LIZARD IN A WOMANS SKIN
(Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna)
Lizard in a Woman's Skin is a giallo thriller. This is a genre so named for Il Giallo Mondadori, a series of books from an Italian publishing house that translated copies of English-language thrillers that were printed with distinctive lurid yellow covers (giallo being the Italian word for yellow). The genre was popularised on film by Mario Bavas Blood and Black Lace (1964) where Bava drew on the psycho-thriller that had been patented a few years earlier with Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho (1960) but conducted it with an extravagantly show-off, much more overtly sexual spin. The genre gained a great popularity in the late 1960s/early 70s the year before this, Dario Argento made his first appearance with the big hit of the giallo The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and went onto a number of other films in the genre over the next few years. There were numerous other copies of the giallo and this is one of these.
Lizard in a Woman's Skin starts in with a captivating dream-like quality in which we see Florinda Bolkan running in slow-motion through a trainful of nude people before being seduced by her neighbour Anita Strindberg in a fur coat on a giant scarlet sheeted bed. In the next few scenes, we see Florinda Bolkan in the midst of a dull dinner party being distracted by the sounds of partying from next door and having fantasies of the orgy going on there in which Anita Strindberg relaxes in the midst of cavorting nude bodies, dressed in the richest of colours and the most ornate jewellery and with everybody surrounded by mirrors on the walls and ceiling. It feels almost like something out of the extravagantly orgiastic excesses of Fellini Satyricon (1969) or perhaps given the theme of the housewife caught in fantasies, a giallo version of Fellinis Juliet of the Spirits (1965).
It is an exquisitely dressed and costumed film. The murder apartment comes in rich scarlet red with elegant drapings on the wall, while Anita Stridnberg is found dead wearing furs and thigh-high leather boots. The apartment where Florinda Bolkan lives is perfectly fitted in a modernist style, even comes with white telephones highlighted in the foreground of shots. Florinda Bolkan goes through an eye-catching range of fashions throughout. Indeed, one suspects that the film takes place (and was shot) in London so that the film can make its appeal as a giallo that sits atop the wave of Carnaby St fashion houses that were the height of Swinging Sixties chic. Not to mention that the film has one of the most attention-catching titles of any giallo of the era even if nothing that takes place ever gives any clue as to what it might mean. You half expect a predecessor to the tv series V (1983).
The major problem is that after the opening provides such a superbly gaudy injection of decadence, the film slows down and becomes a dull murder mystery circling around whether Florinda Bolkan did it in a fugue state and uncovering blackmail plots on the part of Anita Strindberg. There is little that ever subsequently hits the stride that the opening scenes do. Compared to the rest of the dull hackwork he turned out, you feel that Lucio Fulci stumbled by accident onto the type of stylish psycho-thriller that directors to follow like Dario Argento and Brian De Palma managed to perfect. There are a few of the gratuitous gore scenes that Fulci subsequently made his trademark notably a roomful of gored and still alive dogs strung up at the hospital, a scene that caused some controversy at the time but not much.
Nevertheless, despite a dull middle where you think the film has lost itself, Lizard in a Woman's Skin picks up again in the last twenty minutes. There is a fabulous sequence where Florinda Bolkan is lured to a cathedral and pursued by a red-headed hippie guy (Mike Kennedy) through the catacombs, through a secret door behind the pipe organ, into a room where she is beset by a horde of bats and then out across the ornate rooftop. It is something where Fulci manages to find something of one of Dario Argentos extravagantly over-the-top stalking set-pieces. It is also one of the occasions where Fulci, whose films became increasingly surrealistic and incoherent in subsequent years, manages to hold himself constrained by a psycho-thriller plot moreover, one that is boosted considerably by an effective twist ending.
Lucio Fulcis other genre films are: Perversion Story (1969), Dont Torture the Duckling (1972), Dracula in the Provinces (1975), The Psychic (1977), Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), City of the Living Dead/Gates of Hell (1980), The Beyond/The Seven Doors to Death (1981), The Black Cat (1981), The House By the Cemetery (1981), The New York Ripper (1981), Manhattan Baby/Eye of the Evil Dead/The Possessed (1982), Conquest (1983), Rome 2072 A.D. (1983), Murderock (1984), The Devils Honey/Dangerous Obsession (1986), Aenigma (1987), Touch of Death/When Alice Broke the Mirror (1988), Zombi 3 (1988), Demonia (1990), Nightmare Concert (1990), Voices from Beyond (1991) and Door to Silence (1992).