The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire – 1971

The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is a 1971 Italian-French-West German giallo thriller feature film directed by Riccardo Freda [as Willy Pareto] (Murder Obsession; The Ghost; The Horrible Dr. Hichcock; Caltiki: the Immortal Monster) from a screenplay co-written with Sandro Continenza [as Alessandro Continenza], Günter Ebert [as Gunther Ebert] and André Tranché (dialogue). The movie stars Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander and Anton Diffring.

On April 8, 2019, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is being released in the UK and USA on Blu-ray for the first-time by Arrow Video. The disc features:

  • New 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio
  • Original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by giallo connoisseurs Adrian J Smith and David Flint
  • Of Chameleons and Iguanas, a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer
  • Considering Cipriani: A new appreciation of the composer Stelvio Cipriani and his score to The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire by DJ and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon
  • The Cutting Game, a new interview with Iguana s assistant editor Bruno Micheli
  • The Red Queen of Hearts, a career-spanning interview with the actress Dagmar Lassander
  • Original Italian and international theatrical trailers
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich

Plot:

In Dublin, the acid-scarred, razor-slashed corpse of a young woman is discovered in the boot of the Swiss Ambassador’s limousine. The Ambassador, his immediate family and his employees, all become immediate murder suspects.

Faced with the issue of diplomatic immunity, Police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan) covertly brings in John Norton (Luigi Pistilli), an ex-detective infamous for his brutal methods, to carry out an ‘unofficial’ investigation into the case.

While motorbike-riding Norton develops a relationship with Helene (Dagmar Lassander), the Ambassador’s attractive daughter, several more gruesome murders occur…

Review [may contain spoilers]:

On the evidence of this opportunistic attempt to jump on the early seventies giallo bandwagon, Riccardo Freda’s reputation as one of the gifted directors of Italian commercial cinema has to be called into question. Iguana is a thoroughly unconvincing affair which, in an attempt to pack in as many red herrings as possible, even places its central detective figure under suspicion. Elsewhere, plot threads alluding to drugs and sleazy activities go nowhere.

Admittedly, there are many similarly fatuous films in the giallo canon but Freda’s often critically elevated status leaves one wondering why Iguana is also such a grubby looking film (even when digitally restored in 2K) and why he telegraphs each revelation or violent incident with a breathtaking lack of subtlety worthy of Umberto Lenzi’s worst efforts. Unsurprisingly, Freda chose to adopt a pseudonym for this assignment.

Despite such negatives, the presence of Dagmar Lassander and Valentina Cortese provides this reptilian tale with a certain amount of agreeable feminine charm (although Dominique Boschero, so good in Ernesto Gastaldi’s Libido, is shamefully under-used in a minor role). The best, albeit brief, sequence shows Lassander’s character resplendent in a fedora hat and flapping black cloak, being chased by the razor-brandishing killer through foggy Dublin streets and onto a rising river bridge.

Aside from the refreshing appeal of the atypical Irish setting (which unfortunately prompts an array of unconvincing dubbed Irish accents), what really distinguishes this thick stew from its contemporaries is the sheer nastiness of the murders: faces are scorched with acid, blood gushes from sliced throats, Pistilli’s detective character has his skull sewn up without anaesthetic and a flashback scene showcases the walls of an interrogation room decorated with brain matter after a suspect blows his own head off. The fact that the practical make-up effects for such gory goings-on are so unconvincingly cheap doesn’t diminish the relish with which they are presented.

The over-the-top climax, which shows a seemingly unstoppable transvestite slasher – sporting a hilariously obvious skull cap – carrying out a frenzied attack on the ex-inspector’s half-naked teenage daughter, whilst simultaneously attempting to bash his elderly mother’s head repeatedly against a sink, is initially shocking yet soon becomes startlingly inept.

As is the case with sleazy Italian trash whodunits such as Giallo a Venezia and The New York Ripper, some prime moments of mayhem elevate what is generally a second-rate giallo to pinnacles of cinematic bad taste that, although seemingly unsavoury, are an undeniable pleasure. Mention must also go to Stelvio Cipriani’s score, which is suitably sublime and adds immensely to the overall ambiance.

