Lucio Fulci, 1977
Starring: Jennifer O’Neill, Gabriele Ferzetti, Marc Porel, Gianni Garko, Ida Galli
The newly married Virginia Ducci (played by the beautiful Jennifer O’Neill) has had reoccurring psychic episodes throughout her life. After dropping her husband off at his airplane one afternoon, she is struck with a series of visions that leave her terrified, because they are all clues to a murder that she believes has been committed. She shares this with her psychologist/ paranormal investigator friend (Marc Porel, recognizable as the priest in Don’t Torture a Duckling), who tells her she is being silly. But when she follows her instincts and discovers a woman’s body walled up in her husband's old villa – which she has been renovating – her friend agrees to help her investigate. It is quickly apparent that something is not right. The clues in her vision indicated a different dead woman and some of the other items in her vision are beginning to show up in her daily life. Is she in danger herself? And what did she really see?
Also known as Seven Notes in Black, this film is one of Fulci’s more underrated and understated efforts. It has barely any gore or nudity and it is more of supernaturally-charged thriller than an outright giallo film, but thanks to Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, it’s packed with twists and turns and is dripping with sexual menace.
Like some of the better giallo films, many important clues that still manage to give nothing away are presented early on, a la Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Deep Red, and lead in a suspenseful if indirect line to murder. Both the audience and the protagonists fail to put these clues together until it is too late.
If you’re a mystery fan, as I am, this is a wonderfully entertaining little film that’s both intimate and restrained. It comes recommended for the sheer fact that it’s one of Fulci’s best written films and manages to capture Freud’s sense of the unheimlich (often translated to uncanny), so rarely seen in Italian ‘70s horror. This concept suggests a blending of the familiar and the alien often found in British ghost stories where the familiar (the household, the countryside) is a place of fear and terror, but also a place where one is inexplicably drawn. This sensation is often associated with the visual and Virgina’s visions are a perfect example: dreams cut into reality and past, present, and future fuse together. Her new home is a place of old – and possibly new – death, the literal skeleton in the closet.
The Psychic also exhibits a fair amount of Poe’s influence, as well as the female-focused noir and suspense films of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Like The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Rebecca, Gaslight, Suspicion, Sorry Wrong Number, and many more, The Psychic concerns a woman who is ultimately possessed by a deep-seated sexual anxiety, one where the home is a place of fear and repression and the husband is an alluring, but dangerous figure of mystery and menace. Virginia’s visions of death are also related to other women. She sees her mother’s suicide (a dive off a seaside cliff), the bloody face of an old woman, a magazine with a brunette on the cover, and, of course, the female skeleton boarded up behind the wall.
The film’s primary flaw is that the characters are unfortunately flat. Jennifer O’Neill, though lovely and incredibly stylish here, is not an actress possessing a great amount of range. Virginia is almost entirely devoid of personality and it would have been nice to see an actress with some gravitas in the role. This may be a fault of the writing, as all the other characters also feel like cardboard cut outs. In some sense, this works in the film’s favor, granting a character like Virginia’s husband a sizable amount of mystery.
Despite this somewhat minor issue, The Psychic comes recommended and will surprise anyone used to Fulci’s other, incredibly gory horror films. Not only does this not feel like a Fulci film, but it seems more British than it does Italian – an interesting experiment at the least and one that should please fans of quieter, more subdued horror. There is an uncut version available from Severin films, which I am reviewing (beware: the US version is closer to 90 minutes, while the European version is 97 minutes). The print is serviceable, but nothing special. Maybe someday this will be including in my dream Fulci box set with additional language tracks and special features. It’s a shame Fulci didn’t make any more like this, though I suspect that some of the ill-advised efforts from his later career were attempts to return to this creepy, cerebral realm (House of Clocks and Door to Silence… yikes).