The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971)

Other than The Ghost, I hadn’t seen many Riccardo Freda films before, only really knowing him from not finishing both I Vampiri and Caltiki – The Immortal Monster, films which Mario Bava took to completion. After The Bird with the Crystal Plumage made giallo into a box office success, Freda decided to try his hand at the form.

While the film’s credits say that this is based on the book A Room Without a Door by Richard Mann, that was probably an invention of the filmmakers. Freda ended up being unhappy with the movie, wanting Roger Moore for the lead.

The first thing you may notice about this film is that it’s made in Ireland, so the typical giallo set pieces aren’t there. There’s one gorgeous shot of the hills and rocks high above the water later in the movie that is completely breathtaking. And the accents in the film mark this as nowhere near Italy.

Starting with the first murder, where a girl has acid thrown in her face and her throat slashed, the film sets the tone that this is a lurid, scummy affair. But unlike most giallo, the murders appear at odds with the story. They just happen — there’s rarely any lead or tension to them and we often only see the final results, unlike the movies of Argento that wallow in both the set-up and execution of the murders, often at the expense of the story itself.

Once the corpse is found inside a limo — one that belongs to Swiss Ambassador Sobiesky — that suspect claims diplomatic immunity. So the police pull an end around, bringing in tough ex-cop John Norton (Luigi Pistilli, A Bay of BloodEnter the Devil, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) to get close to the family and discover the real killer.

He gets close in the biblical sense with the ambassador’s daughter Helen (Dagmar Lassander, The House by the CemeteryHatchet for the Honeymoon)and caught up in the blackmail and sheer lunacy of the entire clan. Valentina Cortese (The Girl Who Knew Too MuchThe Possessed) really stands out as the mother, who is always smoking long cigarettes and showing up way overdressed for any situation.

This is the kind of movie where every single individual — even the grandmother and daughter — can be the killer. It also has a completely pointless scene where the family cat is decapitated and left in the icebox. There’s no real hero here, just a lot of bad people and people who are worse than them. By the end of the film, you’ll have an entire living room filled with red herrings, trust me.

Arrow Video has released the ultimate version of this film, using a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, along with the original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits (with newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack).

There’s also 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 this film’s score 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, which is an essential and thorough interview with actress Dagmar Lassander; the original Italian and international theatrical trailers; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andreas Ehrenreich.

As always, Arrow’s standards are top notch, giving so much love and care to every movie that they release.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent this movie by Arrow’s PR company, but I would have bought it anyway. It’s that great of a release.

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