Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti & Roberto Gianviti
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“Ah, you think it’s funny? Unfortunately, it’s not a joke. I saw her, I recognized her. She was the same one in my vision.”
The name Lucio Fulci is often equated to brutality. Excessively violent motion pictures with a hint of plot are the stereotypes that one of Italy’s premiere horror icons has had thrust upon him for years. Those who delve deep enough into his filmography (or even truly watch his golden-age classics such as The Beyond and House by the Cemetery) know that such is not the case. As much acclaim as fellow Italian Dario Argento has received for his work in the giallo subgenre, few seem to realize, or perhaps it’s more along the lines of they don’t want to know, of the thriller classics that dwell within the realm of 1970s Lucio Fulci endeavours. Although he dove into the giallo world before, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin proved to be a classic in every sense of the word upon release in 1971. Dabbling in the subgenre a couple times after this with great success, Fulci’s last horror film before he exploded into the big top of disgust with the eye piercing classic, Zombie, was a little giallo called The Psychic. Given Fulci’s track record in the genre, I like this one’s odds of being a true Euro classic.
In 1959, a young woman drives her car up to a cliff somewhere in England and stops, looking down at the ocean and the deadly rocks and rigid slope beneath her. Meanwhile, all the way in Florence, a little girl stops and screams, “Mommy!” with a terrified look on her face. At that moment, the lady in England takes the plunge off the cliff, bashing her head on the rocks on the way down. Fast-forward to the seventies and the little girl has grown up, but still premonitions haunt her. After saying goodbye to her husband of six months, Virginia (Jennifer O’Neill) hits the road, driving in and out of dark tunnels towards her destination. But, all is not well with her and she blacks out, and when she comes to, she tells a very strange tale.
In her dream, Virginia saw many things. Paintings, a taxi, a statue bust, words, lamps… and a murder. The victim is placed inside a hollowed out portion of the home before being walled up to conceal the body. The crimson soaked face of an elderly lady haunts her, as does the face of the killer, but no one takes her hallucination seriously, not even her therapist. But, when Virginia decides to spruce up her hubby Francesco’s (Gianni Garko) home with a new look, one particular room sends her mind racing back to her earlier premonition. The same mirror, the same lamp… the same room! Quickly, Virginia grabs a pickaxe and hollows out the wall where the victim was disposed of in her dream. Sure enough, she discovers a skeleton and her delusions turn out to be based in some form of reality. As the pieces begin to unfold, the killer could be anyone closely related to Virginia. But, was it really the old lady who was disposed of in the Poe-esque tomb? Or, is there an even more intriguing aspect to the story that Virginia has yet to remember… or predict?
The Psychic is an amazing film from maestro, Lucio Fulci. I can’t think of another giallo quite like it and although it’s not up to the standards of a Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or Tenebre, it still conjures up copious amounts of mystery and suspense. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to recall a giallo in which there is so much plot and so many questions. There’s so much exposition that the film inevitably shows a lack of characterization, but giallo fans surely won’t mind that whatsoever. After ten minutes of set up, the film goes into research, remembering and deciphering evidence mode for a good hour before erupting into a thrilling climax where even bigger pieces begin falling into place and the mystery is finally resolved. The script is surprisingly coherent considering just how much is explained in the film and how much scene after scene criss-crosses over criss-crosses. Although not the most rewarding giallo as a whole, The Psychic is quite possibly the most thought provoking. If you’re looking for a lot of kills and stalk scenes, you’ll probably come out a bit disappointed. That’s not to say there are none, and when they’re present, they’re killer.
Where the film works most is you’re never certain until the climax hits(and even then, we don’t see what happens after the fact) just what has happened. You have a good hunch what will happen at the story's conclusion, but every character seems so closely tied to the murder that you’re only going to find out for sure when someone finally squeals to the audience exactly what really happened. The film not only plays on events from the past, but the present and the future, which combined make the film one hell of a ride. It’s quite satisfying watching along and seeing the present slowly wade into the future and just how it’s going to relate to the mystery. The mysterious identity of a killer is standard fare in gialli and slashers, but when you throw into the equation that the identity of the victim is also anyone’s guess, it brings forth a unique experience that’s tough to match. The ending is downbeat and wonderfully acts as a great accomplice to the secret in itself.
The film’s furious pace makes up for the lack of gore that people generally associate with Fulci, but there’s still a nice sliced head and a couple heads being bashed on rocks (which looks quite cheap, but still will make you cringe) and cement to fulfill the gore quota and keep everyone happy. The film is also known as Seven Notes in Black, which is a much more subtle and in my opinion, just plain better and more appropriate title. This title references the ticks of a wristwatch amidst a blank, black screen that Virginia witnesses in her premonition and in which also ends the film. Paying somewhat of an homage to the Poe stories, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado with a lot of great moody sets, Fulci again proves that he can make a quality film without the “series of images” theme that something like The Beyond would later portray. There’s always more than meets the eye to the works of Fulci, even if those opposed to his ideas won’t admit it. Zombie is more of an homage to something akin to I Walked With a Zombie than a rip-off of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, while The Beyond’s opening scene displays repression and censorship of the artist and his gialli consistently prove that he can pull off a wonderful film with or without the visual aid of grue.
The film’s cinematography is great, there’s nice wide shots of the grassy landscape and Fulci’s camera is always moving innovatively, not to mention the film shows off trademarks such as zooms and shots using mirrors to show the audience what they don’t normally see. Fulci collaborator, Fabio Frizzi as well as Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera score the film and it’s up to Frizzi’s usual standards, it’s very well done and diverse and makes the film that much more tense and creepy because of it. Severin has released The Psychic on DVD in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the film looks great, although the mono track is quite low and you have to turn your surround up a good bit, which in turn brings a hiss. It’s nothing that hinders the film too terribly, though. Don't make the mistake of watching the trailer present on the DVD, as it sure does give away way too much in its short running time. Also present is the featurette, Voices From the Black, which is phone interviews set to scenes from the movie with Dardano Sacchetti, Massimo Lentini and Bruno Micheli and they cover the film from pre-production and discuss problems, triumphs and general anecdotes from the film. Fulci delivers again with The Psychic, and the result overflows with perplexity. It doesn’t take a psychic to foresee that this one should be on your shelf. Buy it!
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