A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Color, 1971, 104/103/98m.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Stanley Baker, Alberto De Mendoza, Leo Genn, Anita Strindberg, Georges Rigaud
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray & DVD) (France R0 HD/PAL), Optimum (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Media Blasters (US R1 NTSC), Federal (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A Lizard in a Woman's SkinA Lizard in a Woman's SkinFollowing his audacious giallo debut with Perversion Story, director Lucio Fulci upped the ante to a feverish intensity with his next thriller, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, which reteamed him with star Jean Sorel, cast again as a suspicious husband. This time the film encountered considerable censorship hassles in nearly every country in which it was released (with the American AIP version, Schizoid, suffering the most), and Fulci and FX creator Carlo Rambaldi were even hauled into Italian court over one shocking sequence showing breathing, dissected (but fake) dogs mounted to a wall. Fortunately the film itself proved strong enough with withstand such tinkering, and Fulci was free to continue his experiments with the thriller format in several subsequent films.

Plagued by unsettling dreams involving an erotic tryst with a spooky blonde (Strindberg) and naked copulating people riding public transit, fragile English housewife Carol Hammond (Bolkan) reveals his inner anxieties only to her psychiatrist (Riguad), who theorizes it's her subconscious method of acting out against her oppressive marriage to buttoned-down and adulterous Frank (Sorel). However, in the middle of more disturbing visions, Carol also experiences a vivid murder scenario in which she repeatedly stabs the mystery woman in the A Lizard in a Woman's Skinabdomen with a letter opener. When the identical slaying of her neighbor is reported afterwards, Carol finds herself the subject of scrutiny from a police inspector (Baker) and the subject of harrowing encounters with bats, a mysterious knife-wielding hippie, and the mysterious devils hidden in her own mind. A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Best viewed in tandem with Fulci's other efforts in the genre, Lizard is in many ways his most outlandish film (at least until The Beyond) and finds him refining the techniques established in his previous giallo, particularly his ambitious use of split screen and a storytelling method of loading most of the exploitative thrills in the first half with the narrative payoff emerging in the second. Brazilian-born Bolkan, who was already a solid international name thanks to her work in films like The Last Valley and The Anonymous Venetian, delivers a wonderfully nervous performance that foreshadows her similar, even more impressive turn in the sadly neglected Euro-horror masterpiece, Footprints. Sorel isn't given much to do this time, but future Euro-sleaze staple Strindberg and her distinctive breast implants make a powerful impression in their brief appearances. Also worthy of note are the dreamy, appropriately spacey score by Ennio Morricone, sadly in his only collaboration with Fulci as a director, and the impressively atmospheric cinematography by the always great Luigi Kuveiller (Deep Red). The only real debit is that, from a mystery standpoint, the film cheats a bit by having the guilty parties behave in a manner inconsistent with later revelations, even when they're alone and have no reason to do so (a charge that could also be leveled at Perversion Story). Much has been made by some critics concerning Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skinodd treatment of hippies, drugs, and homosexuality, which could be read as anything from blindly naive to flat-out ugly and bigoted. However, given the context of the mysteries, they're probably just devices he used to find a way of unwinding the various knots of his narratives while delivering a little sensational juice in the process. Oddly enough, given his supposed conservatism, he clearly gives adultery a free pass in both films, a contradiction very prevalent in A Lizard in a Woman's SkinCatholic-influenced Italian filmmaking at the time.

