March Madness

Over at The Destructible Man blog an impromptu blogathon has started simply called Destructible Blog-a-thon.1.

The gory details:
We want everybody to bundle up, dig deep into the recesses of their consciousness, fiddle about a bit and then go over to your laptops by the fireplace and post about the cinematic ANIMAL dummy death that you covet the most!

I didn’t have to dig too deep to remember the dummy animal deaths featured in Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (aka Una Lucertola con la pelle di donna, 1971). As I’ve mentioned previously, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is one of my favorite horror films (as well as on of my favorite giallo films) and it also happens to be my favorite Lucio Fulci movie. It’s easy to find copies of the film on DVD now, but for years it was nearly impossible to see an uncut version of A Lizard in a Women’s Skin due to the movie’s erotic content and one of the most brutally imagined vivisection scenes ever captured on film. The scene was so graphic and believable that it reportedly landed Fulci in hot water with Italian authorities. Special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi was even forced to present the fake dog props used in the film in court to save the director from a possible two-year prison term.

tube down the neck
flesh pulled back
to crawl underneath the skin
the corporate death no sentiment
the pain sustained at will
they preach on high morals lie
in this farce called vivisection

– song lyrics from “Ode to Groovy” by Skinny Puppy

Before making horror films, Lucio Fulci studied medicine and this experience colored his work and lent it an edgy realism that many viewers find incredibly disturbing. As a young medical student Fulci was undoubtedly familiar with vivisection practices and his choice to introduce them into his horror film as an element of terror is both surprising and enlightening. This personal aspect of Fulci’s work is often overlooked by critics who have trouble sifting through the unexpected emotional depths found in many of the director’s best films.

The graphic nature of the faux animal vivisection in A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is shocking, but I think it’s made more unsettling by the way the director places it into his film. The particular scene in question begins when Carol (played brilliantly by the gorgeous and talented Florinda Bolkan) awakens from a nap she’s just had on the lawn of a psychiatric hospital. Carol’s a murder suspect and a sexually frustrated wife who’s been sent to the hospital to get some rest, but her troubled imagination is working overtime. Lucio Fulci used many creative camera techniques and directing tricks to give his film a haunting dreamlike atmosphere. The director clearly enjoys playing with Freudian dream imagery so the audience is never quite sure what’s real and unreal throughout the course of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

Waking from her nap, Carol has no idea how much time has passed. She looks around the hospital grounds which are strangely silent and empty. A feeling of dread seems to come over her and she’s suddenly startled when she spots a gentleman watching her from the nearby bushes.

She begins to run towards the hospital, but many of the entry ways are blocked.
Carol is running from her past as well as her fears.

When Carol gets inside the hospital she’s greeted by twisting spiral staircases and stark white hallways that seem to go on forever. This Escher-like landscape is a reflection of Carol’s inner turmoil.

She finally finds an open door and steps inside, but the room engulfs her in darkness. This is not the escape Carol or the audience was expecting. As she makes her way through the gloom a light suddenly illuminates the shadow of a human hand behind a curtain. It appears to be holding a pair of sharp scissors. In this brief ode to Hitchcock, Fulci playfully hints at many of his film’s own themes.

Carol experiences a new level of horror after seeing the menacing shadow, but Fulci’s camera suddenly cuts to a doctor’s table carrying various medical instruments. There is no mad killer behind the curtain. Instead we find only a doctor and his tools. What is the threat now? Where is the terror coming from? Why should we fear the doctors?

She continues to run through the hospital before finally reaching another unlocked door and opening it. This time the light within the room illuminates Carol instead of hiding her in shadows. As Fulci zooms in on Carol, her face becomes a mask of terror.

The audience is suddenly shocked by the same revolting images of vivisection that terrified Carol. The dogs are not dead, but they are slowly dying and Carol’s face registers exactly what the audience is expected to be feeling at that moment. As the dogs whimper and twist in agony from the torture they’re suffering at the hands of medical men, Carol’s face becomes a reflection of our own horror and our own fears.

Suddenly Carol is overcome by the terrible site before her and she collapses. Beneath her crumpled body the ground is colored a deep shade of red that resembles spilled blood. The scene ends where it began, in dreams. Dark and troubling dreams.

8 thoughts on “March Madness

  1. Arbo doesn’t eat veggie, silly — he little Vietnamese!
    Notice how he dodges complimenting you on such an elegant and typically heart-felt post! We are all in a lather over at DESTRUCTIBLE MAN about this piece. One of our favorite films as well. When the Macistes were over in Rome in ’95 — we had a film at that summer’s Fantafestival and Fulci was a juror and a great supporter of us! — after seeing a PRISTINE print of LIZARD, I went over and introduced myself (we had been there for a week already, but I was too intimidated to go over to him prior to that) and told him how brilliant I felt the film was, emphasizing that I meant that in terms of cinema, rather than just a genre item. He must have hugged me for a full 2 minutes! I told him I was a bit surprised at the several scenes that had been gently “lifted” by Argento — esp. the blade opening of the lock sequence that is mirrored in SUSPIRIA. Fulci takes my arm and pulls me close and whispers in my ear: “Doesn’t matter. I’ve never seen Suspiria.” He was a lovely man.

    Thanks again for the contribution!

  2. Thanks so much, Howard! I’m really glad that you enjoyed my contribution to your ongoing blogathon.

    And thank YOU for sharing that great story about meeting Fucli. I’m envious that you got to see a pristine print of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin followed by a meet & great with the maestro. That must have been an amazing moment!

    Argento did borrow a lot from Fulci. The more I watch Fulci and Argento’s work, the more I catch the similarities. It seems like in every Fulci interview I’ve read, he’s saying something nasty about Argento. But who can blame him? It must have been downright frustrating. Especially when so many idiots still consider him a second rate horror director.

    I make no apologies for my love for Fulci! He’s long been one of my favorite filmmakers.

  3. I was fortunate to know him until his death. I was doing the Fangoria interview with him when he was in NY for the Fangoria convention in ’96 — the weekend of that ginormous blizzard — and I have videotape taken in his hotel room of a phone call he was having with Aegento who had called from Italy. Presumably he was discussing pre-production on WAX MASK — filming was to start shortly after he returned to Italy — the footage is amusing because Fulci had to put the phone down on the night table because of Argento’s screaming – Fulci was able to carry the conversation fine because Argento’s volume was so loud. He’d listen – wait for a pause in the screaming – pick up the phone – respond – then, put it back on the table until the next burst of screams stopped. Now, I’ve heard Fulci scream in public, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Dario. I can’t imagine that the shoot would have been too much fun.

    He was a talent that was noticed far too late — too late to help his career, that is. But he was very moved that weekend he was at Fango — he really never knew that so many fans were out there.

  4. …on the recent “my bloody valentine” reunion tour shows, the band used a looping section of “lizard…” as a background projection…

  5. Howard – It must have been fascinating to spend so much time with Fulci! I’m sure he had a lot of interesting stories to share. He had such a long and rich history in Italian cinema. It’s nice to know that he enjoyed himself at the Fango convention and I’m glad he was able to meet so many of his American fans.

    logboy – That’s really interesting. I didn’t even know that My Bloody Valentine had reunited.

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