Wednesday 12 August, 2015 19:28
As the second of four gialli directed by Lucio Fulci, the so-called “Godfather of Gore”, between the late 60s and late 70s, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN showcases the director at his brashest and most audacious, offering up a psychedelic, drug-fuelled orgy of violence, madness and eroticism that, for me at least, stands as his finest piece of work as a director (even if most people normally point to DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING as his best giallo). Anchored by a bravura performance by Florinda Bolkan in the role of repressed English housewife Carol Hammond and featuring Stanley Baker and Leo Genn in supporting roles, it’s one of those rare gialli that actually gives talented actors a chance to shine, alongside a hefty dollop of Fulci’s trademark nihilism, lifting the lid on the hanky-panky going on behind the lace curtains of Belgravia and exposing a society at an ideological crossroads post-1968.
LIZARD has had a problematic history on DVD, beginning with the 2003 2-disc “Lucio Fulci Collection” release from Shriek Show/Media Blasters. In addition to a copy of the truncated North American cut of the film — retitled “SCHIZOID” and missing large chunks of gore and sexual hijinks — this release also included a dupe of an Italian fullscreen VHS, which offered a more complete cut of the film (albeit with its own domestic censorship of a couple of scenes) in predictably ropey quality. The “SCHIZOID” cut, while obviously far superior in terms of quality, suffered from its own problems in addition to censorship, having seemingly been cobbled together from at least two different prints, one of which featured severe discolouration. I was absolutely scathing of this release at the time, though in retrospect, now knowing a good deal more about how severely the odds are stacked against small labels when it comes to putting films like these out, I have to concede that I was perhaps unduly hard on Media Blasters.
This was followed in 2006 by an Italian release by Federal Video, which used the same “SCHIZOID” source(s) as a basis but augmented this with footage taken from a rather beat-up Italian print of the movie. While this version only featured the Italian dub of the film (a major concern given the high quality of the English language dub), it constituted a vital step towards a more integral presentation of the film. It also included a couple of brief domestic scenes missing from BOTH the cuts provided by Media Blasters. Federal Video even tried, with limited success, to correct the aggressive teal push affecting the middle chunk of the film on Media Blasters’ master. This version, unfortunately, carried over both the Italian-mandated censorship of the opening sex scene between Florinda Bolkan and Anita Strindberg, and Strindberg’s topless walk at the end of the dinner party sequence… as well as the annoying ripple effect applied to much of the second dream sequence on the “SCHIZOID” cut.
In 2007, following the release of the Italian DVD, Media Blasters went back to the drawing board, coming up with their own composite version that made use of the same additional materials utilised by Federal Video. Media Blasters did a rather better job than their Italian counterparts, with the two censored scenes mentioned in the previous paragraph present and correct, not to mention a “clean” version of the second dream sequence, without the ripple effect. Alas, the secondary source used to obtain this “clean” version featured some censorship of its own, reducing the shot of Strindberg kneeling at Bolkan’s feet to around a third of its original running time. (As a side note, Media Blasters actually contacted me, as “the most vocal critic of [their] handling of” the film, to advise on this release — vindication, if you like, of my hardball approach to the reviewing these titles.)
The final piece of the puzzle, and the most definitive release of the film to date, came in 2010 when Optimum tasked Marc Morris with assembling a complete cut of the film for release in the UK. The result, featuring every piece of footage known to exist, has a remarkable level of consistency in spite of the various different sources used (no teal tint here), and even introduces material absent from every previous DVD release: a shot of Strindberg pleasuring herself near the beginning of the dinner party sequence, as well as English audio for the “Mrs. Gordon” scene, only available in Italian on the remastered Media Blasters release. (A short scene, involving Jean Sorel, Ely Geleani and Silvia Monti, remains in Italian only.)
Until now, Optimum’s release looked to be the final word on the film as far as home video releases were concerned… until French label Le Chat Qui Fume announced that they were working on a Blu-ray release earlier in the year. American label Mondo Macabro were swift to pile in with their own Blu-ray announcement, but Le Chat got theirs out the door first — an online-only, hyper-limited edition which sold out almost immediately.
Updated Thursday 13 August, 2015 at 11:51: As reader “John” points out in the comments section, this disc’s availability is not as limited as I initially thought. It will be going on general release in France in September.
