Head turning titles, vivid colors, exotic locales, and plenty of sex and violence are trademarks of giallo. Of course, each movie has them to varying degrees, but they somehow manage to check off all the boxes. Released in 1971, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire does things a little differently. The latest giallo offering from Arrow Video is both memorable and unspectacular.
The first thing that stands out about Iguana is its location. Many films in the genre take place in Italy, Paris, or Berlin. Dublin would make just as nice a postcard as any European city, but it is also not the first city people think of when they hear of fancy settings. Not only does the movie take place in the blue collar district of the city, it also manages to ignore the fact. The movie is about a mysterious person who is terrorizing the family of a Swiss ambassador. A pivotal scene takes place in the the very un Ireland city of Zurich. There are plenty of shots of the lush green landscapes that dot Dublin, but the majority of the film is shot in the city making it indistinguishable.
Iguana’s gory killings also set it apart from other giallos. The killer of the film uses a unique method to dispatch their victims. The first thing they do is throw acid in the victim’s face. The ensuing close up is revolting as the audience is treated to a severely scarred face filled with scabs that are loosely hanging off the now nearly exposed skull. This is followed by a graphic throat slash that is shown in all its bloody glory. This is a killer that does not mess around.
The camera work leading up to the killings are well done. There tension is high as the camera focuses on the bottle of acid. The killer’s hand slowly uncorks it before suddenly flinging its contents in the direction of the victim. This is most effective during the strong opening and the powerful ending. What makes the finale particularly strong is the killer is interrupted before having the chance to complete the job. This leaves a half nude nearly blinded victim crawling around pitifully. It heightens the danger of the moment and is the only time the audience actually cares for a character.
The scene also magnifies one of the movie’s biggest problems. It is very hard to actually become invested in any of the characters. Many of them are short and gruff to the point of being unlikable. The ones the audience are not left actively disliking are generic tropes that are impossible to care either way about. When the climatic battle happens, the film finally manages to get a reaction from its audience. (This is more due to the circumstances than any character traits, but it is still more than has been previously given.)
This may have more do to with the story’s plot than the actual characters. Aside from the tense opening and moving ending, there is not much to Iguana. The scenes just move from one to the next. There is little to make the audience care for its story or characters. There are more children than are normally seen in these types of movies and there is a character who cannot hear well when they do not wear their glasses (it is as important to the story as it is ridiculous), but little of it makes anyone watching actually interested.
There are also odd edits throughout. There is a weird cut from when the acid is thrown to when the victim’s face is shown. It is rough and looks like someone spliced in a moment from an entirely different scene. This happens again when the shot goes from the disfigured faces to the disgusting throat slashing. The poor cuts even happen during the otherwise excellent opening. Each time, it takes anyone watching completely out of the moment.
(There is also an entirely superfluous sex scene that starts out of nowhere, goes on for a while, then just as suddenly ends. It is even more jarring than the poor transitions.)
The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire is best described as a novelty. It is one of the first movies after giallo had first struck it big (the name is an attempt to capitalize on the craze) so it is understandable there would be some missteps. Still, Iguana has some moments that will stick out for how poorly they are done. The opening and closing are must see moments for any movie fan, but everything in between will only be enjoyed by fans of the genre. Barely.