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Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, The

Arrow Video // Unrated // April 9, 2019
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 30, 2019 | E-mail the Author
Let's just get this out of the way: The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is, at best, a middling giallo, and even that's perhaps being generous. Several of the cult cinema historians contributing to the extras on Arrow Video's special edition make it clear that while they appreciate the film on some level, it's still rather a mess. The German end of this international co-production supposedly didn't find it worthy of a theatrical release. Director/co-writer Riccardo Freda is said to have been largely disappointed by the end result as well, seemingly to the point that he wouldn't even taint one of his usual pseudonyms with a screen credit.

But – like many of you reading this, no doubt – I just cannot resist the siren song of even the most mediocre gialli, especially when one is lavished with such a striking visual presentation and several hours of compelling extras. And on the off-chance that you are a longtime admirer of the film and are only interested in the merits of this Blu-ray release, feel free to skip past everything else I have to say. Otherwise...? Let me tell you why The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is a bit shit.

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There's only so much that the authorities in Dublin can do when the mutilated corpse of a young woman is discovered in the trunk of a Rolls Royce. Suspicion can't help but swirl around the Swiss ambassador to Ireland (Anton Diffring) – as well as his family and staff – but diplomatic immunity keeps the investigators somewhat at arm's length. Officially, anyway. The chief still has disgraced inspector John Norton (Luigi Pistilli; A Bay of Blood) in his Rolodex. Not shackled by the usual rules or regulations, Norton can go places that the police never could – up to and including inside the ambassador's drop-dead gorgeous daughter, Helen (Dagmar Lassander). Still, too many of those within the ambassador's orbit continue to be spattered with acid or slashed with a straight razor, and Norton and his family are soon to find themselves in the killer's crosshairs as well.

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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. We don't know much about the killer aside from the fact that he wears sunglasses and is quick with a straight razor, so literally every time there's a pair of glasses in the frame or someone innocuously picks up a razor, there's a crash zoom and a ridiculously big, booming sting in the score. It's not suspenseful; it's a drinking game. Oh, wait! Did I say that he wears sunglasses...?!

"The use of vitriol does suggest a woman's hand. A woman, or a colored fellow."

Yikes. The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire unleashes one red herring after another. The camera has a tendency to linger on characters, objects, or places with such intensity that you know that they're of critical importance. I'd be racking my brain trying to remember when I last saw that mustachioed man and how he figures in, or I'd make it a point to file away that muddy field that a handful of children are shown sloshing their way through or the hidden passage in the ambassador's library, but...nope! Just about without exception, you hadn't seen any of those people, places, or things before, nor will you see them again. They're just fillers, distractions, or – why not? – a shameless excuse for a sex scene. The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire knows it doesn't have much of a mystery to work with, so it resorts to that Gob Bluth sleight of hand instead.

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The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire clearly had some money behind it, given the extensive location photography in Ireland – the first and seemingly only time a giallo could say that – and a generally respectable cast.

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I guess they ran out of cash quick, though, given the cringingly inept makeup effects and the slow motion flashback that...isn't actually in slow-mo, with the actors instead just unconvincingly moving reeeeeeaaaaaaallllllyyyyyy ssssllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyy. Freda's direction is rarely stylish. A pair of sex scenes aside, there's almost nothing to get the adrenaline pumping between the first kill and a frantic chase down the foggy streets of Dublin in the dead of night. And that's not until the last fifteen minutes of the movie! Despite a killer wielding a straight razor in hot pursuit, and a rising drawbridge threatening to cut off any chance of escape, it hardly culminates in the sort of unnervingly intense confrontation you'd expect. I wish I could say more about the gloriously gonzo climax, which is taken to such delirious the-fuck? excess that it's not the least bit terrifying.

I could keep going, but eh, you get the general idea. Though hardly the worst giallo I've subjected myself to, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is really only going to hold any appeal for completists or cinematic masochists...which, I dunno, I guess I tick off both of those checkboxes. And since you're still reading this review, I guess that means you do too, so I'll just say Recommended and move onto the merits of the disc itself.

What a looker.

