Color, 1990, 91 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by George Eastman
Starring Gene LeBrock, Catherine Baranov, Harry Cason, David Wicker, Stephen Brown, Jason Arnold
Cinestrange Extreme (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

In the early '90s, it was Metamorphosisimpossible to stroll through a video store without stumbling across the VHS box for Metamorphosis, featuring Metamorphosisembossed "3D-Electronic Video Packaging" with little LED lights and sound effects. Apparently trying to outdo other gimmick boxes around the same time for films like Frankenhooker, it was arguably the packaging masterpiece from Imperial Entertainment, the company that also brought video hounds other eye-catching box designs for films like Black Roses and The Dead Pit when they weren't busy churning out titles like StageFright, Obsession: A Taste for Fear, Ghosthouse, Mikey, Witchtrap, and the butchered version of Demons 2. Several of those titles were the handiwork of Joe D'Amato's Filmirage, a much-loved haven for Italian horror and softcore erotica during the genre dark days of the late '80s and early '90s. Though D'Amato himself directed his fair share of Filmirage releases (which were often distinguished by their hazy, soft focus cinematography), he provided a platform for other directors like Umberto Lenzi, Michele Soavi, and Claudio Lattanzi. That brings us to 1990's Metamorphosis, which was the only credited directorial effort for George Eastman (a.k.a. Luigi Montefiori), who wrote and directed this one as "G.L. Eastman" and was a frequent D'Amato collaborator as an actor and screenwriter (best known for his starring roles in Anthropophagus and Absurd). It was also one of a handful of starring vehicles for Gene LeBrock, who had just come off of Fortress of Amerikkka and also starred in another Filmirage horror favorite, Claudio MetamorphosisFragasso's Beyond Darkness, before going behind the camera as a filmmaker and composer.

In another modern riff on Jekyll and Hyde, LeBrock stars as Dr. Peter Houseman, a scientist using genetic engineering via lizard MetamorphosisDNA material and animal experiments to come up with a new anti-aging formula that could even stave off death. When his funding gets complicated by administrator and potential girlfriend Sally Donnelly (Baranov) and the project is in jeopardy of being hijacked by competitor Professor Lloyd (Brown), Peter injects himself with his own serum -- which leads to bright yellow eyes, murderous blackouts, and unpredictable spurts of aggression. As his appearance and personality quickly metamorphose, he presents a danger to not only his enemies but to Sally and her young son as well.

Complete with a cameo by none other than Laura Gemser (who also designed the costumes, as with Troll 2) as an ill-fated hooker, Metamorphosis is a late period Italian monster trash epic all the way. In keeping with practices at the time, it was shot with live English sound using a cast partially assembled from local talent around the Norfolk, Virginia shooting area; however, that Filmirage vibe is all over the place here with cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia giving that dreamy, smeary aesthetic as his work on Witchery and Delirium. It's obvious Eastman and company were heavily influenced by The Fly here, though in many respects it also resembles The Lawnmower Man which came out two years later. The story itself doesn't really break any new ground, but the attack scenes are entertaining enough and lead to a memorable final Metamorphosis20 minutes when the titular metamorphosis finally reaches its icky Metamorphosislast stage.

The running time for this one has long been something of a puzzler, with a Japanese VHS reportedly clocking in at 96 minutes. Without having that handy for comparison, it's supposedly due to the version widely released elsewhere at 91 minutes being time compressed though the voice pitch here doesn't seem to bear that out. In any case, the 91-minute version is what we got for the film's Blu-ray debut from Scream Factory in the U.S. in 2015 paired up with Beyond Darkness, with both films' trailers as the sole extras. Given that multiple participants from this film are around and readily accessible, it's odd that no real special features have ever been developed. That release went out of circulation a few years later, which led to Beyond Darkness getting a standalone release from Severin and this film apparently falling into limbo. In 2023, German label Cinestrange Extreme released a two-disc mediabook Blu-ray and DVD edition (as Lizard - Die Totale Mutation) with one hell of a selling point: an "LED-Trash-Push-Button" on the cover echoing that classic VHS design. The packaging indicates a 96-minute running time on both the front and back covers as well as the "full uncut" version, though it's actually the usual 91-minute cut on both the Blu-ray and DVD. The transfer here is identical to the U.S. one, betraying some very obvious signs of noise reduction and smeariness beyond the original lensing of the film; it's about on par with the other Filmirage HD scans we have out there apart from the superior presentations of StageFright and Killing Birds. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono options include the original English track and the Italian, German, and Spanish dubs, plus optional German subtitles. Extras include the usual trailer, an alternate VHS-sourced intro as Lizard, a gallery, and a pretty impressive German-language booklet inside featuring extensive international collateral like the Japanese pressbook and a variety of video cover art.

Reviewed on August 15, 2023