A lizard in a pristine new skin
(See my previous posts on this release: 1, 2, 3, 4)
My sample copy of the new US release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin arrived this morning, direct from Media Blasters (thanks, Richard). As “the most vocal critic” (thanks again, Richard!) of the label’s previous, substandard release of the film, I’m sure you all want to know what I think of their second attempt at this title. The short version: it’s excellent - pre-order your copy immediately. The long version: read on.
First, a little history lesson. Media Blasters first released A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin on DVD back in February 2005 after a lengthy period of delay during which they had tried and failed to get their hands on an uncut film element. Rather than hold the title back indefinitely, they chose to release a compromised edition, putting out a two-disc set containing two versions of the film. The first was a film-sourced, widescreen presentation of the cut US release from American International Pictures, known in some circles as Schizoid. In addition to removing a handful of key dialogue scenes, it also omitted the now-notorious “eviscerated dogs” sequence, as well as making substantial trims to the film’s violence, nudity and sex scenes. The second was a fullscreen presentation of the Italian theatrical release, standards converted from a PAL VHS tape and presented in Italian with English subtitles. This version was substantially more complete than the AIP version, but the quality was, unsurprisingly, poor, and it too was missing some brief material (which, ironically enough, was present and correct in the AIP version). Fan reaction to this release was rather mixed. Some praised Media Blasters’ efforts to do the best they had with the limited materials available to them; others (myself included), were suspicious that corners had been cut and lambasted the DVD makers, finding it hard to believe the claim that these were the best materials available.
The position of the latter was somewhat vindicated in July 2006 when the Italian label Federal Video put out a new DVD, featuring (broadly speaking) the Italian cut of the film, in film-sourced widescreen throughout. Evidently an actual print source of the Italian version had materialised, albeit one in something of a state of disrepair, and this, in conjunction with the same AIP print used by Media Blasters, was used to fashion a new version of the film. As good as this release was, however, it was plagued by a few problems. In particular, it featured the same two cuts by the Italian censor that also affected the second disc of Media Blasters’ release, while the film’s second dream sequence, which features the murder of Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg), was botched, featuring a combination of the American version, which was slightly cut and included a “ripple” effect of the entire image in order to obscure some full frontal nudity, and the Italian version, which was unrippled. A couple of dodgy splices also resulted in some abrupt audio cuts, and even a scene in which the same piece of footage appeared twice. More fundamentally, however, this version was presented in Italian only - a major problem, and not only for non-Italian speakers, given that this London-based film, which features the actual speaking voices of co-stars Stanley Baker and Leo Genn, not to mention excellent post-dubbing all round, plays much better in English than it does in Italian. This version did, however, contain a brief dialogue scene between Jean Sorel, Silvia Monti and Ely Galleani not seen in either of the versions provided in Media Blasters’ release.
Media Blasters’ new “remastered” version, due for release on March 13th, is the third release of the film in as many years, and I am happy to report that they have well and truly done their homework with this version. Mindful of past criticisms, they have put together yet another new version of the film, using the same elements uncovered for the Federal Video release. However, they have been careful to avoid Federal’s pitfalls, resulting in a version that contains almost every snippet of footage known to exist. There is nothing on this DVD that has not been present in a previous release in some form, but this is certainly the first time that all of this material has been assembled into a single cut, and, in the case of the second dream sequence, this is the first DVD to present it completely unrippled and in widecreen. Unfortunately, there are still a few seconds missing here: a comparison between this release and Disc 2 of the previous Media Blasters release reveals that, in the earlier VHS-sourced version, the shot of Anita Strindberg kneeling at Florinda Bolkan’s feet lasts several seconds longer, continuing to follow her as she slowly stands up, running her hands up the inside of Bolkan’s coat as she does so. (On the VHS version, this shot lasts 22 seconds; in every other release, it runs for a mere 8 seconds.) This piece of footage is mentioned by Professor Paolo Albiero in his discussion of the film’s censorship (see below) as being removed at the demands of the Italian censor, so the question is perhaps not why it isn’t present in this release (or on Federal Video’s DVD) but rather how it ended up on the Italian VHS in the first place. Either way, I believe Media Blasters when they state that they went to great lengths to make this DVD as complete as possible, so I suspect that, in this particular case, the shot in question is simply not obtainable. The whole film can be watched in English or in Italian with English subtitles (although three dialogue scenes for which English audio either never existed or was not obtainable are presented in subtitled Italian on the English track).
As far as image quality goes, Tim Lucas noted that this new disc had a rather oversaturated look, and it is true that the colours are more punchy, but only in relation to the Italian DVD: a comparison between this new release and Media Blasters’ previous disc reveals identical colours. As I stated in my comparison between the first two releases, the Italian release has more naturalistic colours and also looks slightly sharper. This remains true, and the rather distracting blue-tinting problem that occurs during the middle of the film is still present (the Italian release, in comparison, has a rather desaturated but far more natural look during these scenes). Federal Video’s handling of the portions sourced from the AIP print, therefore, remains superior to that of Media Blasters. On the flipside, though, the material culled from the battered Italian print is treated far better by Media Blasters, who have eschewed the heavy noise reduction techniques employed by Federal. This means that the material has a harsher look with more noticeable print damage, but it is vastly preferable to the smudged look seen on Federal Video’s DVD. On the whole, therefore, I would say that the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 2006 and 2007 releases cancel each other out, and I can’t say that I prefer one over the other.
As with the previous Media Blasters release, English audio comes in both 2.0 monaural (incorrectly labelled as stereo in the previous release but here correctly identified as mono) and 5.1 surround variants. The latter showcases some rather impressive sound design, combining stereo stems of Ennio Morricone’s music score with 5.1 sound effects. However, it is not a faithful representation of Lucio Fulci’s intentions: the foley track is comprised entirely of newly-sourced, “modern” effects, which feel out of place in comparison to the more strained vocal track, and at times drown out the score and dialogue. As such, the mono version is definitely the way to go, although curiosity-seekers may also wish to give the Italian track a look. Bear in mind, though, that the English version is vastly superior in every way.
A few brief notes on the extras are also in order. These are taken almost entirely from the Federal Video release and presented, for the first time, with English subtitles. These include the original Italian opening credits, and two interviews with Fulci expert Paolo Albiero, in which he discusses the film itself and its censorship, for a total running time of 36 minutes. Both of these interviews are highly enlightening, although it’s a shame Media Blasters opted not to port over Kit Gavin’s documentary, Shedding the Skin, from their 2004 release. A Fulci trailer reel is also included, showcasing a variety of the director’s films, from Lizard to Zombie to Murder Rock.
All in all, Media Blasters have put together an excellent DVD, and one which more than makes up for their previous release of the film. It would, of course, be wrong to say that the disc is perfect: the bonus features are incomplete, the image quality variable and a brief snippet of footage still missing. The first problem could easily have been solved by simply including all of the extras from the previous Media Blasters release (I suppose this gives us a reason to hang on to both versions). The other two were probably unavoidable. It’s looking increasingly likely that the extended shot of Strindberg kneeling before Bolkan and then standing simply cannot be sourced from any known print, while the variable image quality is down to the condition of the available materials. Tim Lucas believes Studio Canal to be in control of the original negative, but it seems that they are unwilling to surrender it to a third party, and, in any event, there’s no telling what state it is in, or how complete. It is entirely possible that this new composite DVD contains material no longer present in the original negative, and, as such, I think we should be thankful that we now have, on DVD, a cut of the film considerably more complete than any other version commercially available.