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> Lizard in a Woman's Skin
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Lizard in a Woman's Skin
02-18-2005, 09:01 PM
Review Date: February 18, 2005
Released by: Shriek Show
Release date: 2/8/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes (Schizoid)
Full Screen 1.33:1 | P&S: Yes (Uncut Italian Print)
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/a-m/liaws/liaws_shot9ws.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/a-m/liaws/liaws_shot9wl.jpg) Of all of Fulci’s films, none have had a bumpier ride to DVD than his first giallo effort, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. The film has had a notoriously minimal life on home video, where it was barely released uncut, albeit at all. Those select few who had seen it maintained that not only was it a superior giallo effort, but also one of the best films in Fulci’s sizable canon. Then Media Blasters announced they would be releasing it sometime in 2003, but of course complications arose in tracking down the proper prints for the film. MGM had a print in their labs, but it turned out to be the edited Schizoid cut, and not the uncut print fans had been clamoring for. Media Blasters sat on the film a little longer, until deciding to go forth with the Schizoid cut as well as a pan and scan master of the uncut film on a separate disc.
So after years of delay, February 8, 2005 ended up being the official release date this Lizard with shedding release dates. Now that the film is publicly viewable, is it indeed the classic it is purported to be? More importantly though, what’s the scoop behind the different prints and transfers? Let’s go under the skin and find out.
Carol Hammond (Fulci’s whipping girl in Don’t Torture a Duckling, Florinda Bolkan) has been having dreams. Bad dreams. She is running on a bus, and suddenly all the passengers become naked, kissing and engaging in idle passions. She can’t escape, stuck inside the lustful, drug-induced world of hippy culture. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Kerr (Georges Rigaud), tells her that this dream is a way of freeing her inner passions that remain taboo in her conservative household. No biggie. Then, she has another dream, this one much more vivid than the last. There is a woman, beautiful and bare with her hair blowing in the wind, signaling for Carol to come forward. Carol proceeds, and engages herself in lustful bedside maneuvers. Passion turns to a different shade of red, as Carol suddenly stabs the blonde vixen with a letter opener. Blood is strewn, and hippies watch from afar. She awakes, but it turns out that the murder she envisioned came true. Was it a matter of telepathy, was she involved, or was it mere circumstance?
The investigation begins, as Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) explores the murder scene. Black boots, a white scarf, a fur coat, a letter opener and a whole lot of blood were all that were left behind. Muddy footprints were also tracked inside, which means that there was not just a single culprit. Even if Carol is guilty, that would mean that someone else was present. But with the suspects adding up in particular giallo fashion, the resolve will end up far from predictable.
The suspects include an adulterous husband, Frank Hammond (Short Night of Glass Dolls’ Jean Sorel), a couple of tripped out hippies, a mysterious photographer, the all-knowing psychiatrist, and a few other could-be’s. As the pieces begin to fall into place, Carol continues to have morbid hallucinations, this time with bats, eviscerated dogs and a ravenous goose. The lines between fantasy and reality blur, but there are even more twists and turns as the murderous riddle is finally solved.
Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is probably Fulci’s most virtuoso work. Although it lacks the glossy sheen of The Beyond, Fulci’s camera is always moving, pumping even the droll expositional scenes with intense energy. He is always pulling focus, zooming and lingering on extreme close-ups in what would all become trademark fashion, with some shots featuring as much as eight different focal lengths before a cut. His wild camera work really charges the dream sequences with a heightened sense of unease, as he shoots through water, glass, lights and other obstructions to give each scene an otherworldly look. The frantic jump cutting in these scenes also create a frenzy that helps show Carol’s distraught sense of mind.
Fulci’s camerawork and overall editing structure of the film is just a joy to behold. Before he became fixated on gore, he really knew how to compose a scene. A craftsman before he became an artist, Fulci always had the technical understanding to shoot whatever a scene required, and in Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, with all its dream-like state of mind, Fulci had free reign to let his style run wild. A standout scene is one where Carol hides from a killer who feverishly bangs against a barred door. As Carol looks, and as the door shakes, Fulci continuously cross cuts between the two, as he zooms into each with a speed unseen in most films. Not content with just a zoom or two, Fulci keeps this visual style throughout the whole scene. Never has a closed door been so menacing. He stages nearly all of Lizard’s scenes with a brave intensity, proving that he could generate suspense by moving the frame, rather than filling it with easy gore scares that would encompass his later career.
