Thursday 25 March 2010

Lizard In A Woman’s Skin 1971 Italy
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Work in progress restoration screening
at the ICA on Saturday 13th March

Ok. A couple o’ weeks ago I had the rare pleasure to be at a screening at the ICA of one of my favourite giallos... Lizard In A Woman’s Skin. The unrated screening was to show an incomplete work in progress print that Optimum are putting together for a proposed Region 2 DVD release later in the year (I’ll comment on that later). This is the longest version of Lizard In A Woman’s Skin to date, longer than both the previous Region 1 DVD releases (including the recently restored release).

Anyone not familiar with this particular giallo may well be a tad reluctant to dip their toes in the water with a film directed by Lucio Fulci and I can fully understand why. Before I discovered both Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and another giallo he made called Don’t Torture A Duckling (aka Don’t Torture Donald Duck... also with Florinda Bolkan as the victim in the infamous chain whipping scene) I was not a great admirer of Fulci. His most well known movie in the UK is, arguably, his “Dawn of the Dead sequel/homage” Zombie (aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) which was okay... mainly because, from my point of view, it has a sequence where a topless Italian actress swims to safety from a shark and then the shark, in turn, gets bitten by an underwater zombie! I think any movie with a sequence like that deserves to be included on any Zombie fan’s must see list. The only other comment I can really pass on Zombi is that it strongly reminded me a lot of Breakfast At Tiffany’s in that the shot set ups all seemed to be based on vertical lines.

The only other Fulci film I’d seen before Lizard was his gruelling Spaghetti Western... Four of the Apocalypse. Now I really like Spaghetti Westerns and I’d love to say that this particular film was gruelling because of the screen presence of Italian superstar Tomas Milian as the cruel villain of the piece... but I can’t say that because it was the absolute lacklustre pacing and direction and overall mind-numbingly inducing boredom of the movie which made it gruelling.

Fulci’s giallo’s, however, are an entirely different matter and he can definitely hold his head up high with such stalwarts of the giallo genre as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino. Lizard in A Woman’s Skin is an absolutely superb film featuring most of the main key signatures of the genre... bad dialogue, terrible acting, an uncompromisingly convoluted plot, excellent music and superb direction and camera work.

And seeing it in the longest print yet and on the big screen to boot... was a rare treat. That excellent, hallucinogenic Ennio Morricone score was just belting out of the speakers in a way I’d never heard it before... just fantastic. The opening sequence with all the naked people crowded on a train as Florinda Bolkan is trying to run through the carriages only to find herself in an illusion of lesbian seduction was always going to be a perfect way to start a film like this (although if she’d then gone on to meet Edwige Feneche, that would have been even better ;-) and the film doesn’t fail to deliver on it’s opening. And even if Stanley Baker’s character’s constant and irritating whistling of Ennio Morricone’s main theme is still as annoying on the big screen as it is on DVD... at least it’s a reassuring constant.

My only problem with this particular screening is that I’ve only seen the film twice before and both were of different cuts of the movie... so as I was watching it on a big screen at the ICA... I really couldn’t remember too much about what might and might not have been newly unearthed footage. I think the notorious and hard to watch dog vivisection sequence, which I still find a complete non sequitur of a scene in the context of the rest of the movie, may have been a little longer.

There have been some complaints about the state of the print of this film they showed recently at one of the FrightFests in Scotland. All I can say is they must have done a lot of work on it since then because the print I saw was absolutely sharp and crystal clear.

The screening was presented by Alan Jones (Argento’s biographer) and he mentioned, as I said above, that the idea is to have the longest cut possible available and out from Optimum DVD on Region 2 in the summer. I can’t help but think that this is a somewhat self defeating object since the BBFC (the ultimate villains of art) will probably not have let even the shorter versions through uncut in this country. I think they have better chances of a re-release in the US rather than do battle with the British censors but good luck to them anyway.

One of the original taglines written to sell this film was “WARNING! Not Recommended Viewing for Persons With Schizophrenic Tendencies!”. Well, whether you have schizophrenic tendencies or not, if this new, elongated version does make it out uncut on R2 DVD... I would seriously recommend it for even the most casual giallo fan.

But why labour the point when another of the movies original taglines can say it so much better than I can... “Biting, Gnawing TERROR Claws At Your Brain!”

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