Thursday 18 April 2013

Movie Review: Seven Notes In Black (1977)

An eerie giallo film, Seven Notes In Black (also known as The Psychic) gets most of the creepy elements right. The tale of a clairvoyant dealing with mysterious visions of death travels along a tightening spiral of enticing tension.

When Virginia was a child, she had a vision of her mother throwing herself off a cliff in a gory suicide. Years later, the adult Virginia (Jennifer O'Neill) is a clairvoyant and newly married to Italian industrialist Francesco (Gianni Garko). While driving on her own, she has a disjointed and disturbing vision of a skeleton hidden in the wall of a mysterious room, an old woman dying in a bloody mess, a broken mirror, an unknown assailant, the photo of an attractive young woman on a magazine cover, a precious painting, a man with a limp, and blackness interrupted by a haunting seven note tune.

As a surprise gift, Virginia decides to redecorate an old and long-abandoned farmhouse belonging to Francesco's family. Sure enough, at the farmhouse she finds the room from her vision, breaks through the wall and uncovers a skeleton. Francesco is promptly arrested for the murder of a young woman reported missing years ago. But Virginia is intent on proving her husband's innocence, and her investigation leads her to art museum curator Emilio (Gabriele Ferzetti), who seems to have something to hide. But as more clues emerge to explain her vision, Virginia begins to realize that what she saw may not have been a recreation of the past, but something much more sinister.

Seven Notes In Black does flub its lines late in the proceedings. A critical explanation of a theft that became a murder is presented through the garbled dialogue of a sedated man in a hospital bed, and the impact of his story is lost in the laboured mumbling.

But otherwise, director Lucio Fulci presents a foreboding puzzle and plays with it to good effect. Virginia's vision is a rich tapestry of fragmented images that promise much pain, and Fulci unveils the meaning behind each piece with flare. Along the way he drops tantalizing hints that the assembled pieces do not quite fit, and something is dangerously amiss from the working assumption that Virginia saw a past event. The true meaning of her vision breathlessly arrives as events catch up with theories to shed a stark new light on Virginia's waking nightmare.

Fulci uses gore sparingly, wringing tension from the adroit sequencing of events rather than sudden shocks. His gets good help from Jennifer O'Neill, who carries the film in a central role and does a lot of work with her eyes to convey the controlled determination of a woman bedeviled with a gift compelling her to pursue an interpretation of a reality that no one else perceives. Gianni Garko as Francesco and Gabriele Ferzetti are a bit more predictable and have less character transformation to navigate. Marc Porel has a small role as a psychiatrist Virginia confides in.

The seven notes of the title, used years later by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. 1, gain increasingly macabre prominence as the film progresses, and their association with a bleak black screen in Virginia's vision only heightens apprehension that she is racing to uncover a sombre fate. The notes form a simple tune both melancholy and threatening, and associated only with fortune most dark.

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