Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Lizard In A Woman's Skin (1971)

Directed By Lucio Fulci
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel, Silvia Monte
Rated R

"By killing Julia, you killed a part of yourself. The part attracted to degradation and vice."

While better known for his horror escapades, and pitting a zombie against a shark in Zombi 2 (admit it, it sounds cooler than it looks). Lucio Fulci directed a handful of Italian whodunnits (as a genre, these are referred to as Giallo) in the late sixties to early seventies. They often featured attention grabbing names, such as One On Top Of The Other, or Don't Torture A Duckling. Though overshadowed by his more lucrative horror work, his Giallo films are actually classics in their own right. This brings us to A Lizard In A Woman's Skin.

Set in early seventies London, A Lizard In A Woman's Skin starts right off with a woman in distress rushing hurredly through a trains cabins as if fleeing something unknown. Eventually the well dressed and proper commuters devolve into a throng of naked revelers as she continues to push through. Until falling down a black hole until she lands on a huge bed covered with pillows and red satin sheets. Which itself is on a red carpet. To be greeted by a laughing semi-nude woman, who immediately begins to strip and make love to her.

This scene is filmed in an unabashed iconic manner. Right away, although not a word is spoken, you are drawn into the tapestry of Fulci's world. The scene is saturated in bold, blood red. This sets the tone for the rest of the film. From here on out, red is featured in nearly every scene, though not as boldly as it is here. Whereas Fulci's London is portrayed in a muted, almost drab fashion. Red pops on the screen in almost every frame. From little dashes here and there, to what we see here. It not only lends the complicated plot a sense of continuity, but subconsciously keeps forbidden sex, and on another level, blood, humming along in the background.

Ok, back to the show. Of course this is a dream and she wakes up. In her bed of pure white sheets I might add. The woman is Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) and she immediately jots down her dream at her desk, which she curiously keeps at the foot of her bed. Then we see her at her shrinks office, Dr. Kerr (George Rigaud) who informs her that the corridors of the train were the corridors to the flat next door. Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg) lives there and is always in this reoccurring dream. Apparently Julia is not exactly "respectable". This excites her curiosity, but also her fear of her freedom he continues to explain.

At this point it is worth noting a gripe I have with Florinda Bolkan's performance. She maintains a dour, puss faced countenance throughout the film. It's a one note performance. And while I admire her consistency, the lack of life in her eyes weighs the film down more than it should have. At no point does she even smile, or do nothing more than maintain that sullen exterior. It may not be completely her fault, she may have been directed to carry on this way. Even so, it's a drag.

Immediately following this visit, we see her wild and woolly neighbor Julia in her natural habitat. Having a wild party. Interspersed with scenes of Florinda having dinner with her friends and husband Frank (Jean Sorel who you may recognize from Perversion Story). Julia is probably imagining all of the debauched shenanigans going on as the ruckus noisily provides the soundtrack to their dinner.

Later we see husband Frank in the office with his boss/father-in-law Edmond Brighton (Leo Genn discussing business. Edmond receives a mysterious phone call, and asks Frank if he is having an affair. He dodges the question, and goes on his way.

Then we see Carol is having another dream. Running down the familiar corridor, except this time the dream breaks from the usual. It takes on nightmarish tones, with dead people and gore, eventually to be pursued by a swan of Rodan proportions. She ends up on the familiar red bed with her neighbor Julia, naked and seductive. Carol grabs her dagger shaped letter opener and stabs her repeatedly. Back in Dr. Kerr's office, she recounts this dream. He is delighted, and tells her that she has had a breakthrough, conquering her fears.

Except, now it is revealed, as detectives rush to a homicide scene, that Julia has been murdered in reality, stabbed to death. And what follows is a mindbending series of red herrings, and betrayal (it seems dear Frank was getting some on the side after all). Also, there were two hippies who were there at Julia's murder. Eventually, they plot to kill Carol too.

For a Giallo, A Lizard In A Woman's Skin is unusually fast paced. Once the murder happens, it kicks into third gear. And you really have to pay attention as you follow along lest you get left behind. Throughout all of this, you are accompanied along with Ennio Morricone's enjoyable psychedelic score. And the film is interspersed with plenty of hot, naked seventies babes as welcome eye candy.

What is remarkable about A Lizard In A Woman's Skin isn't the plot (which isn't too shabby in it's own right). But how all of the elements of filmmaking gel together into one rich tapestry. It deals heavily with the Carol's subconscious, as we have seen, dreams play a major role. And as the events unfold, we can appreciate it on multiple levels. From the use of color, to the music cues, and even how the events at the very beginning foreshadow the way things play out at the end. It doesn't take long  before it is evident, that with A Lizard In A Woman's Skin, that you are in skilled hands, approaching master status.

Availability: A Lizard In A Woman's Skin is out of print. But can currently be had used at relatively reasonable prices.


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