Judge Dylan Charles puts his lizard in sheepskin.
"The conflict within you was resolved by an act of violence: a liberating dream"
I have yet to have a good experience with Italian horror. It disappoints me time and again, from Dario Argento's Suspiria to Cannibal Holocaust to Zombi 2. (Although any movie that dares show a zombie wrassling with a shark gets an automatic star in my book. Meaning, Zombi 2 has a total of one star.)
With A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, I hoped to finally see the appeal.
Facts of the Case
Carol (Florinda Bolkan) has a disturbing nightmare in which she brutally kills her next door neighbor. But wait! It turns out the murder did actually take place! And just like it did in Carol's dream! Disemboweled dogs, lesbian love and some bad dubbing jobs follow as she tries to discover if she really is the murderer or if someone else is behind it all.
One of the main problems that I have with Italian horror in general—and with A Lizard in a Woman's Skin in particular—is the distance between the audience and the characters. The audience plays the role of voyeur, rather than active emotional participant. Throughout A Lizard in a Woman's Skin I never connected to any of the characters, so I didn't really care what happened to any of them.
Part of the reason for this was in how the movie was structured. The first fifteen minutes deal with Carol and her dreams. Her family is introduced, but the beginning is all about Carol. Until the murder; then things are more or less handed over to the detectives and to Carol's father. And then there's a subplot about Carol's husband. Some hippies enter the mix about half-way through. And now the step-daughter takes the center stage to reveal a few more facts. Fulci never sticks with any one person, so there's no focal point that we're allowed to become attached to.
This isn't helped by the dubbing process. Fulci, like Argento and Sergio Leone, doesn't just use Italian speaking actors. You can either watch it in Italian with subtitles or dubbed in English. Except, since all the actors aren't speaking the same language, no matter how you watch it, someone is going to be dubbed over. A Lizard in a Woman's Skin takes place in England and the characters are all supposed to be English. Carol's father is an English politician (a senator, which is interesting because England doesn't actually have senators. Italy does, though.) He's either speaking Italian or talking in a badly dubbed English voice depending on how you view it. It creates a jarring feeling, which, coupled with how Fulci unfolds the storyline, continues to distance the audience from the action.
There are a number of interesting ideas sprinkled throughout. Carol's dream sequences are handled well and the main thrust of the movie drew me in from time to time. Are her dreams real? Did she kill the woman? What's really going on? I felt less like a moviegoer and more like someone following a case in the newspaper. "Ohhh, that's who did it! Well, time to do the crossword."
Oh and the dog disemboweling scene…I mention this because I've seen this scene touted on various sites. There's not a great deal of gore in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and I get the distinct impression that Fulci felt the need to throw in disemboweled dogs as just one more shock before getting back to the plot at hand. They have nothing to do with anything and they're never explained. Why are there disemboweled dogs? Doesn't matter! Keep going!
And that's really my main problem with the movie. The acting was average, the plot, more or less, original, the dialogue was acceptable if a little over the top. There's nothing terribly wrong with the film and I'm sure people who enjoy this genre will find a lot to like here. But that distance, that unwillingness to let the audience get too wound up in what was going on, left me cold.
There are two interviews included on the disc, both of them with Professor Paulo Albiero. Each interview is more a lecture given by the professor in his office. Professor Albiero has a lot to say about both Fulci and the movie itself and they're worth viewing.
Technically, things are clean across the board and while I primarily watched the movie in the Italian audio track, the English sounded fine as well.
Fans of Fulci and Argento might find something they like here. It certainly has those elements that I've seen in their other works. A surreal, voyeuristic viewpoint of characters who are steeped in sex and death. As for me, and for those of us who don't quite get the genre, the appeal is still elusive.
A Lizard in a Woman's Skin is guilty of belonging to a genre the Judge isn't fond of.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Interview with Fulci Expert Professor Paolo Albiero
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