I’ve been a fan of director Lucio Fulci ever since watching Zombie (1979), which, though certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, is one of the more unique and well-liked entries into the zombie sub-genre, and was one of the first I saw when exploring the work of 1970’s Italian horror directors. While Fulci has a tendency to get off track with his films, there’s a certain appeal to 70’s Italian gialli* that I can’t quite put my finger on, and Fulci made a slew of films in the 70’s and 80’s that are almost all at least entertaining, and sometimes more than that.
The Psychic (also known by, what is in my opinion a far cooler name, Seven Notes in Black), was a film that I couldn’t get out of my head after watching it. Usually when this happens it means that either I loathe it so much that I can’t stop hating it, or it’s a well-done piece of moviemaking that left an impression. Since I didn’t come here to tell you what an awful piece of garbage The Psychic is, you can assume the latter.
The film starts off with a woman (who is obviously a dummy) falling down a seaside cliff, bashing her head open on the rocks. This is actually one of the only “gore” scenes in the movie, which is surprisingly light on the violence for a Fulci film. It is revealed that this is all just the vision of a young girl, named Virginia. It’s her mother that she sees fall off the cliff, and shortly after her vision, it comes to pass. Fast forward several years, and we see an adult Virginia (Jennifer O’Neill) driving down the road, during which she looks distraught. She eventually arrives at a large house (almost a mansion) that we learn is owned by her husband Francesco Ducci (Gianni Garko), and she’s here to try and fix up the place. In the house, she has a vision that consists of a series of images, and while she can’t make sense of most of it, the one about a girl’s skeleton hidden behind the wall in a certain room of the house proves true when she smashes it open with a hammer and reveals finger bones poking between the wooden slats behind the bricks. A police investigation is opened up, and her husband is detained as the most likely suspect, despite his insistence that, given the estimated time of death for the corpse, he wasn’t in the country. Virginia sets out to prove his innocence, and aided by her psychiatrist, uses her vision to guide her in her attempts to make a case for her husband’s innocence.
At first she seems to be making progress, finding various clues and putting together who the girl was, who she was interacting with, and when she arrived at the house. But as she tries to piece together who exactly the killer is, it becomes apparent that her vision doesn’t quite mean what she initially thought it did. As she realizes her mistake, the mysterious killer begins to make his presence known, and several people meet a grisly end as the killer closes in on her. I’m not going to go any further with the plot, just to keep the ending a surprise for anyone who hasn’t seen it. The build-up of tension (which is something that is often missing from many current films) is great, and I started out watching The Psychic with only mild interest, but by the end I was genuinely curious as to the outcome. At one point in the film, Virginia receives a watch that plays a seven-note tune; this is a key plot element, and shortly after acquiring the watch we hear the tune repeated as a piece of background music, to great effect (In fact, this very same tune is used by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill part 1, for the track “Ode to Oren Ishii”).
The acting is adequate throughout the film, though sometimes comes off a little hammy (probably in part to the overdubbing that happens fairly frequently in Italian horror movies), and the cinematography is impressive at certain points in the film. The aforementioned seven-note tune and the atmospheric music that backs the later half of the film does an excellent job of building atmosphere, however there are a few tracks at the beginning that feel kind of out of place, but that’s quickly forgotten as the film progresses. The special effects are kind of hokey, but they take a backseat to the story of the film, so this is a non-issue, and personally I feel that they kind of add to the charm of this type of film. Overall, I’d recommend this to any fan of thriller / murder-mystery films, and if you’re into 70’s Italian horror then this is a must-watch, in my humble opinion.
*Gialli (or singular giallo) are a style of Italian film that became popular in the late 60’s and remained so through the early 80’s, and is still sometimes made today. It’s typically a murder-mystery punctuated by an unseen killer disposing of people in spectacular fashion, and usually builds up to a big reveal when the protagonist discovers who the killer is at the end. Oftentimes there are supernatural elements to the story, but this isn’t always true. Some directors known for this style of film are Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Umberto Lenzi, and of course Lucio Fulci.