3 stars
directed by: Riccardo Freda
starring: Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander, Anton Diffring, Arthur O'Sullivan, Werner Pochath, Dominique Boschero, Renato Romano, Sergio Doria, Ruth Durley, Valentina Cortese

choice dialogue:

"It's that new singer - she's dead in her dressing room!"

- another one bites the dust.

slash with panache?

[review by Justin Kerswell]

Trashy, splashy and slashy is perhaps an apt way as any to describe this obscure slice of black-gloved cinematic mayhem, which distinguishes itself by being the only giallo that I am aware of set in Dublin!

The mutilated, acid-splashed and razored body of a young Dutch woman is found in the boot of the Rolls Royce belonging to the Swiss Ambassador to Ireland (Anton Diffring – the familiar character actor best known for playing celluloid Nazis). Her murder is seen just after the credits, at the hands of a killer wearing dark glasses. The discovery sparks an investigation, which is hampered by Ambassador Sobieski's diplomatic immunity. However, along with the Ambassador there's a whole array of dodgy and shifty looking characters littering the embassy, including his opium addicted wife (Valentina Cortese); the sweaty chauffeur, Mandel (Renato Romano), who needs to wear dark glasses because of his conjunctivitis; the Ambassador's beautiful daughter Helene (giallo regular Dagmar Lassander); and his smarmy son Marc (Werner Pochat).

It's not before long before that another body turns up connected to the steely-eyed Ambassador. His mistress, a flame-haired nightclub singer (Dominique Boschero), is found slashed to death just after he was seen leaving her backstage dressing room. Frustrated by their lack of progress, the police bring in the unofficial help of ex-Inspector John Norton (another giallo regular, Luigi Pistilli, who is dubbed here with a wholly unconvincing Irish accent). Norton had been kicked off the force after his incompetence led to a man he was violently interrogating grabbing his gun and blowing his brains out (a moment lovingly shown in slo-mo several times). When not at home with his teenage daughter and dithering old amateur sleuth mother, Norton gets stuck into the case by getting stuck into the Ambassador's daughter!

However, despite Norton's best efforts, more of the Sobieski clan – and their friends and associates – end up at the wrong end of the iguana's tongue of fire ...

Admittedly, I had a streaming cold and was dosed up to hilt with Night Nurse, but Freda's giallo left me scratching my head more than once. Even for a genre that is known for its convoluted plots, IGUANA takes the biscuit. A dizzying array of characters turn up and vanish with seemingly scant relevance to the plot – and (without spoiling it) I did have to rewind to see if I could actually spot the killer in the previous 90 minutes after the great unveiling. Having said that, IGUANA certainly does have its charms, with most of them of a cheesy tang!

The film has an admirable array of particularly smelly red herrings, from almost everyone owning a pair of dark glasses (like the one the killer wore during the first murder) to one of the characters protesting his innocence by producing a receipt from 'Swastika Laundry' (perhaps some of our Gaelic readers could tell us if this was a real place!). There are also so many meaningful, juddering close up of eyes that even dear old Lucio Fulci would have a seizure. Plus, there's that spectacularly violent toboggan crash that left the occupant with only a sprained ankle. The film does have more than its fair share of dialogue howlers, too: from the Ambassador shouting after his wife, “You bitch! You fucking bitch! ... Bitch! Bitch! BITCH!”, to the policeman asking the Ambassador if he can tell him more about the first victim, to which he replies, “What woman? ... Oh, the one found in the boot of my car.” However, my favourite bit on nonsensical dialogue has to be when Norton's daughter admonishes her Granny after she complains that she shouldn't creep up on her pretending to be the killer, “When will you learn that if you don't wear your glasses you can't hear anything!”. Eh?

Riccardo Freda is fondly remembered for that slice of Italian gothic, THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK (1962), as well as the Klaus Kinski starring giallo/krimi hybrid DOUBLE FACE (1969). However, IGUANA plays more like a precursor to his the gory nuttiness of his later MURDER OBSESSION (1981). While certainly not staged with the deftness of Argento, nor the eye of Bava, Freda does revel in the red stuff to a level not usually seen in the giallo up to this time. Whilst the gore effects are wholly unconvincing, throats are slashed emitting geysers of blood and a mannequin has acid thrown into her face, which should be enough to satisfy less discerning gorehounds. Fans of the sleazy should also get a kick out of the sequence when Norton's topless teenage daughter is violently manhandled by the killer, whilst Granny has her head repeatedly bounced off a sink!

Sadly, there's little particularly thrilling on offer here apart from a well staged scene when Helene is chased through foggy Dublin streets by the acid wielding, wig wearing killer, and an exciting and improbably outlandish ending and confrontation with the killer (albeit so dimly it's difficult to see what's going on). However, IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE remains an enjoyably guilty (if muddled) pleasure none-the-less.


BODYCOUNT 7  bodycount!   female:2 / male:5

       1) Female has acid thrown in her face and has throat cut with razor
       2) Female found stabbed to death
       3) Male blows his brains out with gun
       4) Male found with throat cut
       5) Male found with throat cut
       6) Male found with throat cut
       7) Male falls to his death