Troubled rich girl Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) is suffering from a series of bizarre sexual fever dreams where she indulges in sapphic delights with her wild hippie next-door-neighbor Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). However, one morning after another perverse sex dream culminating in a gory knifing of Julia, Carol awakens to find that Julia was murdered in her apartment the stormy night before. When all evidence points to Carol being the culprit, she must not only investigate the crime but determine what is dream and what is reality.
After Fulci entered the giallo genre with 1969's ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER (a superior entry coming from Anchor Bay in 2005), the former sex comedy director found himself becoming more and more fascinated with the popular horror/thriller genre which was tearing up the box office. After the success of Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Fulci attempted a daring psychosexual thriller with A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, another giallo with an animal in the title (it would not be the last animal title for Fulci or the genre). Making up the cast is a treasure trove of Eurocult faces. The most familiar is, of course, Florinda Bolkan, who would work with Fulci again in DON'T TORTURE THE DUCKLING the following year. Bolkan always turned in brave performances in her films, and this is one of her defining roles. ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER's Jean Sorel plays another philandering husband who may or may not be a suspect himself. Sorel phones in his performance here, but the same year would contribute a superb performance in Aldo Lado's SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS. Appearing as Carol's stepdaughter Joan is adorable Ely Galleani, the blonde pixie from Bava's FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON whose career was sidetracked by graphic sex and drug use, like so many other Eurocult starlets. Leo Genn and Stanley Baker, superb British actors who spent the last years of their careers in several great European trash classics, are Carol's politician father and the police investigator, respectively, and give dedicated performances in a film which is a cut above the usual flicks they were appearing in at this time. As the hippies, Los Bravos lead singer Mike Kennedy (whose vocals on "Black is Black" would rock the 60s hard) and musical theater star Penny Brown are given little to do but play menacing very well. Lenzi heads will recognize Carol's psychiatrist as Georges Rigaud, the suspicious reverend in the cheesy delight EYEBALL.
This is one of Fulci's most unique films for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the several uses of split-screen are not typical of Fulci's visual style and were most probably influenced by the use of the technique in 1970's WOODSTOCK to tie-in with the counterculture theme of the film. Cameraman Luigi Kuveiller (TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, NEW YORK RIPPER) creates eerie tableaus even when shooting on the less-than-foreboding streets of London. One inventive shot opens with the reflection of police inspectors on the eyeball of Florinda Bolkan before zooming back to reveal her entire face. A very bizarre scene has Ely Galleani being shocked by Penny Brown throwing paint-covered knives at a white wall behind her. The effect is like seeing a knife pierce the wall and its subsequent gory bleeding. Just another gorgeous visual touch by Fulci. Fulci's most frequent editor, Vincenzo Tomassi, has a field day with the trippy dream sequences and establishes many of the most suspenseful moments by frantically cutting from shot to shot to heighten the tension. And of course the superb soundtrack by frequent Argento-Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone is almost more well-known than the film itself. It bears a striking similarity to his later work for CAT O'NINE TAILS and supplies a pulsing beat to the nailbiting scenarios Fulci presents on-screen. Surprisingly, in stark contrast to most of Fulci's films, the most memorable setpieces in the film are not graphic murders of the characters. Instead, censors created a furor over the nauseating viscerated dogs sequence which still shocks unprepared viewers drawn into the murder mystery aspect of the film. Also noteworthy is the realistic bat attack sequence which left actress Florinda Bolkan quivering with fear in real life! The bat attack occurs in the middle of one of the most intense chases in horror cinema, with sadistic hippie Mike Kennedy following Florinda through dark tunnels, an abandoned church and violently stabbing her in the arm before she bolts herself behind another door. Of the Golden Age of gialli, this is not only one of Fulci's shining moments as a director, but one of the best examples of the genre.