Adrian J Smith, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“The mystery here is pretty dismal with the final reveal being more of a “huh? who?” than an “ahhh! them!” but there are one or two nice touches. The detective’s batty mother – a half-deaf, half-blind Miss Marple type – is great and has all the best lines but there’s also some decent gore and nudity to pass the time…” Blood Capsules

” …this is the sort of thing that Freda should have been able to nail completely with his extensive catalogue behind him and the importance that he held for the Italian Fantastic genres. But unfortunately he doesn’t and the movie just rolls on and at its best could be remembered for some nice shots of Dublin, cheap gore effects and a great soundtrack.” Jason Meredith, Cinezilla

“Borderline-nothing about The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire works. Too many of the murders take place offscreen, robbing the film of the tension that could’ve come with cat-and-mouse stalking and slashing. As visceral as they are, the splatter effects are howlingly unconvincing.” Adam Tyner, DVD Talk

“There is a great performance from Luigi Pistilli in the lead role and despite reports to the contrary he is ably dubbed with an appropriate Irish accent. Apparently Freda himself didn’t like this film, but with the larger than usual dollops of gore on display, and more than one lapse into bad taste, this is a must see for any self-respecting giallo buff.” Horrorview

Sadly, there’s little particularly thrilling on offer here […] However, Iguana with the Tongue of Fire remains an enjoyably guilty (if muddled) pleasure none-the-less.” Justin Kerswell, Hysteria Lives!

“Sure, everything in the production is rough around the edges, but for me that just adds to the charm and grittiness of the story. Because, even if it’s giallo with beautiful ladies and a complex plot, it’s also a surprisingly violent and cynical story. The gore, while not in any huge amounts, are very bloody and sadistic…” Ninja Dixon

“The Irish setting is admittedly novel, but Freda fails to properly capitalize on its scenic potential. Even a digression to Switzerland, for a little skiing and bobsledding action, feels flat and half-hearted […] Freda’s flair for creating atmosphere, so much in evidence in Double Face, is completely absent here.” Troy Howarth, So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films Volume 1: 1963 – 1973, Midnight Marquee Press, 2015

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“The bewildering storyline features many of the typical giallo conventions, but there are way too plot holes and loose ends that will leave you running for your score card. It’s true that Freda dots the landscape with heavy doses of the red stuff (he does create a greasy enough mood), but Iguana gets mired in its own pit of oil and never becomes either unique or captivating.” The Terror Trap

“Apart from the amusing Oirish accents, there’s some entertaining dialogue and the characters are all pretty wild.  At times, it almost comes across like a sitcom with added gore – the killer has a predilection for throwing vitriol in his victims’ faces – in place of laughs.  The interplay, in other words, is much better than the narrative, which is frankly all over the place.” Matt Blake, The Wild Eye

“You will […] find yourself scratching your head and slapping your knee multiple times, probably at the same time, while grinning like an idiot because of all the weirdness on screen. Freda might have failed at delivering a tough, serious thriller, but he did manage to give us one hell of a weirdly entertaining flick.” David Grant, You Have Died of Dysentry

Choice dialogue:

John Norton: ‘Well now, me fleet-footed filly are we going to have it off in the bushes or on the bike?”

John Norton: “Will ye get me a pint o’ the black stuff?”

John Norton: “The only car you’re gonna see around here is a paddy wagon.”

Ambassador Sobiesky: “You bitch! You f*cking bitch! … Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!”

Cast and characters:

  • Luigi Pistilli … Former detective John Norton – The Tormented; Tragic Ceremony; Spirits of DeathYour Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key; A Bay of Blood; The Case of the Scorpion’s TailThe Sweet Body of Deborah
  • Dagmar Lassander … Helene Sobiesky – Monster SharkThe House by the Cemetery; The Black Cat; Werewolf Woman; Reflections in BlackThe Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion; The Frightened Woman
  • Anton Diffring … Ambassador Sobiesky – Doctor Who ‘Silver Nemesis’; FacelessSherlock Holmes and the Masks of DeathH.P. Lovecraft: Schatten aus der Zeit; The Beast Must DieSeven Dead in the Cat’s EyeMark of the Devil Part II; Circus of HorrorsThe Man Who Could Cheat Death; Tales of Frankenstein
  • Arthur O’Sullivan … Police Inspector Lawrence
  • Werner Pochath … Marc Sobiesky – RatManDevil Hunter; BloodlustThe Cat o’ Nine Tails
  • Dominique Boschero … The Ambassador’s mistress – The Red Stained Lawn All the Colors of the DarkThe Unnaturals; Libido
  • Renato Romano … Mandel – Frankenstein ’80; The French Sex Murders; Seven Blood-Stained Orchids; The Fifth Cord; Dorian Gray; The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; Death Laid an Egg 
  • Sergio Doria … Walter – I racconti fantastici di Edgar Allan Poe TV mini-series; Cave of the SharksDeath Smiles on a Murderer; The Double
  • Ruth Durley … Norton’s mother
  • Valentina Cortese … Mrs Sobiesky – Ring of Darkness;  Dracula in the Provinces; The Possessed
  • Emmet Bergin … Man in café [uncredited]
  • Niall Toibin … Doctor [uncredited]

Filming locations:

  • Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland
  • Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
  • Switzerland

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