Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Riccardo Freda, 1971
Starring: Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander, Anton Diffring

A murdered young woman with an acid-burned face is found wrapped in plastic in the trunk of a car – unfortunately belonging to the Swiss Ambassador to Ireland, meaning that the police are limited in their ability to question the ambassador and his staff. Still, they believe there is a connection between the victim, a Dutch young lady, and Ambassador Sobieski’s previous assignment. When the Ambassador’s mistress – a sultry nightclub singer – winds up dead, the police unofficially hire a former inspector, John Norton, known for his violent methods. With the help of his curious teen daughter, his elderly, Miss Marple-like mother, and a relationship with the Ambassador’s daughter, Norton begins to trail the murderer…

Director Riccardo Freda helped kick off Italian cult and horror cinema in the ‘50s, but his reputation had begun to fade by the ‘70s giallo boom. Regardless, he turned his attention to the genre with 1969’s A doppia faccia aka Double Face or Liz et Helen, really more of a krimi film edging its way slowly towards giallo. By 1971, he struck a little closer to home with the absolutely dizzying The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, an amalgamation of giallo murder and conspiracy plots – and of course he also used the popular titling conventions that could be found in everything from Lizard in a Woman’s Skin to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.

Freda allegedly wanted to distance himself from the film and is listed as Willy Pareto in the credits. Based on Richard Mann’s novel A Room Without a Door, I don’t quite understand Freda’s dissatisfaction with the film. It’s not a classic by any means, but it’s certainly no worse than A doppia faccia, and at least garners the distinction of being perhaps the only giallo film set (and largely shot) in Dublin. Though Freda used the locations to his advantage, star and Eurocult regular Luigi Pistilli (The Great Silence, Bay of Blood) is hilariously given an Irish brogue overdub, which was undoubtedly a mistake.

There are some solid performances from Pistilli as the tough guy ex-cop willing to find the murderer at any cost, giallo-regular Dagmar Lassander (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion) as his love interest, and Anton Diffring (cast as a Nazi in basically everything) as the icy Ambassador. Keep an eye out for Valentina Cortese (Thieves’ Highway, The House on Telegraph Hill) in an unexpectedly boisterous role as his aged, drunken wife. But these pleasant performances can’t really do anything to balance out the plot, which has got to be one of the most winding and convoluted in giallo history.

Overwhelmed by zoom shots, red herrings, and plot points that make little sense, this Italian-French-West German coproduction includes some unintentionally hilarious moments. One particularly shining gem is that in an attempt to secure his alibi, the Ambassador hands over a receipt from a business called Swastika Laundry (!). And the strange presence of Norton’s mother, who fancies herself a sleuth, concludes with a hysterical attack sequence in the family home that has a Dead Alive flavor of comedy in its violence. The conclusion, which is arguably the most ridiculous part of the film, rests on a pair of dark sunglasses – which all the characters in Iguana seem to wear. And last of all, like many of the early giallo films from this period, drug use and blackmail spring up as side plots but peter out into nothingness, as does the film’s overly strenuous attempt to shoe-horn the title into a bit of dialogue.

With that said, there are some successful moments. There’s an overwhelming sense of sleaziness and claustrophobia, as there are any number of questionable characters who could be committing the crimes. Though the effects are very cheaply made, the murders are grisly episodes with acid thrown in the faces of the victims, who also have their throats slashed. Despite a lack of nudity, there is plenty of sexual innuendo and quite a few liaisons, first and foremost from the Ambassador. Though his character is used a bit ridiculously here, ambassadors are (or should be) a likely candidate for crime films, as their diplomatic immunity sets up an automatic indication of guilt that they – or someone in their households – has committed a crime. But no spoilers here.

Iguana with the Tongue of Fire only comes recommended for giallo devotees, Freda fanatics, and anyone with a love of obscure Eurotrash. It’s not available on an official DVD release, but you can track it down on the internet or through Sinister Cinema. And be sure to check out the enjoyable soundtrack from Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood, Nightmare City) and Nora Orlandi (Blade of the Ripper, The Sweet Body of Deborah). It also might be worth watching solely for Anton Diffring’s increasing series of meltdowns.

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