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Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

Posted by martinteller on June 7, 2014

Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) suffers from insomnia, tormented by strange dreams about her wild neighbor Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg).  In one dream, she envisions herself stabbing Julia to death.  Then Julia is discovered dead… murdered in the exact same way, including specific details from the dream.  Carol’s father Edmond Brighton (Leo Genn), an influential attorney, tries to clear her name while Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) tries to find evidence against her.  Is Carol a murderess, or the victim of devious manipulation?  Could her husband Frank (Jean Sorel) be behind all this?  Or could it be two drug-addled hippies (Penny Brown, Mike Kennedy)?  The road to the truth is dangerous… and sometimes fatal.

I’m not a huge fan of the giallo genre, but in 2009, I went on a Mario Bava binge.  A couple of years later, I did the same for Dario Argento.  This is my first film by Lucio Fulci.  He’s not held in as high esteem as Bava or Argento, but he does have his fans.  However, Fulci is better known for gorefests like Zombi 2 and The Beyond (he is apparently referred to as “the godfather of gore”).  His giallo work is less beloved, and if this film is any indication, it’s not hard to see why.  When the movie gets weird or tense, it shows some admirable –though not exceptional — directorial flair.  The dream sequences are strange and sometimes fascinating (the overhead image of Carol running across a field, under the shadow of a giant bird) and the chase through the massive church is quite masterful (though one part of it feels cribbed from Hitchcock’s The Birds).

But too much of it is talky and tiresome.  Despite a number of twists and shifting suspicions, the details of the murder mystery aren’t especially fresh or compelling.  And at heart, except for a few scattered flourishes, it’s pretty much just a straight murder mystery.  It’s not a bad mystery, certainly… it kept me guessing, at least, and I must admit the ending was a bit unexpected.  But it didn’t thrill me much.  Furthermore, the film’s attitude is rather stuffy and conservative.  Hippies are annoying, sure, but Fulci portrays them as dangerous lunatics and there’s a palpable sense of contempt for the counterculture.  Lesbianism is seen as lurid debauchery… which makes for a pretty stark contrast with last night’s viewing of Desperate Living.  I don’t think Fulci is a big John Waters fan.

Ennio Morricone’s appropriately off-kilter score is fair, though definitely not one of his best.  A lot of the time it’s just perfunctory dissonance, like he told a few members of his orchestra to play their instruments wrong.  As for the acting, it’s hard to judge under the atrocious dubbing (to be expected from Italian cinema of the era, but distracting nonetheless).  No one seemed to be overdoing it, anyway, but I can’t say I was all that taken with any of the performances.  On the whole, I can’t call it a bad film, but it needs more flair and personality.  I didn’t hate watching it, but it did not inspire me to seek out more Fulci.  Rating: Fair (66)


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