Of the two versions contained in the two-disc set, the first disc features a 1.85:1 letterboxed version digitally remastered from film elements and a fullscreen version sourced from a video master. The letterboxed transfer of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN is a lovely sight. Opening with the familiar AIP logo but not featuring the popular SCHIZOID title, the print is in very good condition. A sheet of grain appears during most of the film, but colors are bold and robust, which is important during the eye-popping hippie sequences. Blacks are solid and there are no glaring instances of debris, dirt or lines and scratches appear. Some scenes are dirtier and less bold than others (for example, Carol being pursued by Mike Kennedy on the grounds on the asylum and her subsequent venturing into the abandoned corridors of the building), but for the most part this is the best video version that has been released of this gem. A disclaimer proceeds this version saying it is a composite, but if this is true, the transitions are flawless and it seems it is actually all one full-length print. While the video quality is sterling, the audio quality is a mixed bag. The English 5.1 track features the music and sound effects beautifully, but dialogue is unfortunately too quiet at times. The fullscreen transfer of the film isn't so bad, really; it begins with mildly letterboxed titles (in Italian) at 1.66:1 then shifts to fullscreen. Colors are washed out and the compositions are way off, but the missing gore and nudity aren't compromised too badly by the cropping. The cropping doesn't take away any of Strindberg's rock-hard implants or the incredibly nasty dog sequence. Considering it's taken from video, one would expect more tracking lines but there aren't many. This version is presented in Italian with optional English subtitles.
The letterboxed version of the film is missing the following bits: the majority of the opening lesbian encounter betwixt Florinda Bolkan and Anita Strindberg, the shocking gore and much of the Bolkan-Strindberg nudity during the murder sequence and the entire viscerated dogs sequence. All of these scenes are present uncut and complete in the fullscreen version. Comparing the two versions, the widescreen is 95 minutes and 25 seconds. The fullscreen is 97 minutes and 53 seconds, so there are probably several other edits here and there missing or this is due to PAL conversion and the missing material isn't as lengthy as presumed.
Disc 1's extras include a rare U.S. trailer under the title A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (with some very trippy graphics and a brief peek at American poster girl Leslie McRae of Ted V. Mikels films, COFFY and DEATH RACE 2000), two U.S. radio spots under the title SCHIZOID and a promo for Media Blasters' upcoming theatrical release DEATH TRANCE. It looks to be an Asian import with lots of violence and swordplay, and a surprising fight sequence with zombies sprouting up from the ground! Lose the techno/metal soundtrack and this might be a fun flick to see in a theater! Most welcome is a Fulci Trailer Reel, which among the usual Media Blasters suspects (DEMONIA, SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS, HOUSE OF CLOCKS, ZOMBI 2) but the real surprises are TOUCH OF DEATH (scheduled to street on April 26) and...wait for it...drum roll....CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD! Yes, that's right, Shriek Show is reportedly working on a new special edition of the film!! No word on extras yet, but if it is to be the ultimate edition, it is recommended that the company reunite with former extras man Kit Gavin to present a definitive super-duper 2-disc set.
The meat of the extras resides on Disc 2. The featurette, SHEDDING THE SKIN, is in actuality a short documentary and clocks in at a little over 30 minutes as opposed to the usual 10-minute pieces on most cult DVDs. Interviewed are all the primary figures of the film: Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Mike Kennedy, Penny Brown, Carlo Rambaldi and Franco di Girolamo. Beginning with an overview of the giallo genre, with many tantalizing looks at posters and locandinas from some of the best films of the period, the interview subjects spill their many memories of shooting on-location in London, working with Fulci (who might have been schizo himself!) and their fellow cast members, taking part in the special effects and make-up effects which populate the film, their reactions to the violence and nudity, shooting specific memorable scenes and their reaction on seeing the film then and now. The only surviving personalities missing are composer Ennio Morricone, supporting actress Ely Galleani and sexpot Anita Strindberg, but with all the fascinating observations here, they aren't missed that much. Bolkan is the most animated and revealing with her memories of shooting LIZARD, and it is incredible to see one of the actual bats from the film opened up by Carlo Rambaldi himself to reveal its mechanical working insides! Hosted and narrated by Penny Brown (the only American in the cast and who caps off the piece with a quote from the film) and even featuring now-and-then footage of the film's London locations, this is the documentary to beat for Eurocult DVD companies from now on! And this writer is credited in the scroll at the conclusion of the piece, quite a surprise indeed!
