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 Fulcis 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). Theres no easy answer to the Fulci conundrum. The filmmakers 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, its hard to dismiss Fulcis accomplished direction in films such as The New York Ripper and a late-career giallo, Seven Notes in Black (aka The Psychic).
Through a series of fragmented imagesa limping man, a broken mirror, a cigarette, a red room, a taxicab, and a dead womanwe 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 Virginias childhood, when the young girl was traumatized by a vision of her mother falling to her death from a cliff (fans of Fulcis Dont Torture a Duckling will recognize this scene). Sadly, Virginias 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 Francescos 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 films 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 Tarantinos Kill Bill. It also comes to signal that the heroines voice will be heard, since Virginia spends most of the film defending her sanity after shes told by her parapsychologist Luca Fattori (Don’t Torture a Ducklings Marc Porel) and loved ones that her visions are just a figment of her imagination.
While Fulcis 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 womans murder. Parapsychologist Luca is a learned man, yet his assistantwho jokes about her absent-mindednessis the one who helps Virginia build her case based on scant clues. Virginia, like many of Fulcis female characters, appears weak on the outside (compare this to Florinda Bolkans 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 Carols sexually liberating hallucinations), suggesting that Fulcis 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 Fulcis gore-laden filmography, offers a twisting mystery, as well as some of Fulcis finest technical camerawork and a compelling case for the directors 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 Psychic) screens in NYC this March as part of Anthology Film Archives The Killer Must Kill Again!: Giallo Fever, Part 2. See the full lineup here.