When one hears the term “giallo,” the name “Dario Argento” is usually within stalking distance. Argento’s mentor, of course, was the great Mario Bava, who filmed perhaps the first of these exquisitely lurid thrillers as far back as 1963 (The Girl Who Knew Too Much). Bava’s mentor, was the innovative 1950s master of the Italian macabre Riccardo Freda (credited with making the first official Italian horror flick, 1957’s I, Vampiri). So, for Freda to take a dip in the genre created and popularized by his protégées is practically mandatory viewing for followers of Italian horror fantasy and mystery. Between 1969 and 1971, Freda, in his twilight years (although he would work until 1981), helmed a pair of giallos (pl. gialli) that, for the masses who worship this species, have become either Holy Grail titles or shamefully neglected entries. Handling by less than reputable international distributors addresses many of their scarcity/obscurity queries; the movies were re-titled, recut, and generally given shoddy lab work. All of this has now been gloriously rectified with the recent Arrow Video Blu-Ray releases of DOUBLE FACE and THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE. Both worth exploring, but especially for Freda completists, FACE and IGUANA admirably check off all the giallo boxes: creepy, suspenseful, erotic, sexy, shocking, lurid, beautifully shot and with memorable music. So, here we go.
“So, you think I’m INSANE???!!!,” shouts the main character – and with good reason – in DOUBLE FACE (aka, Liz and Helen). Doubly so, when one realizes that these words are uttered by lead Klaus Kinski, as a bewildered and traumatized Brit business magnate. Of course, seeing Klaus Kinski go off the rails isn’t anything new; the rarity is when is he ever ON the rails (definitely a narrative dilemma for DOUBLE FACE). In this case, you gotta give Klaus some leeway, since Kinski, as John Alexander – a man obsessed and dominated by his gorgeous wife, Liz (the sensual-plus Annabella Incontrera) – is (to say the least) disturbed to come home and find her having sex with a lover. The fact that her lover is Helen (the ultra-bewitching Margaret Lee) only adds to the husband’s eye-popping confusion. Liz tries to calm him down, explaining she’s woman enough for everyone. This still doesn’t sit well with John; in fact, Helen isn’t too crazy about this either. So Liz decides to split for a respite of solitude whilst the pair blow off steam (if they don’t kill each other first). Unfortunately, Liz’s careless driving causes her untimely death in a fiery crash. This further trash-compacts Kinski into the lower depths of despair, mourning, guilt, and anger. He, too, needs to get away.
Upon his return, we discover that Alexander’s holiday only made things worse; he’s mentally deteriorating by the second (as only Klaus can). Agonizingly entering his lonelier than ever manse, he finds Christine (Christiane Kruger, real-life daughter of Hardy Kruger) a squatter – and a beauteous one – ready to swing like a gate with the demented widower. He tosses her out, but she’s determined to cure her “landlord” of the blues. In a hip hippie club (the kind of which NEVER existed), couples are coupling in plain sight, while, in a back room, Christine is the guest of honor at the premiere of her latest porn movie. Alexander, reluctantly captive, waits for the lights to dim so he can escape. Then, he sees Christine’s partner on the screen – a masked lady, yet unmistakably Liz (scars and jewelry). When Alexander finds out that the flick was recently filmed at a flesh peddler’s magic castle, the frothing hubby leaves no stone unturned until he finds the truth – and his wife. An admirable task – until the bodies start piling up.
Part giallo, part-“new permissiveness” middle-class fantasy, part Vertigo, but entirely mad, DOUBLE FACE is an exercise in style and lunacy, expertly handled by Freda, shot by Gabor Pogany and scored by Nora Orlandi. The new Arrow Blu-Ray (from a specially-commissioned 2K restoration) looks amazing, bursting with vibrant colors and 1080p High Def clarity. It is the most complete version (91 minutes) available (an “extended cut” by a dubious distributor that reportedly inserted hardcore porn footage into the film-within-the-film doesn’t count).
