Monday, October 07, 2013

A Professor Walks into a Museum

The Psychic (1977)
directed by Lucio Fulci
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I admire the imprecision of Italian horror films even though I know there's no sense in making too much of the demands of a low-budget production. Directing a movie at speed is simply a means to an end--a skill more than a method. But circumstances for watching a movie change and I like movies with flexibility. You can't make popcorn, get your light right, and sit down at exactly 8 o'clock for Barry Lyndon every evening.

The weather was warm last week, but the streets were full of leaves. It looked like autumn but didn't feel that way. The apartment held the heat of summer to such a degree that the living room did not seem as dark (after dark) as I like it. No one is dressed for summer in The Psychic. The credits were sloppy, the prop corpse in the opening sequence comically mannequin-like. I fidgeted, telling myself I'd gone and made an assignment out of fun.

Then the protagonist took a day drive on a highway through the countryside. The highway passes through a series of three short tunnels that slip beneath low hills, and the transition to darkness as she enters the first is the first time the movie pivots towards the deep end of the color scale. The end of the tunnel is visible in the frame, but the car does not reach it as quickly as it should.

The second tunnel looms. This time the exit is far away. The darkness dissolves, and the woman sees a body in a strange room. Daylight again, but briefly. Then an empty screen. In an instant, she is no longer aware of the wheels of her car on the asphalt, the room in her mind is awash in red, and only the patrolman who finds her unconscious on the shoulder can call her back to the present.

Half of The Psychic is uneven zooms towards the eyes of Jennifer O'Neill. The threat is not supernatural--her gift is, and her gift manifests the threat by making her a witness to murder. She believes that her clairvoyance provides clues to an unsolved mystery, but you don't need her powers to see the inevitable angle. It's the right movie for a humid night when the curtains look heavy enough to fall.

The Italian title alludes to the number seven, but the woman's watch plays a plaintive three-note chime. The details are both beautiful and inconsistent, and the movie relies on beauty to great effect, whether in the face of a dead girl on the cover of a discarded magazine or the old and richly appointed salons of rare wood and thick velvet where death is bricked behind plaster.