The 1971 film A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is a story of greed, love, lust, repressed desires, bloody murder, and two rather hateful hippies. It’s a surreal tale that manages to combine LSD, politics, therapy, and a good old-fashioned whodunit. It’s a film that clearly a product of the late 60s and the early 70s and yet, it’s also a film that is so shamelessly sordid and wonderfully strange that it feels timeless.
And not surprisingly, it was directed by Lucio Fulci.
Over the course of his career, Lucio Fulci was credited with directing 56 films and one television miniseries. Though we tend to primarily think of Fulci as being a horror director, he actually worked in every genre. He directed peplums. He was responsible for some of the best and most violent spaghetti westerns ever made. He even directed comedies and an adaptation of Jack London’s White Fang!
Still, it is for his horror films that Fulci is best-remembered and his non-compromising and frequently surreal style was perfect for the genre. Though 1979’s Zombi 2 is frequently cited as Fulci’s first excursion into the horror genre, he had actually dabbled in it before with a set of stylish and violent giallo films that he directed in the early 70s.
For example, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin deals with a horrific crime and features some of Fulci’s most striking and disturbing images. The film deals with Carol Hammond (Florida Bolkan), who is the daughter of a politician (Leo Genn) and the wife of a wealthy attorney (Jean Sorel). Carol is haunted by bizarre dreams involving her decadent neighbor, Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). In her latest dream, Carol not only has a sexual encounter with Julia but also stabs her to death immediately afterward! It’s only after Julia’s dead that Carol realizes that she’s being watched by two hippies, who appear to be amused by the whole thing.
After telling her therapist about the dream, Carol learns that Julia Durer has indeed been murdered. In fact, she was stabbed in exactly the same way that Carol saw in her dream! Was it just a dream or did Carol really murder of Julia? Or did someone find out about her dream (which she recorded in her journal) and then murder Julia in order to frame her? But who would want to do that? Could it be maybe her weaselly husband, who is having an affair with his secretary? Or maybe someone looking to embarrass her father?
And what about the two hippies? It turns out that they’re real and they have a story of their own tell….
The mystery at the heart of A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is a convoluted one and while the film’s plot did hold my interest, this film is less about the story and more about the way that Fulci tells it. Dealing with hippies, visions, LSD, and a potentially unstable protagonist gave Fulci whatever excuse he needed to turn Lizard In A Woman’s Skin into a surrealistic carnival ride of psychedelic images and sexually-charged dream sequences. From Carol’s nightmares to the scene where an intruder chases Carol through a sanitarium, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin is full of strange images that are designed to keep the viewer just as off-balance as Carol. The film’s most shocking scene — which involves Carol coming across four dogs being used in a medical experiment — actually led to Fulci and special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi being taken to court and forced to prove that the dogs in the scene weren’t real. (Fortunately, Rambaldi brought his dog props to court with him.) It’s a shamelessly sordid film, one from which you will not be able to divert your eyes.
Florinda Bolkan gives a great and sympathetic performance was Carol while Antia Strindberg is properly decadent as Julia. Penny Brown and Mike Kennedy plays perhaps the most hateful and callous hippies of all time and Kennedy especially makes a strong impression. Trust Lucio Fulci to make a film where the hippies are just as frightening as the zombies who populated his later work!
A Lizard in A Woman’s Skin is a classic giallo and one of Fulci’s best.