The Psychic
Italy | 1977
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring
Jennifer O'Neill
Gabrielle Ferzetti
Evelyn Stewart
Color | 97 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Severin Films
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7
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
A clairvoyant (Jennifer O'Neill) foresees her own demise and tries desperately to prevent it...
   
After a long tenure as a screenwriter and assistant director, principally for the popular Italian comedy specialist Stefano Vanzia (AKA "Steno"), Lucio Fulci started to direct films of his own, principally in popular genres like comedies and musicals. By the late 1960s, Fulci's interest in darker themes began to emerge in masterful pictures like Perversion Story (1969) and Beatrice Cenci (1968). The controversy entailed by films like Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) and The Eroticist (1972) landed Fulci in hot water — both pictures dared to incorporate none-too-subtle swipes at the Italian government, and the commentary wasn't well received in all quarters. The mid-'70s found the director struggling to keep his head above water, and when the opportunity arose to revisit the giallo with some sizable financing, he jumped at the chance. The resulting film, known as Seven Notes In Black in Italy and the less imaginative moniker of The Psychic in the U.S., was not a commercial success, though it was one of the director's personal favorites.
    The story mixes Poe motifs with elements familiar from the gialli of Dario Argento, but Fulci resists the urge to be merely imitative. While certain set-pieces definitely echo Argento's Deep Red (1975) — notably the scene of O'Neill hacking down a wall to find a woman's skeleton, itself an Argento nod to Poe — the film follows its theme of fate with skill and integrity. While the screenplay is overly mechanical, Fulci compensates for this through sheer technical elegance. The budget is healthier than the films that the director would subsequently helm, and it's all to be seen on the screen — the classy locations, elegant compositions and beautiful lighting keep things interesting throughout, even when the pacing flags during the middle act. The film manages a few genuine surprises, and while the ending as stipulated in the screenplay was fairly concrete, Fulci's staging results in a level of ambiguity that allows the viewer to make up their own minds as to what has happened.
    On the downside, Jennifer O'Neill (The Summer of '42) is somewhat stiff in the central role. One can easily imagine a more expressive actress like Florinda Bolkan (A Lizard in a Woman's Skin) making the most of the character's growing paranoia, but O'Neill often seems bored when she's not over emoting in other scenes. Though undeniably beautiful, the actress fails to really connect with the role, resulting in a vacuum in the film's center. Fortunately the supporting cast is more than adequate, with Gabriele Ferzetti (Once Upon a Time in the West), Marc Porel (Don't Torture a Duckling) and Gianni Garko (The Cold Eyes of Fear) all delivering top notch performances in their respective roles. Garko is given the most to do in terms of having a real character arc, but Porel makes for a charming and charismatic hero in his own right. The supporting cast also includes smaller roles for other familiar Euro-Cult favorites, including Evelyn Stewart (The Whip and the Body), Luigi Diberti (The Stendhal Syndrome), Fabrizio Jovine (City of the Living Dead) and Bruno Corazzari (Roy Colt & Winchester Jack).
    The technical credits are all first rate. Sergio Salvati's lighting is some of the finest he would ever provide for Fulci, with whom he would later work on his beloved horror films, including Zombie (1979) and The Beyond (1981). The art direction and costumes are also very classy, adding to the film's gloss. The music score by Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera includes a theme appropriated by Quentin Tarantino for the first volume of Kill Bill, and while the main titles song may raise a few eyebrows, it's actually a pretty enough theme on its own terms. The special effects work is more variable, with the opening reprise of a bone-crunching moment from Don't Torture a Duckling making one wish Gianetto De Rosi had been available to lend a hand to the production.
    Though weakened by the inadequate central performance and an unduly slow midsection, The Psychic stands as one of Fulci's most capably crafted and intriguing productions. The director's downbeat point of view imbues the production with an air of fatalism, and it compares well to the other gialli flooding the markets during this timeframe.

The new Severin disc presents the film fully uncut, retaining the original Italian titles sequence (complete with Sette Note In Nero title card) and including all the material lifted from the American release. The 1.85/16x9 transfer looks good — colors are accurately rendered, detail is sharp and the print damage is kept to a bare minimum. Alas, the transfer does not match up to the high standards set by their previous Fulci release, Perversion Story; it suffers from a distracting glitch which apparently stems from the PAL-to-NTSC conversion process. The image looks fine when the camera is stationary, but panning shots and the like have a jerky, blocky effect that can be truly maddening. This effect isn’t noticeable on older standard definition TV setups, but viewers with newer high def equipment will surely notice it.
   
After releasing their first batch of screeners, Severin was made aware of a serious authoring issue involving the audio. Sooner than let a defective product hit the streets, the company sensibly yanked the release and delayed it for several weeks so that the audio could be improved. The end result sounds very nice indeed — the terrific music score has the presence it deserves, and dialogue is clear throughout. The mono English soundtrack has no defects to complain of; good job, Severin!
   
An interesting — if visually undynamic — featurette comprised of telephone interviews with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (who again shows a propensity to take credit for the things people like in Fulci's films while washing his hands of the things people don't seem to like), costume designer Massimo Lentini and editor Bruno Micheli (both of whom recall the director far more fondly than Sacchetti) sheds some light on the genesis and making of the picture. In addition to the 27-minute featurette, a beat up American trailer is included. 11/13/07
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