That is not to say that the film is without gore, indeed far from it. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin features some of Fulci’s most shocking and bizarre effects work. The most notable (and understandably absent entirely from the Schizoid cut – see “Image Quality” for more details) sequence involves a scene where Carol stumbles into a room with a number of dogs with their stomachs slit open and moving their heads about in nervous twitches. So random and unprecedented is the scene that it’s impact is infinitely greater than any gore scene from Fulci’s subsequent zombie films. There are a few other gory scenes which will be mentioned later, but Fulci generally reserves the gore only for heightened effect. Like with the chaining scene in Don’t Torture a Duckling, gore is most effective in Fulci’s films when used sparingly. Show too much gore and it draws attention to itself – it becomes desensitizing. But use it in just the right place, and it can really be effective, like it is in Lizard.
Although the film may be without the non-stop gore Fulci has become known for, it possesses the seedlings of what would become one of his main thematic preoccupations: surrealism. Much of the film pertains to Carol’s dreamlike state, but the way Dr. Kerr deconstructs her dreams has a Freudian quality. It is all about sexual repression, and how the dream can help free the mind of suppressed desires. Kerr calls the dreams “liberating”, as if to suggest that dreams are a positive means of self-expression. His later films, particularly the at-times-incomprehensible The Beyond and the hazy Conquest, were all about their surrealism, whereas with Lizard the surreal qualities only help serve the plot. They don’t become the plot. Dr. Kerr states later in the film that “the truth comes to light in very odd colors,” and for Fulci, surrealism was his palette of choice.
For a film as wild in its surreal imagery as Lizard is, the ending seems puzzlingly subdued. The twists, and there are many, don’t have near the absurd quality that would define the genre with endings like those in What Have You Done To Solange? or The Short Night of Glass Dolls. Some would say this is Fulci holding back, but I’d argue that Fulci was focusing above all else on driving the plot in a sub-genre that was still in its infancy. Uncharacteristic for most gialli of the time, Lizard also operates at an incredibly fast pace. There isn’t a whole lot of talk-talk, Fulci keeps the story lean, making each dialogue scene a necessity in driving forward the plot. This makes Lizard infinitely watchable, and allows it to circumvent the usually drawn out second act of most gialli. Like everything else in the film, the pacing is expertly crafted.
It may not receive the fanfare that Zombie or The Beyond continues to rightfully garner, but Lizard in a Woman’s Skin deserves to be placed upon that same pedestal among Fulci’s work. Along with the equally impressive Don’t Torture a Duckling, it is not only one of Fulci’s best, but also one of the best that the giallo sub-genre has to offer. You will know right from the start that you are watching a Fulci picture, but throughout you will be surprised at just how well he is able to balance his excessive style, gore and surrealism with taught storytelling. It is a diamond of a film, and one that has been in the rough far too long.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this release, and I am afraid to say that when all the dust settles, there still will be controversy. This DVD features two versions of the film, the American release, Schizoid, and the uncut Italian version. The problem lies not in the versions of the films chosen, but in the respective quality of each. Schizoid, although 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, is culled from two different prints of varied quality. There are several scenes with a high contrast, and others with extreme print damage. Some of these sequences last minutes, others just seconds, but the differing quality is nonetheless distracting. To be fair and complete however, most of the print looks rather good, despite the fairly constant speckling. Colors look deep and vivid, and darks look black rather than the light grays found in the uncut transfer. While the transfer still looks soft, it is still adequate in terms of picture detail. Again, in that regard better than the uncut print. Still though, the scenes with heavy print damage, like those in between the 46:50 and 48:50 marks are very distracting.
The bigger controversy comes however, from the uncut Italian print. The uncut version is taken from what looks to be a video master, given the scan lines at the start, and is regrettably in 1.33:1 pan and scan. There is significant cropping throughout, although the picture quality is not as bad as one would think. The scenes with excessive print damage in the anamorphic Schizoid actually look much cleaner and better in the uncut print. Other than those scenes though, the Schizoid cut is the better transfer. The uncut print looks a little more washed out, with a picture that is overall too bright. Still, cropping issues aside, it is still a very watchable print.
In a Fulci film though, cropping is of paramount importance. As visual a director as Fulci is, his compositions are always meticulous, with the frame outfitted in such a way where every corner is filled with important information. This cropped version cuts out quite a bit, with some people entirely being removed from the frame. It is a major distraction, and it is impossible to watch the film without the feeling that information is constantly being omitted from the sides. But hey, as long as it is uncut, that is all that matters, right?
