Monday, July 27, 2009

The Psychic

The Psychic
Original title: Sette notte in nero
Aka: Murder to the tune of Seven Black Notes, Seven Notes in Black
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Giallo / Thriller / Horror, 97 Min.
Italy, 1977
Distributed by: Severin Films.

A woman suffers visions where she sees death and murder. She teams up with her friend in an attempt to solve the cryptic images she saw in her vision. Images that quite soon start finding their way into her current life, and her investigations turn into a matter of life and death as she starts to realize that the visions may not be of a past event, but of her impending future!

Good old Lucio Fulci, [Bio here] he really polarizes his audience doesn’t he. And it’s a strange fan base Mr. Fulci has because the impression I get is that the majority of them build their admiration for him off those few gore fests that he directed in the early eighties; Zombi2 1979, City of the Living Dead 1980, The Beyond 1981, House by the Cemetery 1981 and New York Ripper 1982, Yeah you know them don’t you... All great movies in their own, but sadly each a lesser movie than the previous one, that’s without getting into some of the really poor stuff he directed in the late eighties. But to say the least, his movies do have an aura and atmosphere that not that many other directors managed to conjure up in their movies, and that is possibly what makes him such a favorite among the European genre directors.

Towards the end of his life, in 1991, he made an impressive return to the genre with the gore fest Nightmare Concert, in my opinion Fulci’s comment on his celluloid heritage, the criticism towards him, in some way his own version of Fellini’ s 8½. The aging director summing up his art and crafts, which in some poetic way justifies the recycling of all that footage from some of those lesser movies in the swansong Nightmare Concert. Then there was Demonia, also in 1991, which showed a return to the good old mystique and atmosphere that made him so popular, still not a great movie, but definitely an improvement. Finally there was that almost “super group” project that never got made with Fulci onboard (not counting co-screenwriting credits), Dario Argento producing, Sergio Stivaletti responsible for the special effects and Lucio Fulci returning to the directorial chair; Gaston Leroux’s The Wax Mask. One can only imagine how that movie would have turned out; it could have become the last great movie of the dying genre or the crap-fest that it eventually became when it went into production after Fulci’s death.

I like Fulci, I like the constant rumors that he was a pain in the butt to work with, the accusations the he hated his actors and crews, that he only made movies to for money, etc; it’s all the stuff that creates legends. Contradictory to those rumors, more and more people only have affectionate and respectful things to say about him on the many featurette's that can be found on the masse of DVD releases of is movies, perhaps once and for all proving that he was a great guy, but perhaps once and for all proves my theory that he merely cursed to walk the path of horror gore-meister churning out atmospheric splatter fests until the end of time... And I really do like Fulci’s movies, even the really bad ones, there’s definitely worse stuff that came out during that golden period, and in many way’s I feel that his did his best even though he was struggle ling to stay productive in a genre that he probably wasn’t entirely satisfied working in. In later years, I have found myself growing tired of gory effects, gimmickry and shallow plots, perhaps due to seeing that classic suite so many times, I find myself going back to the older stuff, the comedies and the Spaghetti Westerns, the Dramas and definitely the Gialli / Poliziotteschi stuff before the gates of hell spewed out all those iconic zombies and ghouls. There is some splendid stuff back there, like the fantastic One on Top of the Other 1969, The Psychic 1977, the Gialli, Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972, and my personal favorite A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin 1971.

The Psychic, revolves around Virginia Ducci, [Jennifer O’Neil from Visconti’s The Innocent and Cronenberg’s Scanners] a woman scarred by the psychic abilities she found out she had when she saw as a child saw her mother throw herself off the cliffs of Dover in her first vision. But that was many years ago, and now Virginia has made the best of life having just started a serious relationship with wealthy playboy Emilio Rospini [Gabriele Ferzetti who played the Railroad Baron in Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in the West]. On her way from dropping him off at the airport where his private jet takes him on a business trip she starts having a series of disturbing visions of death and murder, strange people and secret tombs in walls. She visits her parapsychologist friend Luca [Marc Porel who also played against O’Neil in Visconti’s The Innocent] who starts helping her figure out what she may have seen. She goes to her boyfriends’ summer residence with the intentions of redecorating it, and suddenly has the shocking insight that this is the location she saw in her vision, and there is a corpse behind the wall.

This is what initiates Virginia’s investigations into the events that lead up to her boyfriends’ previous lover, a photo model, being murdered and plastered behind a wall in his summer house. The plot twists and turns as her boyfriend is put in jail suspected for murder, and eventually released as Virginia and Luca’s investigations prove that he couldn’t have conducted the killing. But then fragments of the vision start reoccurring in current time and just like Luca suspected all along, the visions where not of the past, but of the future!

