Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Murder To The Tune Of Seven Black Notes

Last night I caught up with Severin’s new DVD of Lucio Fulci’s 1977 feature THE PSYCHIC, or as I prefer it MURDER TO THE TUNE OF SEVEN BLACK NOTES. I had seen this film a couple of times courtesy of the old full frame VHS tape that was fairly common back in the eighties but Severin’s widescreen presentation made me feel like I was seeing it for the first time again.
THE PSYCHIC is one of Fulci’s most shocking films. Shocking in just how overwhelmingly subtle and subdued it is. Outside of a badly shot opening sequence that recalls an effect better used in his DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, THE PSYCHIC hardly contains any of the shock elements that Fulci would become so known for in the years just after its release. Instead THE PSYCHIC stands as stirring reminder that there was a lot more to Lucio Fulci than zombies, eye gouging and heavy gore, and it is also happens to be one of his best films.
Jennifer O’Neill (in a very good performance) stars as Virginia Ducci, a woman who discovers she has clairvoyant powers when she sees what she thinks is a murder from the past when she moves into her husband’s family home. She discovers part of her vision was correct after she finds a body buried within the walls of the house but she misreads another part of it which leads to the film’s most satisfying twist just over halfway through. While the plot turn in THE PSYCHIC is fairly easy to guesss, it is still very effective and Fulci handles it incredibly well and he builds the film slowly and methodically to one of the most striking final sequences of his career.

Fulci’s direction of THE PSYCHIC is well rendered and handled throughout the entire film. He slips occasionally with an overuse of the zoom and the film is perhaps a bit too low key for its own good at times, but it remains one of the most consistent films (tone wise) he ever shot. It is also a gorgeous looking film with the soft focus photography of Sergio Salvati being an absolute joy to watch.
Salvati is a legend to Italian horror fans, as he is the man responsible for the photography in nearly all of Fulci’s most famous works. The two started collaborating on 1975’s great FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE and would work together continually until 1981’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY. The great director and cinematographer were to be reunited on 1997’s WAX MASK but Fulci’s untimely death made that an impossibility. The two remain one of the great teams in Italian horror and THE PSYCHIC is one of the high marks of their time together.
Another of Fulci’s regular collaborators, composer Fabio Frizzi, also does some of his best work here as the music from THE PSYCHIC is chilling and unforgettable. Frizzi composed and performed the score with Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera and it is a key work in his canon. Fans of Tarantino’s KILL BILL will of course instantly recognize one of THE PSYCHICS key themes as it was reused so strikingly well in one of that films key sequences. While it isn’t as overwhelming and strong as his work on later productions for Fulci like THE BEYOND, Frizzi’s soundtrack to THE PSYCHIC belongs in every Italian horror fans home. It is a really wonderful record.
The production and art design of the film by Luciano Spadoni is also quite extraordinary. The house where most of the action takes place is designed beautifully and is filled with the kind of tiny subtle touches that Spadoni would successfully bring to other prestigious productions like Freda’s DOUBLE FACE (1969) and Argento’s PHENOMENA (1985).

The cast is also uniformly good in this film. O’Neill, who had just come off Visconti’s THE INNOCENT (1976) plays fear and confusion exceedingly well and she turns what could have been a one note performance into something very memorable. Genre favorite Evelyn Stewart pops up in a key supporting role and Marc Porel gives a particularly strong performance also. Overall the cast doesn’t have the same iconic feel that Fulci would later capture with actors like Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck and Cinzia Monreale, but the cast he had here all deliver competent and at time very strong performances.
The script, credited to Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Dardano Sacchetti, is one of the strongest the director ever got to work with. Fans who are used to overlooking the many plot holes and lapses in logic that plague many of Fulci’s productions might be surprised by just how well written and structured THE PSYCHIC is.