Yes and no. John Sirabella and the folks at Media Blasters maintain that this cropped print was the only workable uncut version available, but fans have stated otherwise, citing uncut bootlegs that have been circulating in widescreen. The bootleg most definitely exists, and for illustrational purposes only, shots from it are being used to compare the various releases. Now just because the bootleg exists, that doesn’t mean that it is fit for release, but it does open that possibility that perhaps an uncut widescreen print exists somewhere undiscovered by Media Blasters. Sirabella maintains that if fans can track down a workable uncut master of the film (better than the one featured on this release) that he will personally fund a re-release, so the adventurous may wish to take that as a personal challenge.
With what Media Blasters have released, fans will find themselves half-satisfied in both cases. The film is available both uncut and in widescreen, the problem is that only half is true for both discs. Disc one is cut but widescreen, disc two is uncut but full screen. Regardless of the quality of the two versions, this DVD release is unfortunately not the definitive cut of the film. The possibility is still available for a widescreen uncut transfer. But until that one is made available, this one should more than fill the void.
Now, as far as the differences in content between the two versions go, it is actually quite substantial. The uncut print runs only two minutes longer, but contained within those two minutes are some of the film’s best sequences. The aforementioned dog evisceration sequence is added in the uncut print, as is another equally effective scene. A short little sequence with a bloodied goose lunging towards the camera is also mysteriously absent from the Schizoid cut, but thankfully is featured in its entirety in the uncut version. The uncut print also features a few more insert shots of stabbing, blood and just overall gore in three big sequences. The major murder sequence is also quite a bit longer in the uncut version, with actual shots of the blonde getting stabbed repeatedly in the chest, complete with gushing stab wound.
Nudity is also a big addition in the unrated cut, with the dreamy lesbian sequence extended much further, featuring several more bare shots of the lovely Florinda Bolkan. Considering how the film was challenging the regulations against on-screen female nudity and bringing out aspects of the emerging Women’s Liberation movement, the uncut version of the lesbian sequence is certainly the only way the film should be seen. Another big difference between the cuts is that the entire lesbian scene and murder plays out with a distorted lens in the Schizoid print, giving it a hazy quality that often masks out the violence and nudity. While it is a cool effect, there is no doubt that the uncut print is more unsettling and effective.
So with the added dog, goose and lesbian sequences, the uncut print has substantially more to offer than the Schizoid print. The uncut Italian copy is much more attuned to Fulci’s maniacal vision, and packs much more of a visceral punch. However, the fact that it is again only full screen makes it tough to recommend. It is impossible to really suggest one over the other, since one is over an issue of framing and the other over content. In order to get the full experience of Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, you are just going to have to do what I did and watch both versions.
Just like the image quality brought pluses and minuses for both versions, so does the sound quality. Firstly, the 5.1 remix on Schizoid is a really great track. One never forgets while watching it that it is a mono mix, but there is still a surprising amount of envelopment. The track makes a very active use of the rears to employ ambient effects. Rain and thunder can first be heard in the back at around the 14 minute mark, and from there on in cars, random chatter and Ennio Morricone’s classy soundtrack all get their share of activity in the back sound stage. While the rears may get a workout, there is never any sort of directionality to the proceedings. There is never any noticeable separation between the right and left channels in either the front or back. This is totally understandable though, given that the film is originally mono, and dubbed to boot. The dialogue is incredibly thin, frail even at times, and it is obvious that Shriek Show did the most they could do with this track, and it more than pays off. This is one of their best audio remixes, if not the best.
