A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Color, 1980, 111 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Starring Mark Shannon, George Eastman, Laura Gemser, Dirce Funari
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

At Erotic Nights of the Living Deadthe same Erotic Nights of the Living Deadtime director Joe D'Amato was assaulting audiences around the world with his holy trinity of Italian gore shockers from 1979 to 1981 (Beyond the Darkness, Anthropophagus, and Absurd), he was also diving further into the world of hardcore pornography, something he had dabbled with earlier by injecting explicit material into such films as Emanuelle in America and Sesso Nero. Therefore you can sort of see what he was going for when he decided to combine the two in 1980 with Erotic Night of the Living Dead, Italy's first sexually explicit zombie film and a trial run for his outrageous 1981 magnum opus, Porno Holocaust, which was shot in tandem with this one.

The film opens in an insane asylum as a raving Larry O'Hara (Eastman) has furious sex on the premises with one of the nurses. In flashback we see how he was hired by a visiting land developer, John Wilson (D'Amato sex film regular Shannon, or "Mark Shanon" he was often credited including on this film), to scout out an island recently purchased for a hotel development. John's too distracted by all the willing women around (including hookers who enjoy soaping him up in the shower) to worry about all the foreboding stories about the island, which they sail to anyway with bedmate Fiona (Funari) only to find just two inhabitants, Erotic Nights of the Living Deadthe mystical Luna (Gemser) and her blind grandfather. More warning signs courtesy of a black cat don't deter our interlopers from sticking around and trying to get as much action as possible before a horde of zombies starts shuffling slowly after them. Erotic Nights of the Living Dead

Definitely not D'Amato's most cinematically accomplished achievement, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead is nevertheless a fascinating and oddly endearing shaggy dog creation that doesn't seem to have the slightest clue what kind of audience it was going for at the time. Of course, that makes it all the more interesting now as time as turned it into a crazy curio with another bug-eyed Eastman performance, a great propulsive score by Marcello Giombini (under his "Pluto Kennedy" pseudonym), and that surreal ping-ponging between horror and sex that was D'Amato's specialty for a few years.

By the time this film hit a handful of theaters in Europe, the fad for genre-twisting porno chic had pretty much run its course and distribution wound up being minimal. Edited versions started circulating on the gray market, leaving D'Amato fans curious about how graphic the full-strength version was since Shannon's hotel romp Erotic Nights of the Living Deadwith the two prostitutes seemed to end abruptly in the shower in every circulating version. An answer finally arrived in 2004 with the release of Media Blasters' DVD (under its Shriek Show banner), which was Erotic Nights of the Living Deadfully uncut and featured a full-on hardcore version of the hooker sequence. The rest of the film is technically softcore but still graphic, including a champagne cork-popping scene that can't fail to impress. A much softer, edited version was also prepped for general retailers who wouldn't handle adult material. The transfer was okay for the time, presented at 1.78:1 with a typically ridiculous English dubbed track and opening titles calling the film Sexy Nights of the Living Dead; extras include a newly-created trailer, an "Erotic Sunny Afternoons of the Living Dead" (27m19s) showing the film before its day-for-night color timing (the climax is pretty dark and supposed to take place in the dead of night), and an image gallery (4m27s) throwing together some very lo-res stills from this film and poor quality nudie shots of Gemser that look like they were yanked off the web.

Code Red originally announced the film for a Blu-ray release under the baffling title Emmanuelle vs. the Erotic Night of the Living Nods (apparently trying to come up with a new slang term for "nads" or "nards"), which was thankfully dropped from the final packaging but remains on the menu screen. The transfer is a massive upgrade and more spaciously framed at 1.66:1, with much deeper blacks and vibrant reds giving the film a punchier appearance. The final stretch is still Erotic Nights of the Living Deaddark and heavily tinted blue as always but registers more clearly now as well. Detail including film grain is much better, Erotic Nights of the Living Deadwhich also means Shannon's infamous genital warts are now preserved in glorious 1080p for eternity. The usual English track is presented in an okay DTS-HD MA mono mix, not surprisingly. A new interview with Shannon called "The Real Italian Stallion" (20m13s) is actually part two of a series following one on Porno Holocaust and features some of the longest, bulkiest subtitles you've ever seen. It's a lighthearted chat mostly focusing on directors like D'Amato and Mario Bianchi, including the very tiny crews with D'Amato often pulling double or triple duty on the set. It's definitely a NSFW interview including an amusing story about inexperienced actors ruining sex scenes on Caligula: The Untold Story and the pros and cons of shooting in Hong Kong. He also explains the origin of his screen name, which was always supposed to be "Shannon" but ended up losing an "n" on most of his films for some reason, and shares his thoughts on many of his female co-stars including Ajita (or "Anita" here) Wilson, with whom he didn't enjoy performing. A "Confessions of the Living Dead" featurette is actually the "Sunny Afternoons" piece (with the English-language main titles tacked on to the end), and the image gallery is ported over as well. A choppy, YouTube-y trailer for Porno Holocaust is included as well as bonus ones for Seven Bloodstained Orchids, The Violent Professionals, Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Black Cobra.

Reviewed on June 22, 2018.