Arrow Video: The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971) - Reviewed

Near the beginning of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, we are given an explanation of the film’s namesake, poetically describing an “iguana’s” shape-shifting properties and vicious tongue.  The problem here is that iguanas actually have none of that, and they likely were referring to a chameleon instead.  When a filmmaker can’t even get the lizard metaphor for which the entire film is named right, then you know you’re in trouble.  This mistake somehow feels indicative of larger issues with the film:  unnecessarily complex plotlines, a desire to be something grander than it is, and general confusion abound haunt Iguana far more than its maniacal killer does.   

Set in a somewhat unusual country for a giallo film, the action takes place in Dublin, where an acid-throwing, razor-wielding murderer is running rampant and making the life of a Swiss ambassador a living hell, killing people that surround him in gruesome, increasingly creative ways.  Detective Norton (Luigi Pistilli) is assigned the case, but the ambassador’s refusal to cooperate and the eventual romance he develops with the ambassador’s daughter Helen (Dagmar Lassander) make his job more difficult than expected.   

The plot might seem simple enough in a synopsis, but the biggest issue with this film is how convoluted they make it.  There are far too many characters to keep track of, especially considering how many of them are mustachioed gingers, which makes it hard to differentiate some of the men.  Even worse, they give the audience very little reason to care about this vast slew of characters, bogging them down with tedious exposition and belabored backstories that aren’t particularly exciting.  Worse yet, they take the effort to make practically every one of them a red herring at some point.  Certainly a little misdirection is common and welcome in crime thrillers, but the sheer amount here becomes exhausting.  For a film that is only around 90 minutes, it feels as though it is well over 2 hours by the end.

Oftentimes gialli have an aesthetic about them that allows the viewer to forgive its transgressions, but that is not the case here.  The colors are mostly bland, the special effects gore and disfigurement look incredibly fake, and with the exception of a handful of scenes, its cinematography has much to be desired.  If it weren’t for some of the eye-catching murders and fun performances by Valentina Cortese and Ruth Durley, there is very little that stands out about Iguana.

Despite all of this, Arrow’s done an incredibly good job of resuscitating the film with its 2K restoration.  Some of the darker scenes are a bit challenging to discern, but overall, it looks and sounds better than it ever has.  The original English and Italian versions of the film are offered, with newly translated English subtitles to accompany the Italian soundtrack.  The extras were the highlights of this Blu-ray, especially academic Richard Dyer’s insightful video appreciation of the film (whom I was honestly relieved to learn felt equally confused by the plot and characters).  In addition, there is an appreciation video of composer Stelvio Cipriani’s score by soundtrack enthusiast Lovely Jon that is worth a watch, as well as interviews with leading lady Dagmar Lassander and assistant editor Bruno Micheli.     

Riccardo Freda, the film’s director and giallo legend, was unhappy with Iguana and decided to use the pseudonym “Willy Pareto” instead in the credits.  I honestly can’t say I blame him.  This film is a blemish on his otherwise interesting filmography.  Arrow does a lovely job of paying homage to this film, but at the very least, watch some of his other films before diving into this one.  

-Andrea Riley