A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Year: 1971



Lucio Fulci’s previous entry in this Giallo series, Don’t Torture a Duckling, is a masterclass in suspense and restraint from a director who would ironically become a champion of provocative horror. The second entry shows that ...Duckling was an oddity with its paranoid and psychedelic entry into the Gialli canon. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a wonderfully excessive mystery that repulses less than other Gialli but unnerves and confuses the viewer frequently through its experimental visual style and convoluted plotting. Fulci confessed that he found his Gialli to be too mechanical, but A Lizard... dissuades that claim impressively, making for a truly unique film that only falters in its final moments.

The one linking factor between A Lizard and Duckling is the presence of Florina Bolkan who plays A Lizard’s lead character, Carol Hammond, as well as Maciara in Duckling. Carol is an extremely repressed housewife who unknown to her barrister husband Frank (Jean Sorel), has frequent sultry dreams about her uninhibited free spirit neighbour Julia (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Keys Anita Stinberg). One night though, her dream shifts from a lustful encounter to something more sinister as she violently murders Julia. Once Julia’s body is discovered by police murdered in the same method, she becomes their prime suspect, and must prove her innocence whilst try to find out who the violent hippy couple following her every move are, and what they have to do with the case.

It’s impressive how the film, even while dealing so heavily in dreamscapes and their apparent connection to the real-world, keeps itself rooted in reality. Fulci had criticised Argento’s Gialli for being poorly thought out, with divergences for plausibility in favour of spectacle that didn’t meld with Fulci’s methodical style of storytelling, though Fulci did admit that the films came together through Argento’s execution. While A Lizard may have a title that clearly tried to capitalise on the popularity of Argento’s recent Animal Trilogy, it shows how he wanted to make a film that felt plausible. Everything in A Lizard feels very carefully placed and, apart from the excess in the film’s dream sequences, drawing its shocks from each new revelation that’s uncovered.

In direct contrast to this procedural plotting is the film’s dynamic visual style which adds a perversity to proceedings. The combination of Director of Photography Luigi Keveiller and frequent Mario Bava collaborator Ubaldo Terzano as camera operator lends itself to a heady mixture of relentless chase sequences, unsettling dream sequences, and shots that make the grimy London locales a clear representation of Fulci’s sleazy vision. One sequence where Florina is being chased by a masked assailant through an abandoned Catholic church remains impressive to this day as the camera effortlessly negotiates a mix of catacombs, church hall, and even the inside of an organ, constantly shifting the nature of the cat and mouse dynamic through careful shot choice alone. It’s a long sequence in a film that is, for the most part, removed from action, and this sudden shift leaves the viewer in shock as A Lizard’s view turns from existential terror to mortal danger.

That is not to say that the world Florina negotiates her way around is shown to be a neutered environment entirely. Her dreams are nightmarish entities that feel like a predecessor to Twin Peak’s Red Room, with minimalistic set design, surrealistic close ups, and brooding reds detailing the surroundings. There’s also an extremely macabre sequence where Carol finds herself in a medical institution and, through a wrong turn, comes face to face with animals who are being tested on. It’s an incredibly brutal scene with Terzano repeatedly reangling the shots of the tortured dog. In fact, it was so controversial at the time that Fulci was taken to court over it, with the film’s special effects artist, Carlo Rambaldi, being required to prove his work was indeed fake to save Fulci from a two-year prison sentence. It may be hard to see how this plays into the plot of A Lizard, but it’s a neat thematic summation of the dark secrets hidden away in Fulci’s film that shift your perception drastically when they’re uncovered.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a shockingly underrated Giallo, one of the many “lost Gialli” before a recent repress on DVD a few years ago saved it from complete obscurity. Now it is easily attainable, there is no reason to pass on it. The thrills are less than in the more sensational Argento or Bava pictures, but the visuals are so experimental and excessive that the film feels truly daring despite the restrained plot. It isn’t an entry point to Gialli, but pair it with this week’s main film Suspiria and you’ve got a wonderfully psychedelic Giallo double bill.

Further Reading

So Deadly, So Perverse Vol. 1. by Troy Howarth

Raw Dogs by Rupert Jones, featured in The Guardian


Patrick Dalziel

Patrick Dalziel

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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