However good the Schizoid remix sounds, it is only in dubbed English. The uncut version has the benefit of being presented in Fulci’s native Italian, which seems less awkward than some of the English dubbing. With these European genre films though, everybody has a preference, so some will appreciate the English, while others the Italian. The problem is, again, that there is no choosing between cuts. The cut version is only English, and the uncut only Italian, so fans are stuck with one or the other. In terms of sound quality, the uncut print sounds far, far worse, with hissing present at times and a lack of higher frequencies. The track has a muffled quality to it, and sounds considerably more worn than the Schizoid cut. Still though, it is Italian, and for many that is preferable. The included English subtitles are poorly transcribed, with several spelling errors and altogether wrong word usage. This throws yet another monkey wrench into the discs, although it is for the most part an understandable subtitle track. Like with the video, both versions have their qualities.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/a-m/liaws/liaws_menu2s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/a-m/liaws/liaws_menu2l.jpg)Although there is much to debate about the audio and video transfers, few people will complain about the quality of the “Shedding the Skin” featurette. Running a lengthy 34 minutes and included on disc two, this is a well-organized and thorough overview of the entire gialli movement as well as an indepth look at Lizard itself. It features interviews with stars Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Mike Kennedy and Penny Brown, the latter two being the hippies in the film. All detail their recollections on working with Fulci and his unconventional ways. Brown talks about how weird she thought Fulci’s conservative conception of hippies and LSD was, and Bolkan talks about how Fulci wanted to scare the actors before he did the audience. Bolkan also expresses a lot of love for Fulci, detailing how her initial disaster meeting with Fulci eventually turned into a loving working relationship that spanned a number of films. Sorel talks of how Fulci was always known as a fine craftsman, but that now only today is he finally being recognized as a true artist. It is about time!
The featurette also takes considerable time to interview those involved in special effects, with the effects makers demonstrating how the dog and bat scenes were accomplished. There is even a working version of one of the battery-operated bats on display. The featurette is finished off with comparisons between the London locations as they were in the film and as they are today. The fact that the featurette details the origins of the giallo as well as the influence of Mario Bava and Dario Argento on the sub-genre also really helps give the documentary context. Narrated by Penny Brown, it is a greatly constructed documentary, much better than the meandering Zombie documentary released earlier this year.
The rest of the extras are sparse, but still interesting. The psychedelic theatrical trailer is included on disc one, and it features a lot of filters and imagery not shown in the film. There are also a couple radio spots from the American release of the film that try to create controversy by banning anyone with schizophrenic tendencies from seeing the film. Lame. Disc two, along with the featurette, also features a photo gallery. A scaled-down version of the American press book is also included as a booklet within the case, and provides some trivia and promotional angles to market the film. Its interesting to see how marketing for films has changed completely these days.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that the DVD comes housed in a cardboard slipcase that features a lizard that covers the nude body of the victim in the film. Nice risqué touch, Shriek Show.
This DVD is both easy to recommend and impossible to recommend. What’s easy is getting the disc itself, since giallo fans and Fulci fans alike will no doubt appreciate this masterful piece of psychedelia. Fulci’s camera work, editing and ability to forward a twisty story is impeccable, and some of the imagery in the uncut version remains his most unsettling.
The problem in the recommendation comes after the purchase: what version of the film to recommend. While the cut print is anamorphic and properly framed, it features several scenes of fairly heavy print damage. It is also cut, which makes the uncut print more desirable. However, the uncut print is improperly framed, and the quality is more washed out than the cut print. Each have good that matches the bad. The same is true with the audio, which is presented in a very capable 5.1 English mix on the cut print. The uncut print features a mono Italian print, which seems a little more natural than the English. The sound quality is far worse however, and the subtitling also has issues. So again, issues on both sides.
What can’t be denied though, is the work Shriek Show put into the exceptional featurette. It is organized and accessible to everyone, from the hardcore Italian fan to the giallo novice. Now, whether or not an uncut widescreen print exists is debatable, but still, Shriek Show should be congratulated for getting this film out in as complete of a set as this one is. While there may be a number of flaws, the sheer fact that Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is being released at all, let alone two different versions, is something all horror fans should appreciate. It has been a long time coming, and while there are still problems, it has been worth waiting for. One of Fulci’s best has finally crawled its way to DVD.
Movie - A-
Supplements - B+
Image Quality - B-
Sound - A-
Uncut Italian Print:
Image Quality - C
Sound - C-
Running time - 1 hour 36 minutes (Schizoid), 1 hour 38 minutes (Uncut Italian Print)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (Schizoid)
English Mono (Schizoid)
Italian Mono (Uncut Italian Print)
English subtitles (Uncut Italian Print)
"Shedding the Skin" featurette
Mini press book
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02-18-2005, 09:32 PM
Thanks for a great review!
Great to see the cut/ucut comparison.
It will buy mine in the near future.
02-19-2005, 05:06 AM
Great review...I can't wait to go out and buy it. Could be the Eurohorror release of the year.
02-19-2005, 08:21 AM
I don't think it is fair to give Shriek Show credit for the extras, you can thank Mike and Kit. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but Shriek Show had no clue when it came to the extras, they didn't do any of the work, and shouldn't receive the credit. Give proper credit where credit is due.
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