The endless censorship and general confusion over various versions that plagued Lizard extended well into its first, long-delayed DVD release from Media Blastes, a controversial two-disc platter containing the heavily truncated US version (as Schizoid) with an AIP logo and a mostly impressive anamorphic transfer, hampered only by one reel of decidedly lesser and very constrasty quality. The absence of most of the lesbian-related footage and the canine dissection scene make for a very frustrating experience, and the English track is presented in the original mono and an overly gimmicky 5.1 track. Also included is a longer Italian version taken from a drab-looking full frame print with much cropping on the sides, with optional English subtitles. The biggest extra is a half-hour featurette, "Shedding the Skin," featuring interviews with Bolkan, Sorel, actors Mike Kennedy and Penny Brown, and the FX crew, all of whom speak highly of Fulci and remark on how they participated in the film. Other goodies include the English theatrical trailer, two radio spots, a gallery containing the pressbook and photos, A Lizard in a Woman's Skinand bonus Fulci trailers for Zombie, City of the Living Dead, Touch of Death, House of Clocks, Sweet House of Horrors and Demonia. After much fan grumbling following an improved, longer, anamorphic transfer released on DVD in Italy (with no English language options), Media Blasters wisely returned to the well for an additional single-disc edition of the film containing a much-improved presentation that runs even longer than either version in the prior release, clocking in A Lizard in a Woman's Skinat a hefty 103 minutes with all of the druggy nudity and violence restored to its proper place. Apart from some fleeting element damage and few telltale signs of that one inferior reel, this fascinating and much-needed assemblage of footage was a welcome upgrade at the time. Judging from the AIP logo at the beginning, some of the AIP negative remains here with the additional footage from the various European versions interpolated back in, without any signs of editing surgery to be found. The soundtrack represents the best of all possible worlds thanks to the original English dub (which generally works best given the presence of English actors in supporting roles and the leads speaking their parts in phonetic English, albeit looped by other voice performers later); however, viewers who bristle at dub tracks may prefer the Italian one, which features a more aggressive music mix. Also of interest is the "psychedelic" 5.1 mix, which is preferable to the earlier one and does a mostly solid job of spreading the score out to the rear and front channels. Still, audio purists may want to stick with the English mono track for the closest approximation of the film's intentions. Euro horror buffs may still want to hang on to the previous release, as this one retains none of its supplements (apart from the bonus Fulci trailers and the alternate Italian credits lifted from the earlier full frame transfer), instead adding two featurettes with Italian writer A Lizard in a Woman's SkinPaolo Albiero, who talks about Fulci's career in a very thorough and appreciative half-hour overview and then a five-minute explanation of the history behind the film's rocky history with censors in its native country and elsewhere.

A few years later in 2010 the film made its UK DVD debut from Optimum in what was technically the most complete version at that time, compiling all of the footage from the longest Media Blasters version as well as adding A Lizard in a Woman's Skinsome alternate and additional footage from the French version (which by itself is significantly cut but offers a fascinating variant). Considering the variety of edits of the film it's difficult to say which version of some scenes was Fulci's preferred option, but this is probably as close as possible if you want to see every possible scrap including in one supercut. Image quality is very nice as well, mostly from the master provided by rights holder Studio Canal and composited together with great skill, though the PAL speedup means it still runs shorter than its predecessors.

Finally in the summer of 2015 the film made its much-anticipated bow in HD courtesy of a French edition from Le Chat Qui Fume, a Blu-ray and DVD set with DTS-HD audio options in English, French, and Italian with optional English and French subtitles. All three sound quite solid and accurate to their respective theatrical mixes, with no crazy surround overhauls this time. A Lizard in a Woman's SkinThe Studio Canal negative is the source here and, not surprisingly, it looks great for most of the running time with a marvelously textured appearance and healthy colors. The presentation is almost as long as the Optimum one, primarily coming up shorter with the inclusion of the standard edit of the split-screen dinner scene. The profuse extras kick off A Lizard in a Woman's Skinwith the English and French theatrical trailers, the English opening and closing credits (and Italian opening title card), and the alternate extended edit (one minute) of the dinner party scene from a lesser SD source. Strindberg gets a new 13-minute interview (in French with English subtitles) about the start of her acting and TV hosting career in Sweden, her funny fan mail, her memories of the "gentleman" Fulci, and her own lack of lesbian tendencies, while Sorel appears for a 16-minute interview in French only. Luciofulci.fr's Lionel Grenier offers a 21-minute overview of the film's importance in Fulci's '70s period (in French with English subtitles), including notes on the major cast and some insights into the film's sly manipulation of giallo conventions including the distortion of audience and character point of view. Grenier also appears without subs for "Le Venin des censeurs," an 8-minute survey of the major censorship hurdles in Fulci's career including this film's dog sequence, and "Les Vies de Fulci" (14 mins.), a history of the various phases in the director's career from thrillers to comedies to gothic gore. Also included are a hefty gallery of A Lizard in a Woman's Skininternational photos and "Les versions du Venin" (also without subs), a visual comparison between the alternate French, English and Italian cuts. Present only on the Blu-ray are some additional bonuses, including the alternate, shorter French cut of the film, Le venin de la peur (95 mins.) without English options, and a trio of new bonus interviews in HD and recorded in French without subs with critics Jean-François Rauger (21 mins.), Alain Schlockoff (23 mins.), and Olivier Père (26 mins.) and The Brotherhood of the Wolf director Christophe Gans (38 mins.). The handsome fold-out packaging also comes with a gorgeous 52-page booklet of posters and promotional artwork and stills from around the world, plus a soundtrack CD of the Morricone score in its standard 19-track edition.

