Giallo January: Women's Skin & What Have You Done?
Back in my formative years, a trip to the video store was magical. Sure, there was Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, but the best stuff I'd find would always be on the shelves at the local Mom & Pop video stores. Those were something special; small theater like popcorn machine sending out that glorious smell with theater style bags to take it home in, 8-foot shelves stacked with thousands of VHS tapes, and the "beaded curtain" that led to the Forbidden 18 & Over Room! What a time to be alive!
Back in those days every Friday night I'd go with my Dad to one of two spots, Kingston Video which was around the corner from our house, or Raintree Video which was only about ten minutes away and next to a pizzeria. We'd pick up three or four movies for the weekend, some popcorn (or a pizza) and RC Cola (still my favorite). It was a weekly ritual that I still miss to this day. We'd be in there for what seemed like hours, and it was pretty magical for me as I'd be scanning the box covers as if they were a gateway into another world. Turns out, for me, they were.
That's where I discovered Italian Maestro Lucio Fulci. When I picked up a VHS copy of his House by the Cemetery, I knew I was doomed. From there I discovered City of the Living Dead, Zombi, and my favorite of his work, The Beyond. The gore effects in his films were, up to that point, the most intense I had seen and really grossed me out and each of those films I just mentioned all contain landmark visuals in the genre. Fulci wasn't just about the gore however, his constant use of non linear dream logic were signature trademarks. Even in his best films, some slow moving nonsensical scene would randomly happen, usually sandwiched between jaw dropping scenes of viscera. An interesting filmmaker to say the least.
When I started getting into Gialli, my research pointed me to several oddly titled offerings, two of which were directed by Fulci. Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) is a murder mystery that paints a small town in Sicily to be as treacherous as any big city (suspects include gypsies, voyeurs, drug addicted pedophiles, and priests) and contains some of the the first examples of Fulci's violent intense gore sequences. The other oddly named Fulci Giallo I discovered was A Lizard in a Woman's Skin and I was immediately intrigued by this bonkers title! Distribution company Mondo Macabre released a pristine edition on Blu-ray in 2016 so naturally I snatched it right up!
Lizard in a Woman's Skin
1971 d. Lucio Fulci
Tormented by violently bizarre, sexual dreams about her seductive neighbor (Anita Strindberg), a respectable lawyer's wife Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) regularly visits a psychotherapist. One day, Carol tells the psychotherapist about a dream in which she murders the neighbor. Shortly thereafter, on a stormy night, the neighbor is actually murdered, and in the exact same manner that Carol has dreamt of! When all evidence on the scene points to Carol, she must not only investigate the crime, but try and determine what is a dream and what is reality.
The opening to this is so captivating and out there, it immediately became one of my favorite intros in cinema (ironically enough, Fulci's The Beyond contains one of my favorite endings in cinema). It takes place as part of a very trippy and psychedelic dream sequence that features a train populated entirely by naked hippies, an evil flying swan, and grotesque dead people. In the center of the dream is a sexual liaison between Florinda Bolkan and Anita Strindberg. The lovers embrace on a king-size bed draped in velvety, deep red sheets when suddenly Bolkan drives a knife into Strindberg's chest. Her death throws are caught in orgiastic operatic slow motion. I haven't been thrown off so much by an opening scene since Sergio Martino's sleazy, psychedelic opening of The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. Other dream sequences, including the murder, are all dizzying and off-beat, accompanied by a beautiful score by the Ennio Morricone!
Lizard in a Woman's Skin is a Giallo that delivers in almost all regards. It has some great cinematography, a convoluted plot that certainly isn't easy to predict, and the generally creepy, dream-like atmosphere is intensified by an ingenious Morricone score. This is essential stuff for giallo completists and compares very favourably with the best the genre has to offer. Fulci is most commonly associated late 70's and early 80's offerings but this film proves that he was, in fact, a master of the Giallo!
Almost all of the Fulci titles mentioned above are available on Blu-ray, special mention must be given to fantastic release of The Beyond by Grindhouse Releasing, as well as their edition of Fulci's polarizing Cat in the Brain. Welcome additions to any collector's shelf!
What Have You Done To Solange?
1972 d. Massimo Dallamano
Massimo Dallamano began his career in the 1940's as a cameraman for various commercials and documentaries. Primarily working as a cinematographer before moving over to the director's chair, Dallamano's cinematography work includes Sergio Leone's A Fistfull of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). In 1967 he directed his first feature and went on to direct about a dozen more films including poliziotteschi, giallo films and erotic dramas.
Enrico Rossini (the amazing Fabio Testi) is a married teacher involved in an affair with one of his students, Elizabeth (Christine Galbó). One afternoon in a park, while enjoying one of their amorous getaways, Elizabeth witnesses the murder of a young woman, a crime that Rossini does not see. When the corpse of a student is found at the park, the teacher finally believes Elizabeth and decides to revisit the scene of the murder. More girls are killed and in classic Gialli form, the police begin to suspect that Enrico is the murderer. In a desperate attempt to clear his name, Enrico turns detective and eventually discovers the secret of a young woman named Solange (Camille Keaton, best known from 1978's controversial I Spit on Your Grave), whose shocking past is linked to both the killer's choice of prey and the gruesome manner in which he dispatches them.
Right from the start we're in very assured hands with the slick direction and high attention to detail of Dallamano. This is a Giallo which pretty much has it all, one of my favorite Ennio Morricone scores, balancing the stranger in a strange land figure compelled by circumstance to find out his own answers to a series of brutal murders by a black-gloved killer, along with a police procedural element which for once is treated with absolute seriousness and a deft touch. Joachim Fuchsberger (Inspector Barth) gives arguably the best portrayal in the genre of an investigator in charge, being neither bumbling comic relief nor a sleazy misogynist caricature. Everything is treated with care and reverence, relying on solid fingerprint policing which raises the film a few notches above your average fare. Every clue, every red herring, every motive is duly noted and accounted for and used to drive the story along a series of ever darker revelations. Oh, and this film gets very dark. While It doesn't have the enhanced gore of many Gialli, it does contain some of the most brutal sequences, many of which we the viewer don't see, but the allusion is more than enough to stay in your mind long after viewing.
It's a stunning, disturbing and ultimately compelling Giallo because of the vicious nature of the crimes and who they are occurring to. I must admit that the photo of the first victim with the knife buried in her vagina certainly shook me. The photography is first-rate, the developing mystery is outstanding, the final result is not only tragic but powerful. This film had me under it's control from the get-go and I was held until the end. What's most interesting about this film is that, in a sense, you gain an understanding of exactly why the killer is committing such gruesome crimes against the victims when everything falls into place and that may be it's greatest success. One of the finest examples of the Italian Giallo. As a matter of fact, it's my personal favorite of the genre.
Arrow Video released a wonderful 2K restoration on Blu-ray in 2015. It includes some great interviews and an excellent commentary track by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Pick it up while you can as it's bound to go out of print!