In honor of my best friend, my husband, who was born in September 1977, I’m going to focus this month‘s theme mostly on films from that year. That means Mondays will definitely feature the films of 1977, but I’m gonna get them in on Tuesdays and Thursdays as much as I can as well.
Our film begins with shots of a young woman (Elizabeth Turner) speeding along a high coast road in England, intercut with her little daughter (Fausta Avelli) viewing the entire scene remotely in Florence. The woman parks the car, gets out, and jumps off a cliff to her death as her distraught daughter screams “Mommy!”
We fast forward 18 years and the little girl, Virginia, is now a gorgeous woman (Jennifer O’Neill) who is driving her husband Francesco (Gianni Garko) to a private airfield. As she returns home, she is struck by another horrible psychic vision: she sees a dead woman (Veronica Michielini), the feet of a limping man, a magazine cover, a broken mirror, and a room with a woman closed up in the wall. The vision forces her off the road where she is found confused behind the wheel by police.
However, she quickly recovers and we cut to a calmer Virginia later that day, touring a disused house her husband owns (they have not been married long) and making plans to renovate it. To her horror, she finds the room from her vision, wields a pickaxe, and discovers skeletal remains in the wall. Francesco is arrested, and she must spend the rest of the movie trying to prove his innocence with the help of an old boyfriend named Luca (yummy Marc Porel), who is also a parapsychologist, and his clever secretary (Jenny Tamburi).
Because all of that which I summarized above happens in the first fifteen minutes, you might think this is a fast-paced movie, but you would be wrong. Fortunately, the slow portion of the movie, basically all but the first fifteen minutes and the last twenty, is stylish enough that I was not bored. The Psychic is often classified as a giallo, but in my opinion it forms a bridge between Fulci’s earlier giallo pieces and his later gory horror films. It has some giallo elements, such as a killer whose face we can’t see, a man in black gloves, loud clicking footsteps, a mysterious caller on the phone, and an ultimate reason for the killings that doesn’t entirely make sense. But there’s no sexual violence, we have a low body count, nobody gets stabbed or choked, and there’s no ridiculous wallpaper or other garish sets.
This movie is not gory, save for the face of the woman from the visions (seen to your left) and the closeups of Virginia’s mother’s face hitting the cliff side on her way down, but the repeated psychic visions to which we return throughout the movie are quite eerie, and the last twenty minutes are extremely tense and scary. We do get a fair amount of Fulci’s beloved closeups on characters’ faces, but other than that this bears very little resemblance to his work from Zombie onward. It’s almost as if The Psychic was made by a different person. If you showed this to me and I had no way of knowing who made it, the closeups would be the only thing that screamed Fulci.
I feel like this is not one of his most well-regarded films, and I think that’s a shame. This is Fulci at his most mature and subtle. But I understand why someone might not like it. Fans of his later work might find it boring. I’ll be honest; I didn’t like The Psychic until the third time I watched it. The first time I was very young and still believed that a horror movie had to leave me rocking in a corner to be a good movie. This is not that kind of movie. The second time I had acquired a taste for Italian horror at its most absurd and surreal, and it’s not those things either. Fortunately, the ending had stuck with me and gotten under my skin to the point that I decided to re-revisit it recently, and I’m so glad I did.
Look out now, because there are spoilers ahead. If you’re worried about that kind of thing, please don’t read any further. I feel like Fulci and writer Sacchetti may have been making a comment on wealth and social class with this film, but first I have to make a disclaimer. I am fascinated with European films, but I live in the rural south and have rarely traveled outside of it, so film and literature are my windows on the world. I’m not playing the “I’m Southern, y’all” card to be quirky, and I’m neither a trailer park reality TV southerner nor a debutante. I’m saying this about my place in the world to stress that I admit that I come from a different culture from anyone depicted in this film, and that I don’t necessarily know what I’m talking about when it comes to wealthy Europeans other than how they are usually shown in film and literature.
I mean, I have been friends with upper middle class Americans in my life (most of whom either teach school or buy and sell real estate to have something to do), but to my knowledge I’ve never been close to anyone who was on the level of millionaire jetsetting playboy Francesco, or his spoiled socialite sister Gloria (Ida Galli). Neither have I met anyone like red herring Rospini (Gabriele Ferzetti), an art expert and a top hobbyist equestrian with an absurdly wealthy wife, who spends most of the film being blamed for the murder in Virginia’s vision. And I have noticed that most of Fulci’s characters in his other films aren’t these types of people either. The killer, as we find out at the end, is Francesco, a man who killed his lover in 1972 and put her in the wall because she was going to be able to identify him as an art thief. Now, this is a man who owns more than one mansion, who can leave one house standing empty for years and not need to sell it. I’m tempted to make a joke like, “Virginia should have known that a man like him would have skeletons in the walls.” I’m also inclined to wonder why he would be stealing a painting that he could clearly afford to buy.
But seriously, Luca is unimpressed with Francesco from the beginning (which could of course be also chalked up to jealousy), and he and his hard-working secretary are the only people who help Virginia. Francesco’s sister would rather make barbed statements and act trashy and bored when she’s not ordering someone about who is moving chairs at a function she’s overseeing. And Francesco is so arrogant (arrogance being a common stereotype around upper-class people in the movies) that he walls Virginia up in the same place in the wall at the end of the movie, and then invites the police in when Luca brings them to the door! So I feel like there’s a dichotomy being set up between Francesco and Luca, and what each man represents, with Luca being the average person and Francesco obviously being the upper class. I also think that Luca’s secretary and Francesco’s sister are purposely in contrast. Basically, if I knew what I was talking about, I’d say rich people who exist purely as constructs for film and literature purposes are often evil, and that seems to be what they symbolize here.
One last thing: can you think of other movies with a psychic main character in which you don’t know if they’re seeing the past or the future? The only one I can think of at the moment is Don’t Look Now. There’s also a scene here where Rospini falls from a great height in a church which reminds me of a scene in Don’t Look Now, but I’m probably reaching as usual.
Oh yeah, one more last thing. The copy I have has European actors doing their own lines, rather than being badly dubbed. So first of all, I could listen to Italians speak English all day; it is beautiful and soothing. Secondly, I feel that there are stylistic reasons why nobody sounds like a native English speaker except for O’Neill, who is being depicted as someone who is not from Italy (she has an American accent, and her mother was in England at the beginning). This may be to underline a point about the Italian justice system, as when Francesco first falls under police suspicion, Virginia is confused and upset about how they operate. As he says, “This is Italy,” all you have to be is a suspect for the Italian police to lock you up, a point which it is interesting for the Italian Fulci to have made in an Italian movie. O’Neill’s character is quite clearly an outsider, that is highlighted by the difference in actors’ voices, and we are also given an objective outsider’s view of the Italian police and courts. You might even say that Fulci indicts them. Ok, bye, now. See this movie.