The Beyond: Lucio Fulci’s Seven Notes in Black (aka The Psychic)

ON

SBN room

Lucio Fulci, the “Godfather of Gore,” is known for his fetishistic ocular violence, blood-soaked special effects, and dizzying predilection for pan, zoom, and rack-focus. But Fulci’s place in the annals of Italian horror cinema is still widely contested. Unlike his contemporary Dario Argento, now known as an auteur, Fulci built a reputation on derivative, cheaply made movies (other than his opus Zombie, which ushered in a popular series of Italian zombie flicks well into the 1980s). There’s no easy answer to the Fulci conundrum. The filmmaker’s longtime collaboration with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti produced some of his best work, though Sacchetti has often griped about Fulci taking undeserved credit for their output. Still, it’s hard to dismiss Fulci’s accomplished direction in films such as The New York Ripper and a late-career gialloSeven Notes in Black (aka The Psychic). 

Through a series of fragmented images—a limping man, a broken mirror, a cigarette, a red room, a taxicab, and a dead woman—we trace the troubling visions of the clairvoyant Virginia (Scanners actress and CoverGirl model Jennifer O’Neill). The opening of Seven Notes in Black takes us back in time to Virginia’s childhood, when the young girl was traumatized by a vision of her mother falling to her death from a cliff (fans of Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling will recognize this scene). Sadly, Virginia’s premonition turns out to be true.

Her story picks up 20 years later after she marries wealthy Italian businessman Francesco (spaghetti western stud Gianni Garko), but her psychic gift still haunts her. During one of Francesco’s business trips, Virginia begins renovations on a creaky mansion her husband purchased. It looks like the one from her visions, leading the frazzled Virginia to tear down a wall, behind which she uncovers the skeletal remains of a missing woman. Francesco is accused of the crime. Virginia seeks to clear his name, but the truth proves hard to realize as her visions intensify.

Audiences expecting an uber-violent thriller from the maestro of eye gore will be sorely disappointed by Seven Notes in Black, but Fulci delivers his strongest work in the film’s slow-boil to a thrilling final act. The tension mounts as Virginia gives chase in a Gothic setting. Seven Notes in Black‘s theme, composed by Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi, and Vince Tempera, was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. It also comes to signal that the heroine’s voice will be heard, since Virginia spends most of the film defending her sanity after she’s told by her parapsychologist Luca Fattori (Don’t Torture a Duckling’s Marc Porel) and loved ones that her visions are just a figment of her imagination. 

While Fulci’s oeuvre suggests he’s not a textbook feminist, he aligns us with his female characters by deconstructing notions of male power. In Seven Notes in Black, money and status has no influence since business mogul Francesco is incarcerated for the missing woman’s murder. Parapsychologist Luca is a learned man, yet his assistant—who jokes about her absent-mindedness—is the one who helps Virginia build her case based on scant clues. Virginia, like many of Fulci’s female characters, appears weak on the outside (compare this to Florinda Bolkan’s Carol in A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, who is crippled by her own pride). But her strength is her sense of “vision” (like Carol’s sexually liberating “hallucinations”), suggesting that Fulci’s male characters have no insight to the motives for their own despicable actions: adultery, violence, and murder. 

Seven Notes in Black, an atmospheric departure from Fulci’s gore-laden filmography, offers a twisting mystery, as well as some of Fulci’s finest technical camerawork and a compelling case for the director’s feminist viewpoint.

Alison Nastasi is a giallo addict and the weekend editor of Flavorwire. You can find her talking about exploitation cinema, VHS, occult oddities, Hammer horror, and other genre fare on Twitter.

Seven Notes in Black (aka The Psychicscreens in NYC this March as part of Anthology Film Archives’ The Killer Must Kill Again!: Giallo Fever, Part 2. See the full lineup here.