Chronicling the sexual revolution as only a giallo can (and getting it so delightfully and maniacally wrong), DOUBLE FACE is loaded with tons of great extras, including original English and Italian language versions (with newly translated readable English subtitles on the latter), the English and Italian trailers, audio commentary by Tim Lucas, a new video interview with composter Orlandi (plus a sidebar documentary on her career), a video essay on Freda gialli by author/critic Amy Simmons, an exhaustive photo gallery from the collection of Christian Ostermeier (featuring the German release pressbook and lobbycards, plus the complete Italian cineromanza adaptation).
Surprisingly, the movie was a major flop in the late Sixties, to the point of putting a dent in Freda’s career. I’m not even sure whether it was ever released in the U.S. or (widely) in the UK (but, if so regarding the latter, I wonder if Mike Hodges partially channeled it while preparing Get Carter) Well, here it is now – and it’s a pip!
While DOUBLE FACE qualifies as an embryonic giallo, 1971’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE is a full-blown excursion into the then-flourishing genre. Any further proof can be evidenced by the title alone. Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage pretty much sent Italian producers giallo-ing up the country with sex-crime thrillers, knocking the current top cine-favorite, the spaghetti western, into second place. With The Cat O’Nine Tails (and later Four Flies on Grey Velvet) following, every Italian suit was looking for the best animal connection to this type of pic. The Freda movie may have the most bizarre one; it’s actually explained by one of the characters. Irish police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan), faced with the gruesome mutilation and killing of a woman (found in the trunk of a car owned by Swiss Ambassador Sobiesky) relates to undercover ex-cop-turned-detective, John Norton (giallo/spaghetti western great Luigi Pistilli) that an iguana is a monstrous-looking creature, but harmless. This monster isn’t harmless, but has a tongue of fire! See? So simple. And, in the course of events, the killings escalate to…well, fiery tongue proportions!
Pistilli, dubbed with a brogue, is a cable sweater-wearing rapacious Irishman (Italians are never subtle), living with his mother (Ruth Durley) and a daughter from a failed marriage. Key suspects are the aforementioned ambassador (the always watchable Anton Diffring), his glam but loopy wife (the even more watchable Valentina Cortese), their authentically creepy, blackmailing chauffeur (Renato Romano), and, best of all, their drop-dead gorgeous red-headed daughter Helen (the breathtaking Dagmar Lassander); natch, randy Norton begins a torrid affair with Helen – a real bummer if she turns out to be the murderer.
Unusual for a giallo, whose real estate generally is located in Italy, with occasional forays to Spain, and London, IGUANA almost entirely takes place in Ireland. It’s a perfect choice, with the dark, cold foreboding surroundings visually appending the pic’s dark, cold foreboding humans. For some fresh air, there’s a brief sojourn to Switzerland (where beautiful people, even in a giallo, always go to ski). All of this is luxuriously photographed in widescreen by Silvano Ippoliti. A splendid score by Stelvio Cipriani nicely crowns this grisly chiller, which includes a final twist on the twist capper!
While many consider this a lesser Freda and giallo, I have to admit a certain fondness for it (of course, you’ve already got me with that title). I venture to say that much of the “feh” critique IGUANA has undeservedly racked up is likely due to the lousy prints we’ve been subjected to for nearly fifty years. This new 2K 1080p restoration is terrific, and may change detractors’ opinions. To further sweeten the pot, Arrow has given us a plethora of tempting extras, including (like DOUBLE FACE) English and Italian language options (with new English subtitles), audio commentary by giallo scholars Adrian J. Smith and David Flint, a video homage by critic Richard Dyer, a documentary on Cipriani, international trailers and an on-camera conversation with IGUANA assistant editor Bruno Micheli. Best is a new interview with Lassander, who, like fellow giallo actresses Erika Blanc, Barbara Bouchet, and Rosalba Neri, proves herself to be both perceptive and even self-deprecating hilarious.
DOUBLE FACE. CAT # AV205.
THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE. CAT # AV193.
Both titles: Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA [English or Italian options]. Arrow Video. SRP: $39.95@.