Soon after the release of the French edition, a new wrinkle arrived with the announcement of an American release by Mondo Macabro, which hit in early 2016 in two versions, an early pressing in a red case (999 copies) with unique cover art available directly through their online store and a general release version one month later. Anyone who assumed it would carry over the same HD presentation of the prior Blu-ray is in for a bit of a surprise here; though clearly derived from the same Studio Canal HD master, it features deeper black levels, punchier colors (the reds and magentas in particular), and more nuanced encoding with more visible detail and film grain. Frame grabs throughout this review are from the Mondo Macabro release, but below are some grabs from the French disc for comparison (the first two are from identical frames seen above); the differences are more obvious in motion but this should offer an idea:

A Lizard in a Woman's SkinA Lizard in a Woman's SkinA Lizard in a Woman's Skin
A Lizard in a Woman's Skin
A Lizard in a Woman's Skin A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

The HD transfer has also been augmented with the extra alternate footage, running a total of 104 minutes and 11 seconds compared to the French disc, which clocks in a few frames shy of 103 minutes on the dot. That means it essentially mirrors the longest Studio Canal composite from the UK release, albeit in greatly improved quality. Playback defaults to the English audio, but the Italian version can also be played with English subtitles (directly translated, no dubtitles); both are PCM mono and sound excellent. Apart from the usual three trailers, the extras don't overlap at all with the French release so fans should have no problem justifying owning either one. A new audio commentary is included with Kris Gavin and Mondo Macabro's Pete Tombs with a thorough rundown of the film including the locations and crucial props (some prominently recycled from earlier films) and backgrounds of all the major actors, essentially offering a savvy and informative crash course in early '70s Italian cinema. Definitely a great listen. The "Shedding the Skin" featurette is carried over from the Media Blasters release, while "Dr. Fulci's Day for Night" presents a 30-minute interview with the filmmaker conducted for Italian TV covering his thoughts on the role of cinema, his genre hopping, comparisons with Dario Argento, and the relationship between man and animal and how it affects film censorship. The reliable Stephen Thrower, author of the essential Fulci book Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, offers a perceptive half-hour analysis of the film ("When Worlds Collide"), the state of Swinging London at the time, and the project's role in Fulci's filmography, including its relationship between technique and story to mislead the viewer as much as possible. "From Burton to Baker" (11 mins.) features actor Tony Adams (who had an early role here as a cop) recalling his experiences with Stanley Baker and Richard Burton including the UK crime film Villain and this one, in which he wasn't too enamored of his scene partner, with a detour into his Doctor Who work as well. Finally you get 90 seconds of U.S. radio spots and the alternate Italian opening credits. Exclusive to the red case limited edition is a liner notes booklet featuring "Vice and Degradation: Lucio Fulci and 'Thrillers Italian Style,'" a spirited rundown of Fulci's giallo cycle from Perversion Story through Murderock and a solid taste of Howarth's more expansive books including Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films and the So Deadly, So Perverse giallo book series. Obviously this one comes very highly recommended.

Updated review on January 13, 2016.