Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)

Paper dolls of murder victims > chalk outlines.  End of story.
Lucio Fulci does not get the respect that he deserves.  Sure, he's drubbed by critics, but those of us who follow Euro-cult and b-movies are used to that.  So-called "serious" critics routinely deride the work of a host of directors, from Jean Rollin to Norifumi Suzuki, as "just" exploitation filmmakers, as though the fact that these artists took advantage of new freedoms from censorship meant that their work was bereft of artistic contribution.

No, if you're in that camp which wants to erect a sky-high wall between the high-brow and low-brow, there's no hope for you, as far as I'm concerned, and we here at Spellbound Cinema are not really interested in your opinion.  What does surprise me, however, is the disrespect for Fulci even among genre fans.  People who won't hesitate to heap adulation on Fulci's countrymen Argento and Bava will sniff disapprovingly at Fulci.

Generally speaking, the charges against him are that he was so obsessed with gore that he let details like coherent plotting get away from him.  I'll address that charge head-on in the future when I give glowing reviews to The Beyond and City of the Living Dead, the two movies which best epitomize his supposed failings as a genre filmmaker.  But for now, to those who say that Fulci wasn't interested in plot, I give you A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, one of the best plotted and most exciting giallos that the genre has to offer.

Florinda Bolkan's nightmare of a hallway full of naked people.  Repressed much?

As much as I love a good giallo, I'll be the first to admit that more often than not you can't watch them like you'd watch a traditional mystery thriller.  Rare is the film in the genre that rewards the desire to parse through the evidence and figure out the killer.  How much more pleasurable, then, to find a film that retains all the style, all the perversity, all the decadence but delivers the goods in the mystery department as well.

Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) has been having bad dreams.  She tells her therapist of a series of increasingly disturbing sexual dreams about her neighbor (Euro-cult legend Anita Strindberg).  When the neighbor turns up dead in a manner eerily similar to events in her dream, it's up Carol and her family to prove her innocence by finding the real killer.

The solution to this film's central mystery is genuinely exciting, as every clue, every red herring laid out over the course of the film pays off in spectacular fashion.  Sure, perhaps the denouement is a little exposition-heavy but that's a problem endemic to murder mysteries and one I won't fault this film for not solving.

She probably should've taken the elevator.

The centerpiece of this film, however, is an extended chase scene that is as expertly crafted as any put on film.  Fulci proves himself a master at precisely releasing and raising tension as Carol is chased through a palace under renovation through ever escalating set-pieces.  In this bravura sequence Carol is chased up a magnificent stairwell, inside (!) a tremendous pipe-organ, and through a bat-infested storage room before ending up running across the spacious roof in a particularly grandiose bit of urban location shooting.

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin is a terrific Hitchcockian thriller with a Euro-cult twist with some great gore, a little bit of gratuitous nudity, groovy 70's style and (perhaps most importantly) deranged hippies.  If that doesn't entice you, well, you must be an enemy of fun.

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