The Psychic is really quite a decent movie; it’s full of traditional Giallo mystery solving, has some great plot twists and uses some magnificent devices on its way. The cinematography is excellent and shot by Fulci regular Sergio Salvati, who once again shows that he's a master of his craft. The script by Dardano Sacchetti is major league and possibly one of the finest that Fulci had to work with. Supposedly the script came about after Fulci and co-writer Roberto Gianvitti had been struggling for a year to write a story about a character with a psychic ability based on a book that Fulci was fascinated by. But Fulci was so determined that if you where psychic and knew your future nothing could change that. So a year later when Sacchetti was connected to the project he made a bet with Fulci that he could write a script where a foreseen future could be altered. Hence the ingenious musical watch that Jennifer O’Neil receives in the movie. And what a brilliant plot device that is! Sure it was a common device in early Spaghetti Westerns, but to item to change a foreseen future and save someone’s life is a stunning twist to the movie. But at the same time there is no outspoken salvation here, because the movie ends just as the chimes are acknowledged, and we never really know if Virginia is saved, or if Emilio gets away with his fiendish plan. Wonderful stuff and a highly recommended movie that proves Fulci’s skills outside the splatter and gore department.

I can’t really let go of the “bad Rep” Fulci used to have, and still does in some circuits, and considering that he often used the same people on his productions, editor Vincenzo Tomassi edited fifteen of Fulci’s flicks, Sergio Salvati shot some ten movies for Fulci and Sacchetti co-wrote more than eight films with Fulci, I think that we can come to the conclusion that he was a decent guy and people obviously liked and respected him or else they wouldn’t have worked on so many movies with him would they?

Although if I where to point out one thing that kept annoying me as I watched it would have to be all the ridiculous clarifications to what we are seeing. I feel that it’s somewhat underestimates it’s viewer on many occasions, I mean fans of Gialli have often seen more than one, and someone who was to start exploring that fantastic genre wouldn’t start with Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic, they would start with the textbook examples of Dario Argento or Mario Bava. The constant zooming in on O’Neil’s face or the object in front of her every time she realizes that she’s just seen a fragment of her vision in reality is ludicrous. We know that the indicating item or person was in her vision, or at least after the tenth time we saw it should know, and this kept disturbing me throughout the movie. The constant flash backs to further support that the thing/person is completely unnecessary, and we don’t need it in a Giallo. Remember Dario Argento’s masterpiece Profondo Rosso 1975? That mirror reflection that’s in the early part of the movie and returns but a few times to keep it alive? Just imagine if David Hemmings had flashbacks and the camera zoomed in on that area of the room each and every time he tried to figure out what he saw! Well that would have destroyed that movie, because half of the effect is that when you go back you see what he saw in the final reel! Brilliant. So If one where to remove these element from the The Psychic and only use them when it’s really necessary, like towards the end where her Luca presents his theory that the visions are not showing her the past, but the future, then BLAM, stick those images in there and create an effect instead of just wearing down my patience instead. Sure constant zooming into facial reactions is just as much a Fulci trademark as spooky atmospheres, but still it rattled me the wrong way unfortunately.

Last but definitely not least, the soundtrack! What an amazing soundtrack The Psychic has. Fulci had worked with the group Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera [Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera] earlier on his Spaghetti Western Four of the Apocalypse 1975, and later on Silver Saddle 1978, another Western that Fulci directed after The Psychic, but the score they composed for The Psychic is without a doubt on of their finest. Building off the chimes of that ingenious plot device, the musical watch that O’Neil has, the score just builds into such a terrifying and at the same time beautiful climax that it definitely outshines much of their later work. The track was later rediscovered by Quentin Tarantino, who used the track Seven Notes in Black in Kill Bill Vol.1. But in all honesty it is a brilliant piece of music still very enjoyable still today.

Frizzi later scored most of the classic Fulci horrors [Zombi2, The Smuggler, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, Manhattan Baby and Nightmare City] and Tempera wrote the scores for the TV horrors Sweet House of Horror and The House of Clocks both 1989.

Widescreen 1.85:1 [16x9]

Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English dialogue, no subtitles available.

There’s almost no Lucio Fulci title on DVD with some self-respect that doesn’t have a lengthy featurette that in one way or another discusses Fulci and the movie in question. This time Severin have put together a little it they call Voices from the Dark, a great piece that consists of phone interviews with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti (although he claims that the script was all his and Fulci only commented from a directors view not story wise), Costume director Massimo Lentini, and assistant editor Bruno Micheli. (The Psychic was edited by Ornella Micheli a female editor who edited some of the most famous pieces of Italian genre cinema!) The addition of Bruno Micheli makes it all worth the while, as it’s rare, or never to my knowledge that an editor of an old piece of genre cinema gets to talk about his part in the process, and he gives some valuable input on how disciplined Fulci really was during the shooting of a movie and the amount of takes and scenes the editor had to work with. If only Fulci had been alive to add his comments to the process, this could have been a fantastic extra as there’s a saying in the industry that you make three movies, the one you write, the one you direct and the one you edit. Just imagine those three valuable commentaries on a movie like this! It would be a movie geek’s wet dream. At least it would be mine.

The US Trailer:

And that fantastic score:

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