Iguana (1988)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Everett McGill, Michael Madsen
Extras: Commentary Track, Director Biography

Once again, Anchor Bay has proven that they are the best when it comes to scouring the vaults to bring us forgotten or obscure films. This month, we have ’Iguana’, a rarely-seen film from cult director Monte Hellman (’Two-lane Blacktop’). ’Iguana’ is a strange and dreamlike film set in the 19th century that nearly defies description. The ’Iguana’ of the title is Oberlus (Everett McGill of ’Twin Peaks’ and ’The People Under the Stairs), a fisherman who has reptile-like skin on half of his face. Despite the fact that he is unrivaled when it comes to harpooning, he is constantly tormented by his shipmates, due to his appearance and his apparent belief in voodoo. Instead of accepting the torment of the crew, Oberlus leaves the ship and swims to a nearby island. However, the ship soon docks at the island, and the crew captures and torments Oberlus yet again. He escapes and takes one of the crew members hostage. Soon, two more men wash ashore and Oberlus makes them his slaves as well. When the beautiful Carmen (Maru Valdivielso) is marooned on the island, Oberlus’ little slave civilization is now complete. But, is there a human lurking underneath that horrible face? And what would Oberlus do to preserve the artificial society, which he has created?

The film is full of beautiful imagery, which is quite a feat as Hellman reveals in the commentary that he didn’t have lights for the first three weeks of shooting, and several good performances. McGill is especially striking as Oberlus, and Michael Madsen does a good job as Sebastian, Oberlus’ first prisoner. The film is slow and subtle, as Hellman lets the tension build between Oberlus and the rest of the world. The film tackles some very deep issues and certainly can’t be described as a happy film, but there can be beauty in darkness at times.

Anchor Bay Entertainment’s DVD of ’Iguana’ features an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film, which has been letterboxed at 1.77:1. The image is very clear and sharp, showing no overt grain or noise interference. Also, the picture features an appropriate brightness, once again, surprising due to lack of lighting on the set. The colors appear to be true, and fleshtones are always natural looking.

The audio on this DVD is a Dolby 2-channel surround mix. This offers clear and articulate dialogue from the center and front speakers, with nice ambient sound effects and subtle musical cues from the rear speakers. There are several scenes in the film which feature Spanish dialogue, which is accompanied by subtitles, which are bold and easy to read.

The only real bonus feature on the DVD is an audio commentary featuring director Monte Hellman, writer Steven Gaydos, and star Everett McGill. The commentary is moderated by Dennis Bartok of the American Cinematheque. While this is at once a loose and fun-spirited commentary, it is also very serious, matching the tone of the film. Bartok asks many intelligent and insightful questions of the three other participants, as he digs for not only information on the making of the film, but also for thematic issues as well. Hellman et al are very open in discussing the budgetary problems and working conditions which made the shoot challenging. The DVD does include a detailed biography of director Hellman. ’Iguana’ is certainly a change of pace, and for you alternative film fans, this one may get under your skin.