A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin – A Fantastiq Introduction

This is a transcript of the introduction given by Darrell Buxton during the Fantastiq Film Festival (8th – 10th May 2015). 

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What better way to open a packed day here at Fantastiq than with a blast of psychedelic lunacy from Italy’s maestro of mayhem, Signor Lucio Fulci? Our lunchtime treat is UNA LUCERTOLA CON LA PELLE DI DONNA, better known to us A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN. During the early seventies the Italian giallo masters were seeking fresh backdrops for their weird and wonderful tales of savagery, psychology, sex, crime and murder  – Enzo G Castellari’s COLD EYES OF FEAR and Sergio Martino’s TUTTI I COLORI DEL BUIO aka ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK took London as a location, Riccardo Freda tried out Dublin for THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, and Michele Lupo’s THE WEEKEND MURDERS even attempts to duplicate an English stately home setting and traditional Agatha Christie-like elements, right down to a comedy policeman in bobby’s helmet bicycling in every few minutes. Lucio Fulci continued this trend in A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, himself filming in London and casting one of our finest hard man actors of the time, Stanley Baker.

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Nowadays we recognise Fulci as a master of extreme violence. His zombie output of the video nasty era, ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and THE BEYOND featured eyeball skewerings, head drilling, characters vomiting out their own internal organs, claustrophobic premature burial with a side-order of near-lethal pick axe, the mouldiest rotting corpses you’ve ever clapped eyes on rising out of the earth, and lest we forget, a zombie fighting a shark. Oh yes. Examine the director’s other movies from the late seventies and early 80s and even his non-zombie work is filled with gruesome death and devastating destruction. His crime thriller THE SMUGGLER, aka CONTRABAND aka,THE NAPLES CONNECTION, is a wild bullet festival even more outrageous than his living dead flicks; highlight being a woman having her face slowly charred off with a handy Bunsen burner. His version of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE BLACK CAT, again filmed over here and with a gorgeous, plaintive score by Pino Donaggio, mixes CinemaScope style and breathtaking camerawork and composition with, you guessed it, heaps more of the director’s trademark gore; THE NEW YORK RIPPER was seen as so extreme, particularly for its breast-slicing scene, that legend has it that prints were refused entry into the United Kingdom by our diligent customs officers; and even his attempt to cash in on the success of Alan Parker’s FAME, 1984’s MURDER ROCK, turns into a psycho movie though here the Italy’s Got Talent wannabes are bumped off one by one by a killer wielding a deadly hat pin, not exactly your average nutbag’s weapon of choice, and decidedly less scary than Keith Emerson’s pompous pumping prog/disco soundtrack.

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But prior to all this, Fulci had offered up a string of genuinely intriguing horror dramas throughout the seventies. 1977’s exploration of paranormal visions, THE PSYCHIC is such a favourite of Quentin Tarantino’s that QT talked seriously about remaking it after he finished PULP FICTION. He never got around to it but did pay loving homage to Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD by burying Uma Thurman alive, Catriona MacColl style, in KILL BILL VOL. 2. In 1972 Fulci made the laughably titled but truly effective rural shocker DONT TORTURE A DUCKLING, with a chain-whipping sequence so brutal that even the most hardened gorehounds have flinched at it; the film’s finale, with the killer shredding their face to pieces while falling down a cliff face, was so startling that Fulci repeated the same trick with a suicide scene at the White Cliffs of Dover in THE PSYCHIC. And in 1971 he offered us A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, a crazy, hallucinatory horror starring Euro exploitation queen Florinda Bolkan as a politician’s daughter whose acid trip nightmares seem to be coming true. Recognisable London locations, a great cult cast including Leo Genn, Anita Strindberg, Jean (phonetic ‘Jon’) Sorel, and the aforementioned Stanley Baker, a wild Ennio Morricone score mixing experimental jazz, breathy ethereal vocal stylings, doom laden woodwind and crazed proto-funk, all combines for a delirious, trippy head-wobbler. LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN is most notorious for a disturbing scene involving canine experimentation; Carlo Rambaldi, later to create E.T., was responsible for the shockingly graphic effects here, and famously had to display his props in court to prevent Fulci from a prison sentence on animal cruelty charges.

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And before you ask, yes, the colourful, cumbersome name of the movie does make sense and does get explained before the end. Love, love, love those dazzling, demented Italian film titles!

Whatever substances you may have ingested this morning in preparation for viewing A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, it won’t be enough. Enter the deranged world of Signor Fulci. What a way to kick off Fantastiq.

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