So is it worth moving heaven and earth to get your hands on a copy of this elusive set? Read on to find out…
Una lucertola con la pelle di donna
- Label: Le Chat Qui Fume
- Disc Locality: France
- Region: ABC
- Codec: AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Source Format: 35mm (spherical)
Le Chat’s release comes as a digipack inside a slipcase, containing three discs: the film on Blu-ray and DVD, and Ennio Morricone’s score on CD. (I already own the latter, but it’s an undeniably nice inclusion.) The menu offers up a variety of soundtrack options, defaulting, surprisingly enough for a French release, to English. This option is listed on the menu as English with English subtitles, but the latter only appear for the aforementioned brief scene that was present in Italian on the Optimum DVD, and is similarly presented here. You can also watch the film in either Italian or French, with either English or French subtitles. These can’t be changed on the fly, but you should be able to find a combination to your liking. Unfortunately, the English track is, for the most part, ever so slightly out of sync with the image: not normally a problem in a post-dubbed film, but as mentioned above, the English dubbing is for the most part uncharacteristically excellent, meaning that this is much more noticeable than it would otherwise have been.
In terms of picture quality, first impressions aren’t hugely positive. The Studio Canal logo at the start is afflicted by the worst compression artefacts I’ve seen this side of a Video CD, and things don’t look much better when the film gets underway. The opening credits are in English (the same gaudy yellow titles found on the Optimum DVD rather than the starker white ones from the “SCHIZOID” cut), and for some reason have been overmatted to a ratio of around 2:1. This results in the partial cropping of some text, including the copyright accompanying the title (Example 1). Once the film proper starts, it reverts to its correct 1.85:1 ratio, though the hideous compression continues for the first 40 seconds or so, before inexplicably clearing up. The encoding never becomes flawless, exactly, but beyond this troubling opening, it’s at least serviceable, and I’ve seen much worse.
The transfer has all the characteristics of a 2K Spirit scan. In other words, it doesn’t hit the dizzy heights of Arrow’s recent release of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, but it’s light years better than the noise-riddled CRT atrocities visited on so many Italian films of this period (including Fulci’s own SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK). Detail is, as you would expect, markedly improved compared to its standard definition predecessors, and compared especially to the likes of the Media Blasters releases, there is excellent consistency in terms of colour balance throughout. There’s also no evidence of any heavy-handed digital tampering: the grain is well-resolved throughout. For the most part, the source used appears to be the negative, although a handful of shots and even a couple of longer sequences seem to have been taken from a lesser source (Example 18), many of them around the middle stretch of the film (see Carol’s run through the clinic, the conversation involving Dr. Kerr, and Frank’s conversation with Joan about Carol’s diary). On the whole, though, it’s a very nice presentation, barring the initial dodgy compression.
It’s just a shame the release isn’t uncut. I’ve identified two instances where footage is missing. The first is the opening dream sequence, where around 15 seconds have been unceremoniously lopped off Carol and Julia’s canoodling (accompanied by a distracting jump in the audio). This corresponds to the Italian cut of the film as represented by the Media Blasters VHS dupe and Federal Video’s 2006 DVD. The second occurs during the party sequence at around the nine minute mark. This sequence has a complicated history, and every DVD release has featured a slightly different cut. Rather than attempt to explain in full what is missing from the various versions, I’ve provided a handy chart which breaks the entire sequence into different chunks, showing that not only are certain shots missing altogether from some versions, but also that the order in which they are presented varies:
As you can see, the version on the BD is the shortest of the bunch with around 50 seconds of material consigned to oblivion… including footage that is present in every other release (the “nut-cracking” block designated “C” in the comparison). Le Chat’s own explanation for this discrepancy, explored in a bonus feature entitled “Scène Supplémentaire”, sheds little light on the situation. It describes an “extra scene, during the dinner at the Hammonds’ house” (my translation). This scene, it goes on to explain, “was incorporated into the English editing for the DVD released in England in 2010, but doesn’t correspond to any known version of the film” (again, my translation). This, presumably, is a reference to the Strindberg masturbation shot, which made its debut on Optimum’s DVD. However, the text then goes on to state that this scene was not available in HD, and a decision was therefore made not to incorporate it into the film but to present it instead as a bonus. However… the masturbation shot IS present in the edit, and in HD! The missing material instead consists of two chunks: the “nut-cracking” block “C”, shown in the bonus feature in standard definition, and two subsequent blocks, “G” and “H”, whose absence is unacknowledged.
This is a messy situation and one that makes it hard for me to recommend this release, particularly in light of its obscurity and the high prices it’s likely to command on the second hand market (EDITED TO ADD: until it goes on general release in September). I know for a fact that Mondo Macabro, who are working from the same HD master, are aware of the missing footage and are actively trying to rectify the situation. With that in mind, my current advice is to wait for Mondo Macabro’s version. As loaded with extras as the Le Chat release is (including an English-friendly interview with the normally reclusive Anita Strindberg), it’s a tricky sell in its current form… particularly with a potentially superior release in the pipeline.