REVIEW: DVD Release: Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
Release Date: 7 June 2010
Running time: 104 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Stanley Baker, Penny Brown, Mike Kennedy
Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
Country: Italy/ Spain/ France
Hung over from the psychedelic sixties, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin winds itself around the feet of deceit and distrust in a shroud of sex, drugs and murder.
Fulci could never be accused of not letting the audience know where they stand with its opening. Perhaps not as shocking as his other efforts, the film still manages to kick off with brunette beauty Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) amidst an orgy. She pushes her way through the naked writhing bodies, apparently distressed and uninterested; that is, until she reaches the gold at end of the corridor, her blonde bombshell next door neighbour, Julia. Cue fantasy lesbian sex scene. But even for Carol, it is just that: a fantastical dream.
Carol lives a typical upper middle-class life in which she seems to have a healthy relationship with her supportive father whilst successfully maintaining her own family of a husband and his daughter. But all is not quite so idyllic: her husband is unfaithful and she has turned to frequent sessions with a psychotherapist, who is intently interested in her vivid nocturnal adventures. Her dreams have recently revisited that opening scene with increasing frequency and it is Dr Kerr’s job to unravel the meaning behind her infatuation.
The implication of these dreams is suddenly blasted to new heights when the object of Carol’s passion is stabbed to death. She is in fact killed exactly as Carol dreams, her body is left exactly as Carol saw her and she is killed with Carol’s letter opener. The aspiring psychic’s fragile mental state is sent spiralling even further into doubt when she begins to suspect herself of murder. As her family members dismiss her frets, she sinks further into uncertainty and drags the viewer with her until her true role in the crime is finally revealed.
Hedonism and self-indulgence prevail in Fulci’s take on the murder mystery, which only adds to an already challenging plot. Whilst the film begins simply enough, it soon twists and turns down the intricate path of detection and its surreal scenes of the macabre and grotesque convolute it even more. Fulci followers will realise that compared to the likes of Zombi 2, this production races miles ahead where storyline is concerned, but that is not always a good thing. Thankfully, these spectacular dream scenes offer a little respite from the marathon plot and they will remain with the viewer for much longer than the details of who did what, when and why. True to Fulci’s usual form, one particularly grisly scene of vivisection sent him and his crew to court under suspicion of cruelty to animals. It may seem unlikely to anyone watching now, but the props department had to produce models to prove their innocence. Although the effects used in the dream sequences are inevitably rather dated by today’s standards, they are nevertheless impressive feats for the time.
Fulci does not shy away from clichés amongst his cast of characters. The reckless bohemians who party all night next door are nothing original and come 1971 had already been committed to film, most notably Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, released a year earlier. The lack of cockney accent is all that distinguishes Inspector Corvin, with his air of unorthodox efficiency, from a cop in a seventies’ British police drama series and his elder, wiser superior only reinforces this. The only character who dodges clichés is Carol, whose somewhat dual-nature does not always work.
Bolkan’s dark allure sets her apart from the rest of the cast, who faithfully represent the languid rich. The hint of otherwordliness appointed to her early on in the film is therefore well suited and Carol becomes a personality that the viewer wants to know more about. Such is her mystery, it comes as quite a surprise to learn that Frank is betraying her and not the other way around, and perhaps this is why audiences may successfully come to care about Bolkan’s character. However, her charming enigma is quite often compromised by moments of hackneyed femininity; for such a strong woman, she faints an awful lot, and find reassurance in her adulterous husband far too much. Viewers may be left feeling a little frustrated at her slippery persona and realise that they are not so concerned for her after all. Instead, their fascination may lie with Jenny the hippie or revert back to the free-spirited Julia; characters who may be much flatter than Carole, but who are also easier to grasp and understand.
Of course, for any Fulci fan, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is well worth a watch, and even the dedicated horror fan is unlikely to go away completely unimpressed. For anyone looking to broaden their film horizons, don’t be afraid to give this one a go, but casual film fans may want to avoid it.