Perversion Story
Italy - Spain - France | 1969
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring
Marisa Mell
Jean Sorel
Elsa Martinelli
Color | 97 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC | 2-disc set)
Severin Films
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8
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
George Dumurrier (Jean Sorel) is a supposedly wealthy doctor with his own medical clinic in San Francisco. His brother Henry (Alberto de Mendoza) helps run the private clinic but the siblings often clash over George's sometimes crass publicity attempts to get the facility better recognition. At home things are not great either, as George's rich wife Susan (Marisa Mell) is a virtual shut-in suffering from asthma and requiring almost constant care. The couple's relationship is in bad shape and he has been denied access to the areas of the house Susan occupies. On top of this is the poor man's newly strained relationship with his long time mistress Jane (Elsa Martinelli), who is close to deciding to leave him and the city. He loves Jane but knows that without his wife's money his debts would destroy him. Has this guy got problems or what?
   
Only by making a grand romantic gesture does George manage to change Jane's mind and convince her to stay in Frisco. He makes vague promises of divorce and hints that his rich wife can't life forever in her condition. No sooner does this conversation take place than he receives word that Susan has died! Completely shocked by her death he is even more surprised when he learns that she'd taken out a life insurance policy naming him as the sole beneficiary. While this unexpected windfall will allow him to clear the clinic's debts and put him comfortably in the black, he can't understand why she would've done this. The marriage had been on shaky ground for years and Susan had made her displeasure with his financial dealings known. The police show some interest at first but nothing suspicious is in evidence, so they leave things alone.
    Then a few weeks later George receives an anonymous call telling him to go to a particular nightclub. He does, accompanied by the suspicious Jane, and witnesses the striptease act of Monica Weston (also Marisa Mell). Stunned by the uncanny resemblance to his dead wife, he can only see two minor differences hair and eye color. Monica is a blonde, green-eyed beauty while Susan was dark haired with brown eyes. After her stage act the sexy woman makes it plain that she's available for sex with George and Jane or the both of them if the price is right; he begs off but is far too intrigued to let it go. He contacts Monica on his own and meets her at her apartment. After a scare when he notices a drug Miss Weston uses that Susan needed as well, George becomes convinced it's just a bizarre coincidence...
    This is a crackerjack of a film! Lifting both the setting and the central conceit of a dead beautiful woman's doppelganger from Hitchcock's Vertigo, Lucio Fulci (Zombie) doesn't simply make a copy of that portrait of obsession. He comes at the story sideways, like some kind of sex-crazed loon hell-bent on one-upping Hitch while playing, tricking and mesmerizing his audience. Unlike Vertigo's nice guy protagonist we're presented with a main character we can't sympathize with very much. He's a bit of a con artist, willing to lie to advance his business prospects. He's clearly no longer in love with his wife if he ever was and as we see her gasping for air during an asthma attack the look of hurt accusation in her eyes invites our hostility toward him. But then during a stylishly filmed lovemaking scene, as he gently holds his mistress, we see someone we could possibly like. And after his mad race to Jane's train destination we see him as a flawed man certainly, but not the monster he might have been. And, of course, the fact remains that we know he didn't kill his wife. So when the finger of guilt points to George we're with him because we understand his confusion. And what a lot of confusion he has to contend with!
    Of course, one of the things confusing poor George so is also one of the big reasons cult film fans have been drawn to this movie for decades the beautiful Marisa Mell. Playing both Susan and Monica, she is very good here, showing more range than she was usually allowed. When first we see her as the pale, dark haired woman at death's door it's a bit of a shock to viewers familiar with her from Danger: Diabolik. In that Bava comic book she's the epitome of sexiness; as the sickly wife she is a haggard mess. But don't despair if you picked this film out to ogle bare flesh, because as Monica we're given the chance to stare at her gorgeous body in scene after scene, in many fetching poses. The sequence in which Jane photographs the stripper in her private studio has enough imagery to jumpstart puberty in an 8 year old! I think that even if the film's story stank it'd be worth seeing for a lot of people simply because of Marisa Mell's many nude scenes. She was certainly one of the most beautiful women to grace European films in the '60s and '70s, and if there's a film that shows more of her physical charms I'm unaware. And if there is one, please contact me immediately!

Now for the good news/bad news. The cut of Perversion Story (AKA One On Top Of The Other) presented here by Severin Films is the slightly sexier version of the film prepared for France. It contains a few more snippets of sex and nudity, for which I am most grateful... But sadly this version leaves out a few minutes of often very important dialog and several scenes that give the characters more depth. When I heard about this I pulled out my old bootleg and found that these missing bits are defiantly not present; I have to admit that their absence hurts the movie. Indeed, some of the nearly 10 minutes of missing footage almost cripples the final third of the story as we are not given some leading information that smartly keeps the mystery alive. Some of the missing stuff sets up the very important final act of violence that puts things to right. Surely this was not something that should've been removed. Even though I've learned that Severin used the best film elements available for this DVD, I'm quite disappointed that there was no attempt to include the missing footage in some way. If they were wary of compositing in less sharp sequences from worse prints, a deleted scenes extra with an explanation would have been a good middle path. But by not even mentioning the other version of the film they have opened themselves up to charges that have plagued other companies specializing in cult films. Should we expect a future release of this movie using all existing footage, as we recently had with Fulci's Lizard in a Woman's Skin? Very frustrating.
   
Still, if you look at this DVD as a release of a legitimate variant version of the film (which it is, after all), there is plenty to recommend it. Perversion Story is fantastic, even in this less than optimal cut, providing a damned good story and eye popping visuals with director Fulci pushing the style button hard. Just witness the checkerboard-like screen shots of the police lab at work, composed of more than ten separate images. Each beaker or test tube is filled with a different colored liquid and this high definition transfer makes the picture pop off the screen. The film truly looks wonderful here, showing off the location work in San Francisco well and making the sometimes trippy visual set-pieces worthy of the rewind button and not just for the shots of bare female flesh. The image presented here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen is nearly prefect. If the picture quality shown here is the way Severin plans to present their films on DVD I can't imagine complaints will be taken seriously. Both the Italian and English dubs are present with optional English subtitles for the latter. Even thought the film was shot primarily in English the Italian version might be considered superior because of some slightly better choices in the dialog. As said before there are no extras giving a look at the film or its cast and crew but at least the theatrical trailer is provided. The real added incentive for potential buyers of this DVD is the inclusion of a separate audio CD of Riz Ortolani's jazz-influenced score. I'm always happy to see more releases of obscure scores from this period and even if this isn't one of the composer's best works, it's still a very nice bonus. 4/01/07
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