Lucio Fulci has been mentioned several times on this site along with his fellow Italian horror masters Dario Argento and Mario Brava. All of them loved nothing more than death, gore and Giallo and all of those elements feature in Fulci’s pure 70’s cult classic A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.
More surprising however is underneath the scaly celluloid skin covered in sex, drugs and surreal psychological dream sequences is some stunning direction and a serious thriller story with plot twists a plenty.
Set in London, the story revolves around Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) the wealthy daughter of a respected politician who has the perfect life, living with her loving husband and daughter. All is not as idyllic as it seems however as Carol is plagued by erotic psychedelic dreams involving her debauched neighbour, who in real life throws wild, drug-fuelled sex parties in the flat next door.
Seeking psychological help, reality and her visions begin to blur when Carol has a particularly disturbing nightmare in which she brutally murders the object of her twisted desires – only to discover the next day that someone has actually committed the crime she dreamt.
As the police begin their in-depth investigation everyone is a suspect. Secrets are revealed and Carol’s world spins crazily out of control as she is stalked by a killer who could be real or just a figment of her fractured mind.
Although the title may tell you nothing about this film (it was called Schizoid in the U.S which is even worse) the two elements which permeate this picture are the principles of the Italian police thriller genre Giallo, and the stylistic and cultural staples that dominated the 1970’s.
The film is very much of its time and place filled with hippies, drugs, nudity and sex. All of this is thrown against the uptight attitudes and old fashioned beliefs of the over-privileged upper classes, who make up the main characters.
Some elements may seem slightly dated, especially the supposedly scary and surreal dream sequences, and the dodgy dubbing doesn’t help. However seen in the context of the period in which the movie was made, all can be excused.
Perhaps not pure horror, there are some scary moments and excellent gory effects – especially impressive for the 70’s. In fact, one sequences involving dissected dogs was so graphic and realistic that Carlo Rambaldi, the special effects artist, had to present the fake prop animals to a court to convince them not to throw Fulci in prison for animal cruelty.
Where the film really excels is in the police investigation and the thriller story, all of which is excellently plotted by Fulci who wrote the script as well as directed.
Like a 70’s C.S.I, we see the investigation as it evolves and fronted by whistling Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker). We are treated to footprint and finger print analysis, along with a ton of suspicions which will keep you guessing to the satisfying final frame.
Fulci also delivers with some truly tense, terrifying and deftly directed set pieces, including the game of ‘cat and mouse’ in the clinic – which leads to the aforementioned mutilated mutts and a chase through and across the roof of Alexandra Palace (featuring a Hitchcock worthy bat attack, all accompanied by an excellent soundtrack from Ennio Morricone).
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin may already have a cult following among 70’s enthusiasts and Filmophile’s into the weird and wonderful, however it is also a great thriller with some excellent and artistic direction. It deserves a much wider audience, and with this DVD release hopefully it will get one.