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PSYCHIC (aka: SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK; Sette note in nero) (1977)
Published by Film Fanaddict on 2008/1/23 (3296 reads)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Review by Aaron W. Graham
Released by Severin
Running Time: 97 minutes
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: Dolby Digital 2.0 / Mono
Region Code: 1
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen (1.78:1)
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: “Voices from the Black” featurette; Theatrical Trailer
Trailer Online: No
Filmmaker Lucio Fulci has legions of fans, but his several pockets of enthusiasts the world over find themselves quite decisive and mixed when it comes to selecting a favorite film or fondness for an extended creative period of his decades-long career. While workmanlike entries in frivolous comedies and spaghetti westerns are seldom at the forefront of conversations (mostly due to scarcity), the earlier, twisted ones (such as 1969’s PERVERSION STORY) and the stylized, cerebral gialli (of which THE PSYCHIC is a perfect example) and, most famously, the gore-saturated splatterfests (ZOMBI II and THE BEYOND) are well cherished and still bandied about today. Fulci’s films, even if pared down to just his forays inside the horror genre, remain a tough case to figure out; throughout his extensive filmography, he could do it all, from suggestive shocks to pulse-pounding, flesh-tearing elaborate (if cheap) special effects. While no one is claiming that his directorial style was profound, he nonetheless has created enough indelible demented imagery on the big screen to remain immortal in horror film enthusiast circles (just ask any gore fan with a “Fulci Lives” t-shirt).
In what constitutes as the only typical Fulci flourish in THE PSYCHIC, the film opens with a prologue set in 1959 as a suicide leaps off the cliffs of Dover, England. Her head skittishly hits the rocks all the way down, as the suicide case’s child Virginia (Fausta Avelli as a little girl, SUMMER OF ‘42’s Jennifer O’Neill as an adult) gazes off into a hallucinatory abyss and witnesses it from Italy. The effect of this obvious dressed-up mannequin scraping its head on the rocky cliffs is about as bloody as THE PSYCHIC is willing to get. Fulci is in a much more subdued mode, content to let the events ethereally play out without the reliance on his famed outré terror set pieces.
The story begins proper with Virginia as an adult. While driving to the dilapidated former residence of her husband Francesco (Gianni Garko, of Fernando Di Leo’s IL BOSS), she enters a dark tunnel and begins to hear the (once) titular “Seven Notes in Black” composition by Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera (made for the film and later used for The Bride’s escape from the hospital in Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL, VOL. 1). Sudden flashes of a series of isolated items follow: a knocked-over bust, a yellowed-paper cigarette resting inside an ashtray, a broken mirror, a fashion magazine strewn about, a nonspecific flare-up of the color red, and, most ghastly, the bloodied-up corpse of an older woman and the limping limbs of a murderer.
Virginia soon finds out what these have to do with the ensuing plot when she gets to the place she’s going to: this is the home of her just-ended waking nightmare. Her visions lead to the moving of a piece of furniture and the discovery of some shriveled-up bones. She contacts a parapsychologist friend, Luca (Marc Porel, of DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING), and they hash-out her present mental state and the ramifications of these delusions. Eventually, there’s a protracted escape from the thought-to-be final suspect, equestrian Emilio Rospini (Gabriele Ferzetti, of THE NIGHT PORTER), and some double-dealings with Gloria (Evelyn Stewart, of THE WHIP AND THE BODY), the rather snobbish sister of Virginia’s husband. Predictably, the film closes with the identity of the real murderer – a plot point that’s almost inconsequential as it’s easy to guess from the start; as in most giallo, it’s the amusement to be had on the road to the discovery with the period fashions, confectionary colors and clever direction in shock sequences rather than the ultimate reveal itself.
Jennifer O’Neill being one of the most prestigious actresses Fulci ever worked with, their collaboration seems to have made the director bring his A-game. There’s a timeless elegance and extravagance in THE PSYCHIC that’s different than anything else in Fulci’s career. Working mostly with restraining soft browns and beiges in every interior but the murder room, cinematographer Sergio Salvati (who would go on to lens Fulci’s ZOMBI 2, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, and THE BEYOND, among others) deftly executes an autumnally vibe over the proceedings. O’Neill’s fashions (courtesy of Massimo Lentini) are, generally, on the more pallid side of the spectrum and couldn’t be less eye-catching.
Fulci excels in the exhilarating chase sequence between suspect Emilio Rospini and Virginia. Hiding near the top of a building far from the wrathful eyes of Rospini, Virginia’s wristwatch – playing the “Seven Notes in Black” – emanates from above. Rospini spots her just as the orchestration version of “Seven Notes” begins, continuing until it reaches a crescendo as Rospini climbs aboard the loose scaffolding that separates him from Virginia. Never mind that the logic of this accruement of suspense doesn’t make a lick of sense once the real murderer is revealed, it’s still a testament to Fulci’s considerable talent that he accomplishes it all without a hitch. Unfortunately, Fulci’s method for showing the pre-visualization inculcated in Virginia is clichéd: he simply zooms in to relate to the audience that what we’re about to see is solely subjective, zooming back out when we return to the objective.
After being notified of an inconsistent sound mix, Severin – being a company that prides themselves in keeping abreast of such issues – postponed their anamorphically enhanced release of this uncut version of a Fulci film that had been, up until this time, only available in a cut-to-shreds, out-of-print VHS. By correcting the problem immediately, Severin has ensured that prospective customers shouldn’t worry that they’re picking up a flawed product. This now-fixed disc is presented sans subtitles in English with a stable mix.
Extras include a 27 minute audio-only roundtable comprised of interviews with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, costume designer Massimo Lentini, and editor Bruno Micheli. Not surprisingly, Sacchetti, who was feuding with Fulci at the time of his death based on some hard feelings regarding another project, is the one that most contests Fulci’s contribution, unequivocally stating that Fulci didn’t write one word in the screenplay (it’s credited to Fulci, Sacchetti, and Roberto Gianviti). The barely-over-a-minute American theatrical trailer, featuring the skull with the pouty lips artwork seen on the cover of the old VHS and this new DVD version, is also included.
Perhaps Virginia’s most significant flash, or at least the one with the biggest pay-off in the end (and the one I’ve purposely been leaving out until now) is the intimidating few seconds of darkness that presage the flowing of images. Fulci seemingly suggests that this may or may not connote the inevitable demise of our female protagonist, especially as she willfully allows the forces of fate to control what happens next as she recreates the settings to match those of her illusions. The ambiguous ending is a keeper, and the final composition equals if not surpasses the otherworldly close of THE BEYOND from a few years later.
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