I suspect that Fulci hoped THE PSYCHIC might be a breakthrough in the international market for him. At times it almost feels more like a British production rather than an Italian film from the period. The controlled tone of the film would be a sharp change for the director and had it been a success one wonders where Fulci’s career might have gone. The film wasn’t the success the director hoped for though and his breakthrough film two years later, the magnificent and overwhelmingly violent ZOMBIE, would be the bi-polar opposite to THE PSYCHIC. Actually it struck me last night that THE PSYCHIC’S failure might have, in a very profound way, marked the ferocious energy that Fulci injected in the films he made in the five years following it.
THE PSYCHIC would do decent business in Italy in the summer of 77. It wouldn’t get a release Stateside and in Britain until 1979 though after ZOMBIE was released and forever categorized the versatile Fulci has just a gore director. In the mid nineties Quentin Tarantino announced he would be re-releasing the film in theaters and on disc like he had Jack Hill’s SWITCHBLADE SISTERS and Arthur Mark’s DETROIT 9000 but unfortunately this never happened. Severin’s welcome DVD of it will surprise a lot of people who only think of Fulci as just an over the top gore director, and I hope it leads to the release of films from the early part of his career like BEATRICE CENCI (1969).
Severin’s DVD is a fairly good presentation of the film. I have a feeling this was probably a tricky film to bring to disc as its memorably soft focus photography could be easily spoiled in the wrong hands. Despite some light picture fluctuation and grain I was fairly happy with the quality of the release. Early copies of the DVD reportedly had some severe low level sound issues but luckily my copy was a corrected one and the new mix is quite splendid and full.
Extras include a short trailer advertising its 1979 American release and a fascinating 25 minute plus collection of audio interviews with some of the films key behind the scenes figures. One wishes that Severin would have made this feature a full audio commentary but what it is here is very solid and it gives a good overview of the films history and what it was like to work with Lucio Fulci.

A final postscript rests with mega Italian Horror buff Bridget Fonda who absolutely adores this film. I am a purist at heart but I must admit my love for Fonda would cause me to welcome the remake she proposed several times throughout the nineties. She would be really splendid in the role and I hope if the film ever does get remade that the now retired Fonda returns for it.
THE PSYCHIC is a really strong film and the Severin’s DVD of it is one of the best releases of the past year. Check it out if you haven’t gotten a copy yet.


Steve Langton said...

Great review of one of my fave Fulci movies. Must get round to ordering this so I can at last retire my NTSC VHS.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Steve,
Severin did a good job...I am glad to finally have a good widescreen copy of it.

Cinebeats said...

I watched this recently as well and I was a little underwhelmed. I remembered liking it more when I first saw it years ago on video, but I do still think it's a good movie and well worth a look. I can enjoy anything Fulci does really. I think in the wake of the magnificent Perversion Story any Fulci film might seem a little reserved in comparison and I kept thinking of Argento's Deep Red while watching The Psychic since it so obviously influenced the film. The Severin DVD is terrific though and I'm glad I got a copy. I also think Jennifer O'Neil is great in the film but I wish they would have given her a better wardrobe. And yes, that's probably very simplistic thinking on my part so please forgive me!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
I know a big part of the reason why I responded so favorably to it was finally seeing it Widescreen. I am curious what reviewings now will do for my estimation of it. Good call on the DEEP RED connections...the scene especially where she is breaking through the wall reminded me of it.
I agree on O'Neill's wardrobe as well...thanks for the comment!

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I saw this years ago on an already ragged videocassette. I love Fulci movies. This is one of my favorite of his films that I've seen. I'll definitely have to pick it up.

CG said...

"Actually it struck me last night that THE PSYCHIC’S failure might have, in a very profound way, marked the ferocious energy that Fulci injected in the films he made in the five years following it."

I think you may be onto something there. If so, lets all take a moment and thank the heavens for this film.

Besides on a shoddy VHS tape with missing scenes, I've yet to see this film. Sounds like this DVD version is definitely worth seeking out though.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks will love the new disc...

Thanks also CG...I totally agree as the films he made after this are some of my all time favorites!