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I'm not just referring to leading lady Dagmar Lassander there, although...well, there's that too. Newly remastered in 2K from the OCN, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire looks sensational. As somewhat of a change of pace for a giallo of this vintage, the film shrugged off Techniscope in favor of an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I repeatedly found myself struck by the clarity and detail so often on display. Admittedly, the image softens and becomes less distinct under limited light – say, the frantic chase towards the drawbridge or the interior of the club where Helen and Norton first meet – and one early fistfight is underlit to deliberately obscure the action. Far more often than not, however, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire leaves no room for complaint. Still, having said that there are a few decidedly less than crisp moments, I guess I'm obligated to illustrate that with a screenshot too:

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Its palette hits the marks I'd hoped to see, and black levels are reasonably robust. Given that this is is an Arrow release, you don't need me to tell you that its persistent sheen of grain hasn't been clumsily filtered away, and its AVC encode never buckles under the weight of that filmic texture. At no point did any anomalies – authoring hiccups, damage, or even speckling of any remote consequence – threaten to get in the way.

Thanks to the magic of seamless branching, the film itself changes a bit visually depending on which language is selected. For starters, the English and Italian versions are bookended by different sets of credits. Shots of the three ransom notes vary as well. The English language versions are natural and untainted, while in Italian, the notes are accompanied by burned-in subtitles. In the Italian version, the first note has been recreated and optically superimposed over a frozen screen for reasons I cannot begin to fathom:

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That is, of course, a decision expressly made by the filmmakers nearly half a century ago rather than anything specific to this Blu-ray release, and there's nothing quite so strange with the two notes that follow. While Arrow could've simply elected to recycle the English language shots without branching, it's appreciated that they've instead chosen to faithfully preserve both versions. That's no small effort, and similar care and consideration have clearly been invested in every other aspect of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire's visual presentation as well.

The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire features a pair of 24-bit monaural soundtracks in DTS-HD Master Audio: one in English and the other, naturally, in Italian. Either language is an equally valid choice, given that the dialogue was looped in post-production regardless. Personally, I watched the film in its entirety in Italian, and then I sampled a few sequences in English. Honestly, the English dub isn't half bad, and we are talking about a film set in an English-speaking nation with characters who either natively speak the language or who've learned it by necessity. That's not to say that the Irish accents, when anyone even bothers with one, are altogether convincing, but whatever.

I've recorded a couple of comparisons for anyone who's curious:


To my ears, anyway, the English dub sounds considerably cleaner, while the harsher Italian track is more prone to clipping and sibilance. The Italian audio does have a bit more heft in the lower frequencies, such as the throatier growl of Norton's motorbike. Still, I can't say the Italian dub is a particularly pleasant listen overall, although I have no doubt that it's a limitation of the elements available. For what it's worth, I didn't detect any dropouts, intrusive background noise, pops, or clicks anywhere in the Italian track or in the portions of the English audio I sampled.

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The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire additionally offers two primary subtitle streams in English. The first is an SDH track based on the English language dub, and the other is a new translation of the original Italian dialogue. A commentary rounds out the audio options.

  • Audio Commentary: Fresh off their track for Strip Nude for Your Killer, HORRORPEDIA's Adrian Smith is joined by David Flint – the editor and publisher of The Reprobate – for The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire's audio commentary. They cover quite a bit of ground that isn't addressed in any of the disc's other extras, such as the non-existent novel the film is supposedly adapted from, a pre-Bond Roger Moore being sought for the lead role, and the storied history of Dublin's Swastika Laundry. This is very much a proper conversation rather than a couple of cineastes reading from pre-prepared notes. Occasionally that means the two of them will fall into the trap of watching the movie, laughing and interjecting quick comments between gaps of dead air. More often, thankfully, they discuss what makes The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire unique, its place in the giallo canon, other films of note showcasing the talents of its cast and key crew, and, yes, the many, many places that the film goes so horribly awry.

  • Of Chameleons and Iguanas (22 min.; HD): This video essay by Richard Dyer (Lethal Repetition: Serial Killing in European Cinema) is listed as an appreciation, although I'm not quite sure that's the word for it. Much like Smith and Flint in their audio commentary, Dyer is frank about what a mess The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is, such as the film's near-total lack of tension, needlessly convoluted plot, and "wait, who is that again?!" confusion among similar looking characters or seemingly significant figures who only appear in a single scene. Dyer does, of course, offer a great deal of thoughtful analysis along with his criticism, particularly in the way he compares and contrasts the film's two very different families. Easily my favorite of the disc's extras.

