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A Lizard in a Woman's Skin
1971 - R - 95 Mins.
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Edmondo Amati
Written By: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Stanley Baker, Jean Sorel, Silvia Monti, Alberto de Mendoza
Review by: Jake Cremins
   

Well, at least we know he didn't do it.
Italian giallo thrillers are usually so loony, confused and full of bizarre loose ends that it's weird to see one in which you feel like story conventions are dragging the movie down. Alas, that's what happens here: we get about twenty minutes of surreal, wonderfully melodramatic character study, and then someone has to go and get gruesomely murdered and ruin everything. After that the police arrive and investigate the hell out of everything, and soon we're thinking furiously as we try to keep all of the leads and characters and motives straight, when all we really want are more of those groovy dream sequences.

Florinda Bolkan stars as Carol, a wealthy and repressed housewife who keeps having dreams about the woman in the apartment next door, who has wild psychedelic parties every night of the week (clothing optional, bring your own body paint). Carol goes to her psychiatrist and describes these dreams, which always seem to end up with her and the neighbor woman caressing each other as their clothing sort of falls away.

The psychiatrist, a Freudian at heart, suggests that perhaps the neighbor represents the wild and uninhibited side of her psyche, which has been buried and is yearning to be set free. Carol mulls this over, until one night the dream ends in a different way: this time she has a knife, and viciously stabs the neighbor to death. The psychiatrist is pleased, because this represents her defeating her own Dionysian side, but then--you guessed it--the neighbor is discovered stabbed to death, under the same circumstances as the dream...and even, probably, on the same night.

So. Either Carol stabbed her neighbor in a fit of insanity and twisted it around until she thought it was a dream, or she has a psychic gift and saw the murder as it was happening, or somebody read her dream diary and decided that this was the perfect way to frame her. Maybe it was her husband, who might have been having an affair with the neighbor. Or her daughter, who seems to have contacts in the whole freakout scene and may have secretly been acquainted with the neighbor. Or her father, who seems to know more than he's telling. Or maybe it was the two drugged-out hippies who keep wandering around and staring at Carol in menacing ways. Or maybe...the list is endless.

The first third of this story really is pretty good. The dream sequences are fluid and stylish and disorienting, with nicely sinister Ennio Morricone music that has your stomach lazily turning; a lot of this could have gone a long way. There is a clever split-screen sequence in which Carol and her family sit at dinner, deliberately ignoring the raucous party going on next door; subtly the focus of the scene shifts, until we can see that Carol is fantasizing about what her neighbor is doing right at this moment, and that's what the split screen is about.

But after the police investigation begins...well, there's only so many ways you can film a police investigation. Despite an attack of vampire bats, a couple more murders and a cameo appearance by a lab room full of vivisected dogs, we can feel the movie deflating; at the start it was leading up to some sort of weird psychidelic version of 'Repulsion,' but then it begins letting all of the more intriguing things about its story melt away so that we can see one Q & A session after another. This is what giallo thrillers are almost contractually obligated to do, you see: one bloody murder, followed by an insanely complicated murder investigation.

When the final solution to the mystery arrives, it actually makes perfect sense and ties up a lot of loose ends at once...which, I guess, is what makes it so perversely unsatisfying. A movie that starts out with such aggressive strangeness shouldn't end on such a banal, logical note. I mean, I suppose the final big revelation might have come as more of a shock in 1971, but not *that* much more, and definitely not in Europe. Common people commit murder for reasons like that one. People in Italian thrillers should be able to find more bizarre motives and methods, shouldn't they? There isn't even a lizard involved.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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