Disc 2 also includes a lengthy stills gallery with plenty of behind-the-scenes shots, promotional stills, international lobby cards (including the alternate title CAROLE), complete pressbooks and posters and video art from around the world. To cap off the package, included in the two-disc amaray (very similar to RetroSeduction Cinema's packaging) is a booklet recreating the original AIP pressbook for SCHIZOID. Interestingly, not only did Leslie McRae appear on the poster for LIZARD, she apparently posed for the infamous illustration of a woman trying to flee from a swarm of bats. The pressbook features promotional gimmicks, plot descriptions, bios of the key players and technical information confirming its aspect ratio of 1.85:1 for the curious.
I must break character here for a moment, but it's time to get something off my chest and this is the reason why people will be scrutinizing this purchase.
As a reviewer, as a consumer and as a fan, I've been disappointed and enraged by the myriad of flawed Media Blasters discs. Overmatting on WEREWOLF WOMAN, non-widescreen playback of EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, two-tone matting on JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, video gore inserts on ZOMBIE 3, cult breast queen Uschi Digart's name on the cover of the Uschi-less SAPPHO 68, audio faux pas on FACELESS and SLAUGHTER HOTEL, missing footage from WARLOCK MOON and INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES, the incorrect cast listing on GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS, everything prepared for the release of SEX CHARADE...except for a print of the film (!), the list goes on.
But no other film has brought the company more grief than A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN. The bloody thing hasn't even hit the streets yet, but that hasn't stopped fan boards from lighting up with venomous attacks, bitching and moaning, and rumors about unconfirmed better print sources the company could have used. Personally, the easy thing is to go with the flow and join in with the bashing. I mean, look at that track record! But after appreciating their recent slate of excellent discs (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG), I began to have my doubts that Media Blasters was just pulling another fast one over on the fan community. And their perfect release of TENEMENT, which is so far the #1 cult film disc of 2005, left me with renewed faith that maybe they weren't so incompetent after all.uncut, digitally remastered. You've got two versions of the film, all the footage is represented in some fashion, a superb
This is, simply put, the ultimate edition of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN. The fact that the film isn't being pursued by any other companies anywhere else in the world is a testament to the lack of materials available to present the DEFINITIVE letterboxed, documentary giving insight into the making of the film, the requisite trailer and photo galleries and a reproduction of the U.S. pressbook. If Shriek Show wanted to screw the fans, wouldn't they just have put the two versions on one disc and called it a day? It's clear that somebody loves the film at SS headquarters or they would have shelved the project due to lack of materials. But you can bet your bippy that if Blue Underground or Synapse was releasing this film and put together the exact same package, fans would be falling over themselves praising them regardless, saying "Well, it was the best they could work with and I'm glad it's coming out at all." The exact opposite reaction plagued Shriek Show. Now, I'm not saying it wasn't warranted, as their reputation has proven they are a hit-or-miss company. But I am saying that in the recent months, they have proven they are coming around in terms in quality control, enough that there is room for some positively when their latest acquisition is announced.
This isn't me sucking up to MB head honcho John Sirabella, this isn't me being easy to please or just giving a positive review because I got a screener (like plenty of other websites) and this is certainly not me trying to get a position with Media Blasters. This is me being brutally honest about my admiration of this package, me accepting the less-than-perfect presentation for what the company had to work with and me saying thank you for going ahead with it anyway because the film is well worth it.
OK, end of soapbox tirade. The verdict? This is one of 2005's best packages. Take a step back and realize that all things considered, it's a wonder the damn thing came out at all. Kudos to a release I'll be revisiting often. ***Casey's Choice: Top 10 Disc of 2005*** (Casey Scott)
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