early films, and his success in spaghetti westerns, gialli, and, of course, horror films. There are some brief clips included as well, though they are artfully projected against a wall in pink monochrome for some reason.
  • When Worlds Collide (29:10, HD) – A new interview/video essay with Stephen Thrower, the author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, concerning the themes, filming techniques, and storytelling styles of Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.
  • From Burton to Baker (12:30, HD) – The final new interview is with actor Tony Adams, who, like Fulci, begins the interview talking about his childhood and early career, before eventually discussing Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.
  • Alternate Italian opening credits (1:30, HD)
  • International, US, and Italian trailers
  • Radio spots


 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD

Overall


Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a true classic that deserves to be cited in discussions of the giallo genre’s greatest entries, right alongside Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino,1964) and Dario Argento’s Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975). Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray is a sizable visual and audio upgrade over DVD versions, the longest version of the film yet made available, and includes a bevy of original and catalogue supplements.

 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Mondo Macabro Blu-ray
 Lizard in a Woman's Skin Shriek Show DVD

* Note: The above images are taken from the Mondo Macabro Blu-ray and the Shriek Show DVD and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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