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The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire

Disc Reviews

Worth None in the Bush in Obscure Giallo ‘The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971) | Blu-ray Review

Worth None in the Bush in Obscure Giallo ‘The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971) | Blu-ray Review

Another animal-themed giallo in the wake of Dario Argento’s now-seminal The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) is Riccardo Freta’s The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (which doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the titular reptile). Released under the pseudonym Willy Pareto due to the director (and German co-producer Artur Brauner’s) overall unhappiness with the finished product, the end result is a camp classic peppered by rather aggressive, grisly bits of violence. Curiously, the title is set in Dublin, and its cast of Italians are dubbed with incredibly dubious voiceovers which fade in and out of laughable Irish lilts. A handsome, notable cast makes this somewhat of a notable curio, even as its woeful dialogue lends a sense of extra-dimensional insanity.

A woman’s face is burned with acid and her throat slashed in the comfort of her own home. Her corpse, however, ends up in the trunk of Swiss Ambassador Sobiesky (Anton Diffring) limousine, discovered when he arrives in Dublin. Sobiesky claims diplomatic immunity and the police bring in ex-cop John Norton (Luigi Pistilli) to find out who’s responsible. But it seems everyone has some skeletons in the closet, including Norton.

While red herrings are usually a staple of genre narrative The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire seems to think a whodunit should only consist of such a mechanisms, with every character potentially being the killer who could be dumping ‘vitriol’ (i.e., acid) on victims before also often slitting their throats (we’re told, however, this modus operandi suggests a woman or person of color as the culprit). The iguana surfaces as metaphor the chief inspector has about never knowing when you’re going to come across a nasty creature, while logical deduction of who and why is committing these murders never really comes together. Instead, we’re treated to a number of nonsensical exchanges with its supporting characters, which includes an adolescent girl (who has a nude sequence just as she avoids being murdered) who is complicit in abusing her grandmother, a woman who seems to forget to wear her eyeglasses an awful lot (“When will you learn if you don’t wear your glasses you can’t hear anything?”).

More entertaining is Valentina Cortese as the booze-swilling, long-suffering wife of Anton Diffring’s indifferent Swiss Ambassador, especially when the two of them exchange slights with excessive zeal. And, of course, a young Dagmar Lassander (also featured in the recently refurbished The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, 1970) provides the film with another lurid romantic subplot with Luigi Pistilli’s ex-cop called into investigate the case (flashbacks from the violent episode which ended his career as a policeman are routinely laughable as Pistilli was obviously directed to move in slow-motion instead of the sequences being filmed as such). Additionally, the ‘novel’ the film is based on by a Richard Mann does not exist, invented by producers to give the film a serious edge.

Disc Review:

Arrow Video’s lavish release of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire finds the title receiving a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative. Picture and sound quality are well-attenuated in this transfer, presented in 1.85:1 with 1.0 mono audio. Amongst its special features is an audio commentary track from giallo connoisseurs Adrian J. Smith and David Flint.

Of Chameleons and Iguanas:
Cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer presents this new twenty-one-minute video appreciation of the film.

Considering Cipriani:
DJ and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon presents this new twenty-five-minute appreciation of composer Stelvio Cipriani and his moody score for The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.

The Cutting Game:
Bruno Micheli, the assistant editor of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, shares his memories of the film in this new twenty-minute interview.

The Red Queen of Hearts:
And actress Dagmar Lassander sits for this twenty-minute career-spanning interview.

Film Rating: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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