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lizard_in_womans_skin_poster schizoid

Giallo’s a bit of a problem genre for horror fans. Sometimes they’re crime films with a tendency towards horror and sometimes they’re horror films with a bit of crime added to the mix. Obviously a decent Giallo film will press buttons that are common to both genres, but there’s also the added occasional promise of a director who’s going to – er, how shall I put this delicately – go a little batshit crazy on us. After all this is the world that brought us a master like Dario Argento. But it also brings us someone like Lucio Fulci. I’ve seen barely any of Fulci’s massive output, but I already know he can be relied on to throw narrative and structure out of the window for the sake of a bit of madness. I mean have you watched “House by the Cemetery” recently? Can you remember the plot? Here’s my attempt: there’s some bloody killings in an old house, a kid that’s having dreams, some sort of zombie mad scientist in the cellar… it’s like trying to piece together a dream. And although not as striking, or bloody, “A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin” is another example of this tendency of Fulci.

Recently I watched the decidedly iffy Dublin set Giallo “Iguana with the Tongue of Fire” and although “Lizard” is a lot better, it does share a lot of elements. There’s an arbitrary foreign location (London this time, so we get Stanley Baker wandering through it like he’s in a different film, constantly whistling) and an equally vaguely explained title. In fact there are moments in this film where you can probably define almost all of the most – er – Giallest elements of Giallos. Dream sequences that never bare any similarity to any dream you’ve ever had (Have you ever dreamt of nightmarish and never explained geese? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have her, you know, dream of at least a lizard?) Stylish score (Morricone at his best here)? Pointless sexy shenanigans? Vague and ill explained plot? Narrative that takes detours depending on whatever mad idea the director has (in this case the infamous an utterly pointless dog experiment sequence which nearly got the film banned)? Lots of attractive euro-beefcake failing to act with some confused, washed up English or Hollywood stars? All of these are present and correct here.

What of the plot? Well… There’s something about a woman suffering from paranoid dreams and maybe/ maybe not being a murderer, but I rather suspect you could watch this in the original Italian and still be about as clear about what the film’s about. There are some nice moments in it: amongst the standard writhing naked bodies of the dream sequences, there’s a moment where the heroine unexpectedly finds the long corridor she’s running down suddenly has no floor. And there’s also a genuinely thrilling chase sequence through a deserted theatre between the heroine and a couple of badly sketched killer hippies, which is the biggest tip of the hat to most Giallo directors’ hero, Alfred Hitchcock. And for horror fans? There’s lots of blood, the dreaded dog sequence and, when the director can remember to maintain it, the occasional threat of something nasty just around the corner. But in general, any film where you have to list the bits that are good to try and justify it isn’t going to be considered a classic of any kind. But that’s the lot of a horror fan isn’t it? Wade through the nonsense in the vain hope that you might just find something, anything, worth the effort for. But not here, sadly. Sorry!

Review by Chris Browning

lizard_in_womans_skin_poster

lizard_in_womans_skin

lizard_in_womans_skin morricone

Before Tim Burton got his dirty hands on it Dark Shadows was a successful daytime soap opera on television back in the sixties and early seventies which became a cult phenomenon to housewives and teenagers alike. With storylines focusing on vampires, werewolves and other gothic horror tropes this show stood out from the rest of the cliched daytime fare on offer and even spawned two movie spin-offs back in the day. House of Dark Shadows (1970) was the first of these spin-off films and adapted the soap’s most popular storyline telling of 175 year old vampire Barnabas Collins (as played by Jonathan Frid) his search for a cure for his vampirism and the love triangle between Barnabas, Collins family governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and Dr Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall).

House of Dark Shadows was filmed in 6 weeks on a budget of $750,000 and is a winning combination of contemporary (at the time) horror and Hammer-style gothique.  Hand-held camera shots give the film that cool seventies vibe but combine well with the more traditional classic horror storyline and vampire lore, typical of producer/director Dan Curtis’ style at the time. Gorier than the soap opera it sprang from, this is a surprisingly effective thriller with some excellent performances, which shouldn’t be surprising given that the cast had backgrounds primarily in theatre. It’s interesting to note how closely the overall plot actually mirrors that of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel Dracula, as our main protagonist comes from overseas (this time from England to the United States), infiltrates one family and begins to vampirise and control those around him. There is even a ‘Renfield’ character in Willie Loomis, the family handyman who releases Barnabas from his coffin and becomes his willing slave.

A couple of minor bugbears are the choppy editing (the film was cut by about twenty minutes before release) and the somewhat wooden perfomance from screen legend Joan Bennett as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. But overall this is a highly enjoyable and well-made vampire horror which was successful enough to spawn a sequel Night Of Dark Shadows (1971).

Review by Richard Gladman

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