  • Considering Cipriani (26 min.; HD): Composer Stelvio Cipriani passed away last year, depriving us of the opportunity for another exceptional interview/performance like we saw on Arrow's release of What Have They Done to Your Daughters?. Musician and giallo soundtrack fanatic Lovely Jon contributes what is most certainly the next best thing. Lovely Jon charts Cipriani's musical journey, some of his other work in film, his enormous following in Japan, and why he was such a favorite of Italian film producers. The focus is very much oriented towards The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire in particular, with a thoughtful, detailed, and compelling analysis of several standout cues. Among the topics of conversation are the clever ways in which Cipriani would reinterpret his own work, his skill for making the most of short cues, the deliberately disorienting feel of speeding some elements up while slowing others down, incorporating Irish influences into this Dublin-set film, and some aggressive fuzz guitar almost certainly contributed by Bruno Battisti D'Amario. I greatly enjoyed this discussion, and I'm looking forward to hearing Lovely Jon soon speak about another of Riccardo Freda's gialli, Double Face, when Arrow issues it on Blu-ray in June.
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  • The Cutting Game (21 min.; HD): Assistant editor Bruno Micheli speaks at length about what led him to the editing bay, his preference for closely collaborating with directors, the success of his sister Ornella Micheli (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) as an editor, and even hardcore inserts and the freewheeling experimentation of editing porn. Micheli doesn't delve all that in-depth into The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, but he does note that the film was edited in fifteen short days, just how tight the budget and deadlines were, and how fully-formed the finished film was in Riccardo Freda's mind every step of the way. Despite the length of the interview, I have to admit to not finding all that many highlights worth sharing in this review, leaving "The Cutting Game" the least essential of the disc's primary extras.

  • The Red Queen of Hearts (21 min.; mix of HD and SD): Actress Dagmar Lassander continues to charm in this career retrospective. Lassander reveals that it was a tasty pork loin she prepared that opened the door to acting: a profession she'd never before considered yet continues to embrace to this day. Given that she was "the parsley of Italian cinema" – sprinkled around a little bit in just about everything – she has no shortage of roles to discuss or anecdotes to share, among them The Laughing Woman, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, and The Black Cat. She also speaks about the oppressively dominating roles that agents held over actors in Italy in decades past. There's very little about The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire in particular, but she does tell a terrific story about Valentina Cortese rattling off random numbers in front of the camera that made it a challenge for her to know quite when to come in. I'm not sure when this interview was conducted, but it's clearly from an aliased, low resolution source, while the excerpts from The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire remain in 1080p. That doesn't get in the way from "The Red Queen of Hearts" being well worth a look, of course.

  • Original Trailers (6 min.; HD): This disc features both the international and Italian trailers for The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.

  • Image Galleries (HD): The first of these two galleries is a collection of production stills, lobby cards, posters, and home video art, numbering just shy of two dozen images all told. Also included is a scan of a fotoromanzo adaptation of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, and since it's from Cinesex magazine, you can probably guess which scenes are lavished with the most attention. There are thirty sets of black-and-white scans to thumb through here.

The newly-commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys looks phenomenal, but if you're a purist, the reversible cover does feature poster art and the film's original Italian title – L'iguana dalla lingua di fuoco – on the flipside.

The extensive liner notes run 44 pages in all, the bulk of which are devoted to Andreas Ehrenreich's "The Production of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire": an exceptionally thorough examination of both this film in particular and the business end of the Italian film industry at the time. There's a wealth of information here that isn't found in any of the on-disc extras, such as the original cast list (which included James Mason, Ivan Rassimov, and Maria Grazia Marescalchi), the significant changes from the initial treatment to the finished film, and a horrifying story about Dagmar Lassander being stopped by police after unwittingly transporting an less-than-pleasant special effect for the producers. Ehrenreich's research is so exhaustive that it details the production companies' capitalization, a country-by-country rundown of distribution rights, biographies of actors who ultimately weren't cast, and the threat of government subsidies being revoked. Perhaps not for those with a casual interest, but...well, who with a casual interest is reading liner notes anyway?

Also included is a translation of a brief review by Leonardo Autera dating back to the film's original theatrical release.

The Final Word
No one's going to mistake The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire as a top-tier giallo, but it's appreciated that Arrow Video has treated it like one anyway with this Blu-ray release. Recommended, so long as you know what you're getting yourself into.
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