Review Date: February 8, 2007
Released by: Shriek Show
Release date: 3/13/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
So here we are again. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
had one of the longest, most maligned trips to DVD back in 2005 when Shriek Show finally released it. With two different cuts, the uncut one pan and scan, the cut one anamorphic, fans had to settle for the good halves of each. With rumors that an uncut, widescreen print was unearthed over seas, many people balked at Shriek Show’s rush (a relative term considering how many delays the disc had) to release an inferior product. But now here, nearly two years later, Shriek Show’s releasing an uncut and anamorphic print with surprisingly little fan fare. What’s weirder is they’ve shipped out well before street date. Is the lack of publicity out of fear of another PR meltdown, or have they finally given the fans what they want? Let’s see if the new skin improves this old Lizard.
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.
Yes, it’s all there. And anamorphic. Aside from the uncut footage, this new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks almost identical in quality to the previous Schizoid
release. So the moments of extreme scratching and print damage are still there, but on the plus side so are the vibrant colors and the tight sharpness. As for the uncut footage everyone has been waiting to see – it seems culled from another print, but fits in very nicely. The colors are slightly more saturated, and thus the contrast a little greater, so detail suffers a tad. But unless you are looking for it, you won’t notice a thing. You will notice though, how effective those crazy hallucinogenic visuals are in widescreen clarity. The open innards, lesbian seductions and squawking goose scenes all play out much better widescreen and uncut, and that dog scene, the most disturbing of all giallo moments, is even more brutal when rendered in such clarity.
The lesbian dream sequences no longer have the Vaseline smearing of the previous Schizoid
release, and the nude cut scenes of the lovely Anita Strindberg are preserved here unaltered as well. One thing to note comparing the uncut scenes from Shriek Show’s previous release to the ones here, is that while they are now in widescreen, there is slight cropping evident on the top and bottom of the frame. Nothing substantial, but a good 10% of the frame is missing. I’d wager to guess the extra bit of space in the top and bottom on the pan and scan cut is to account for the overscan of 4x3 televisions, and that the aspect ratio presented on this new disc is, finally, the one the film was meant to be seen in.
For those who want to compare numbers, this new release, from the first frame of the opening credits to the last frame of the closing, runs 1:43:04. By comparison, the uncut pan and scan version from the previous disc ran 1:37:48. Although one would hope this means for even more gore, or at the very least nudity, in reality these extra minutes are more or less just a few added dialogue scenes. Like in Deep Red
these added scenes (at the 26:09 and 30:22 marks) are made obvious because of the lack of English stems. They are in Italian with English subs, and are more or less just dialogue scenes reiterating what was already clear before. They don't really add much to the film, and stick out given their lack of an English option, but at least Shriek Show provided the most complete version they could find.
Finally, when comparing between the widescreen VHS bootleg and this new uncut transfer, it is clear that two uncut sources have been used (compare the colors of the goose shots) and that the VHS bootleg has less print damage. Where that master is, or if it even exists anymore, is a whole other question.
Is this the perfect remaster we were hoping for? No. Shriek Show could have digitally corrected a lot of the blemishes that occasionally litter this transfer. But still, Shriek Show has finally delivered to fans just what they were asking for: the print in its original aspect ratio and fully uncut. They’ve delivered that, and in a pretty nice package, so Fulci fans can now leave their Lizard woes behind.
The previous release had English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English mono on the Schizoid
release and Italian mono on the uncut version, and this one lumps all three together. While it would have been better to have had the Italian print in 5.1 rather than the English (you’re releasing movies to a niche, there is no need to pander to mainstream close-mindedness), it is tough to complain when the English track is as enveloping as this. Every bit as good as the previous 5.1 mix, this engulfing mix even sounds good in the new uncut scenes too. Morricone’s score kicks it up in the rears, and the dark barking and goose squawking is in fine form in 5.1. Where the print damage picks up there are moments of slight hiss, but they are so rare, and this track so good, that they hardly damper the solid sound work done here by Shriek Show. The two aforementioned additions to this cut, are, as mentioned before, in Italian only, so if you are listening in 5.1, be prepared for two tiny hiccups.
Rather than make this the definitive disc for A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
, Shriek Show has opted to exclude the previous extras from this release. The previous disc has some great interviews and one of the company’s best documentaries, which unfortunately don’t make it here. So those wanting to know everything about the film are going to have to spring for the previous disc. Those not wanting to do so though, can rest a little easier knowing there are a few new exclusive supplements on this release as well.
The main extrais a 30-minute interview with Paolo Albiero, a film professor and “Fulci expert”. While this Italian-language interview starts off pretty dry, with Albiero recounting Fulci’s life and his work in earlier films, it does pick up pace once he begins talking about Lizard. There are a few tidbits here and there that haven’t really been talked about before, like Fulci’s indecision on the ending and some anecdotes about his on-set antics, but much of it is stuff Fulci fans or owners of the previous disc will already know. Albiero also makes a case for Fulci as an auteur compared to the rest of Italy’s genre filmmakers, and offers a few other insights on Fulci’s vast, and hard to characterize, career. While the interview would have been more relevant and interesting had the subtitles put the Italian names into English (there are some captions where everything is Italian, what’s the point?) there is still some worthwhile stuff here. Long and without much variety, it pales in comparison to their previous Lizard documentary, though.
The alluring “A history of the film’s censorship” back line blurb promises a neat investigation of the various cuts the film has had to endure, but instead is just more talking from Albiero. He basically points out all the scenes us fans have already been talking about for years, and with the lack of any visual comparisons, this 6-minute supplement is irrelevant to anyone who knows their Fulci.
The supplements are rounded off with the original Italian title sequence (which shamelessly rips-off Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point
from the year prior), a Fulci trailer reel, Shriek Show trailers and an easter egg still gallery. The previous release came with a textured, scaled slipcase and a nice booklet. This release is unfortunately devoid of both, but hey, it’s uncut and anamorphic!
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
holds up just as good today as it did in 1971, and stands out as one of the premier gialli for both Fulci and for the genre in general. Rife with psychological subtext and some truly unsettling dream sequences, this is a giallo you won’t soon forget. And luckily, thanks to Shriek Show’s uncut and anamorphic transfer, you’ll remember the film for its hallucinogenic visuals rather than marred transfer. The print is still a little dirty, but in terms of clarity and vivacity it’s great. The sound is equally as noteworthy, in fine form in 5.1. The supplements here are different and lesser than the previous release, but it isn’t likely to matter, since the film is finally presented the way it was meant to be seen. This new skin, uncut and anamorphic, sheds a new light on this maligned masterpiece, and it is one no horror fan should be without.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B
Sound - A-
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 43 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Mono
- Italian Mono
- English subtitles
- Interview with Fulci expert, professor Paolo Albiero
- "A history of the film's censorship" interview
- Original Italian opening credits
- Easter egg photo gallery
- Fulci trailer reel
- Shriek Show trailer reel