Monday, January 16, 2023

Can't Say She Didn't See It Coming

Is there still any question that the best of the Italian horror filmmakers is Lucio Fulci? I know there are plenty of cinema fans who will die for Dario Argento or try to slap my face with a Sergio Martino for making such a statement, but come on! Whether he's making gooey gore, tasty trash, or actual objectively good thrillers, Fulci is, at least to me, never not interesting.

Quick Plot: As a child, young Virginia was walking through Florence with her classmates as she watched her mother fall to her death over a watery cliff. That's rough enough stuff for a kid, but all the more disturbing when we realize her mother was tumbling into bloody mannequin form at that exact time...but in England. 

Some years later, Virginia has grown into a chic decorator living in Italy. She's newly married to an older businessman named Francesco. While they're clearly in love, Virginia is also withholding, sharing some of her new psychic visions with her pal Luca instead.

Trouble strikes when Virginia visits her husband's country estate with the intention of going full HGTV but instead, discovers a young woman's rotting body hidden in the walls (and yes, I have long craved for that content on HGTV). When the victim is revealed to be an ex-girlfriend, Francesco is quickly arrested as the prime suspect. Virginia is determined to clear his name and solve the mystery of her premonitions.

Giallo is far from my favorite horror subgenre...unless it's directed by Lucio Fulci. In the case of Don't Torture a Duckling, Fulci uses the central crime to explore something very specific (Catholic guilt). With The Psychic, Fulci has two aces up his sleeve: a well-written time-looping narrative (with the assistance of co-screenwriters Roberto Gianviti and Dardano Sacchetti) and the gobsmacking glamour of Jennifer O'Neill. 

My notes say "Julie Christie chic", which should tell you what you need to know. This is the kind of woman who hammers her way through a dusty corpse-filled hole and has me the viewer wondering where she got her boots. There's a reason O'Neill had so much success as a model: the camera loves her and she knows exactly how to love it back. As Virginia, O'Neill is believable as a smart, determined woman gifted or cursed with clairvoyance, and it makes a big difference in fully investing the audience in her journey.

It helps that she's working with more solid material than is often found in this particular corner of the genre. Giallo is a tricky beast because it often sacrifices substance for style, or ultimately relies on a shocking twist that just leaves me feeling annoyed. In the case of The Psychic, the looping stuck in time structure takes it to a different level. It's almost more classic gothic, and I found it riveting. 

High Points
There are a lot of intelligent filmmaking choices at work in making The Psychic so effective, and one of the most important is the haunting score by Fabio Frizzi. It's both of its time and timeless in the best possible way.

Low Points
In all honesty, I did not fully understand EVERY detail of what actually went down in The Psychic, but I feel like that's more my fault than Fulci's. I'm not always that smart.

Lessons Learned
Visions are not legal alibis

Nothing says "trustworthy" like boasting 56 lovers and not having murdered a single one

Hell hath no fury like the hourly chime of an annoying watch

I had heard positive sentiments about The Psychic, but I was genuinely surprised by just how good it was, and how fresh the storytelling felt. Give it a go! I watched via Kanopy, though I believe it's also floating around a few other streaming locations. 

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