12 November, 2007


Although dubbed into English, the main titles for THE PSYCHIC unfold in Italian on the new Severin DVD, which is definitely a big step up from the cut, fullscreen VHS presentation by which I was first introduced to this 1977 murder mystery.

Virginia (Jennifer O'Neill), a clairvoyant, appears to be happily married to wealthy Francesco (Gianni Garko) when their life is disrupted by a series of disturbing, fragmented visions she has of a woman being murdered and walled up in an unidentified house. She finds proof of the crime when she goes to decorate the interior of her husband's country villa and is compelled to suddenly smash open a wall, revealing a woman's skeleton. Francesco is summarily arrested for murder after he reveals he had an affair with the victim.

Is Francesco guilty? Is Virginia going insane? Are the recurring visions of a murder which happened in the past or of one which will happen in the future? And who will be the next victim?

Virginia investigates the Red Room, one of the striking visual links in a chain which leads her into a murderous plot, in Lucio Fulci's SETTE NOTE IN NERO [THE PSYCHIC].

Make no mistake about it: SETTE NOTE IN NERO is a good, well built giallo, very much in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA, SUSPICION and SPELLBOUND, with elements of Poe's THE BLACK CAT (which Fulci would film in 1981) thrown into the mix. It obviously has a lot of plot and character elements which can be found in his earlier gialli (cf PERVERSION STORY-1969; A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN-1971): false assumptions, transference of guilt, erroneous points of view, characters who are not what they seem to be. Unlike those films, which were drenched in late 1960's-early 1970's psychedelia and featuring copious servings of nudity, THE PSYCHIC (the US theatrical release retitling) plays out in a more realistic mode, is remarkably chaste (for a Fulci film) and doesn't have his signature helpings of gore featured in his more violent gialli such as DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972), THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982), and his early 1980's unrated horror titles (THE BEYOND, THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). What it does have is an intelligent use of color, camera angles and music. For instance, the color red, the use of overhead shots and the titular seven notes chiming on a watch, all become repeated motifs which are used to create suspense, indirection and finally unravel the mystery. The story structure, editing, direction, camerawork, acting and music all work in perfect unison during the first introduction of the psychic visions which occur as Virginia drives through a series of tunnels. We experience the disorienting, frightening images in synchronization with her and are left to work them out, as she does, for the remainder of the film.

The clever elaboration of the plot (while not exactly airtight or particularly plausible), low key direction and solid acting are what make the film work. Ms. O'Neill's vocal performance (which is preserved in the English language dubbing) may be stronger than her physical one, but she's good at projecting the character's arc of rising anxiety and she's surrounded by a first rate supporting cast including Gianni Garko (Sartana himself), Gabriele Ferzetti (L'AVVENTURA, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), Marc Porel (VENUS D'ILLE), and Evelyn Stewart (MURDER MANSION) are all well cast and it's fortunate that the English dubbing/voice casting is quite adept.

The camerawork of longtime Fulci DP Sergio Salvati is top notch and the pop/disco stylings, fateful chiming and more ominous patches of the Bixio-Fabio Frizzi-Vince Tempera score will please fans of the sounds of the 1970's while providing an appropriate musical commentary. The film's quietly anxious tone is quite effectively maintained and really pays off. As long as one is not expecting an outrageous gorefest this film really does its job well. Repeated viewings reveal a continuation of Fulci's sharp criticisms of prejudice, social class structure and blinkered law enforcement.

Severin's DVD presentation shines a much better light on this underrated film than previous home video incarnations. The 1.85:1/16:9 transfer is sharp and colorful, although the night scenes, especially in interiors, sometimes betray a slight murkiness that may have something to do with the way the film was shot.

A more serious issue is the English Mono soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital. Its rather low audio levels and inability at times to layer/separate dialogue and music tracks sometimes make the heavily accented lines of certain characters difficult to make out (I had to replay Gabriele Ferzetti's crucial hospital revelation scene twice in a row to get it) unless the sound level is adjusted a considerable distance upwards, where is begins to manifest a slight buzzing. Maybe it's my system and the fact that I was listening with headphones, but it may indicate a remastering problem.

Extras include the vintage US theatrical trailer ("Jennifer O'Neill is THE PSYCHIC!"), complete with grindhouse scratches and speckling, along with a 27 minute featurette, VOICES FROM THE BLACK, featuring audio interviews with screenwriter Dardano Sachetti, costume designer Massmio Lentini and editor Bruno Micheli, who discuss their memories of working with Fulci, illustrated by clips from the film. All seem to agree that Fulci was a difficult to please taskmaster.

NOTE: It's a good thing I initially neglected to mention that today [Nov 13] was the original street date. The breaking news is that Severin has announced that they are pushing back release of this DVD until December 4, 2007. Hopefully, this will give them time to work on the audio problem. It should be worth the wait.


(c) Robert Monell, 2007


The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

Finally! Can't believe it took nearly 30 years to see this on home video in an acceptable presentation. I've also heard complaints about the progressive flagging on the disc. You didn't mention any jerky motion, so I can still hold on to hope...for Salvati's sake -- it really is one of his finest hours.

Wonderful blog. Glad you're here.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for your feedback and welcome to the blog: no jerky motion blurring that I could see.
I don't know about the progressive flagging issue. It played just fine on my players. It's generally a good, sharp, colorful transfer, given the film's age and available element. It's good to see it complete and in OAR, also. It's an impressive film in terms of craft and sustains suspense. It's a very good movie-movie. And the sound is a bit of an issue, but listening to it with headphones and turned up it's watchable. I'm not sure where the soundtrack comes from but it could have had more of a full bodied texture.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Haven't seen this one yet. I did watch The Eroticist and it was magnificent! Great stuff.

Robert Monell said...

I agree about the eroticist, Doug. Isn't that fantasy sequence great, very much in the style of Fellini at his best. The visual style of this film is totally unlike any of Fulci's other work and it's a glossy HD transfer. We really need a political satire like this about today's US politicians, but it probably couldn't be made. Fulci proves as adept as broad comedy as he as at thrillers/horror films. The comedy is sometimes very subtle and always visually sophisticated. Great stuff! I hope people pick it up. I'll be reviewing it soon, having had lot's of Severin stuff arrive at once...
I'll be interested in your feedback on THE PSYCHIC. There may be some breaking news about its release.

cinebeats said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this and I enjoyed your review. I only have a bad VHS bootleg of the film and the picture quality is rather awful, but I think it's one of Fulci's best. I already plan for it to be my "DVD Pick of the Week" but nobody locally seems to have it for sale which seems odd. I may have to just review my video tape instead.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for your feedback, Cinebeats. You may want to wait a few weeks. There's some breaking news: just before you posted Severin added a note to their site that THE PSYCHIC DVD will now be delayed until Dec 4. They are reportedly attempting to work on the audio problem I mentioned in the review. Today was supposed to be the street day. But I'm glad they are attempting to fix an unfortunate glitch. It will be worth the wait. I agree, it is one of Fulci's best thrillers and one that doesn't depend on gore or nudity to be effective.

Cinebeats said...

Thanks for the tip Robert! This may explain why I can't find the DVD for sale anywhere locally yet.

Robert Monell said...

The music is just a lot of fun for me and the dialogue is crucial in a film which depends on it. That's why I have to commend Severin for taking swift action to rectify the audio issue.