Director: Lucio Fulci
Severin Films

Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci spent the better part of the 1960s making a series of comedies and musicals for the silver screen, showing no hint at the man synonymous with blood-soaked gore he would become in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1969, Fulci made his first venture into the horror/thriller genre with ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER (entitled on the disc and packing, PERVERSION STORY, one of its many release titles), a practically perfect Hitchcock-influenced murder mystery involving mistaken identity, infidelity, and a large sum of insurance money. Anchored by a dual performance from memorable DANGER DIABOLIK sex symbol Marissa Mell and a marvelous script filled with twists and turns, PERVERSION STORY finally comes to DVD, albeit in a very unusual package that will make or break your decision to purchase.

Confident young doctor George Dumurrier, when not running his own controversial private clinic in San Francisco, leaves Susan, his sick, unhappy wife, home alone for the arms of his more adventurous mistress, Jane. An adulterous trip to Reno is interrupted with the startling news of Susan’s death, and upon his return to San Francisco, George learns that she bought a life insurance policy shortly before her demise, leaving him a large sum of money in passing. The plot thickens as he is told by a stranger to visit the Roaring Twenties Club, a psychedelic wonderland filled with nude women on swings and cavorting amongst colorful balloons. The star of a revealing stage show that evening: Monica Weston, a striking blonde who is a dead ringer for the late Susan!

With a number of great plot twists and turns, and a great deal of tension during the final 30 minutes of the film, PERVERSION STORY is a great indicator of the kind of quality film Fulci should have consistently delivered in the next decade. In addition to directing duties, he also co-wrote the script, and his influence is evident with the hero being duped by a mischievous female (Fulci has just fallen victim to an adulterous wife in his personal life). Though the film is at times a psychedelic colored time capsule of San Francisco’s hippie era (including some great hairdos, fashions, and actual Frisco locations), it succeeds more as a tight, gripping thriller, with a surprising nihilistic view of women and relationships. Contrary to popular sentiments, this is not a giallo by any description, but fits well into the mold of an Edgar Wallace or Dashiell Hammett pulp novel beautifully. Fulci would keep up his streak of excellent thrillers, with the addition of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN and DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING creating a triumvirate of genre masterpieces. However, it wasn’t long before the cinema scene changed and he went with it, graduating to the zombie gutbusters he is best known for today. Fans of those strange classics might be disappointed with PERVERSION STORY, as it’s a completely different kind of animal, but it’s surely one of the five best films Fulci ever made, simply unforgettable and long overdue for re-evaluation and praise from a new audience. It should be noted that another film from the same year, A DOPPIA FACCIA (English title: DOUBLE FACE), starring Klaus Kinski and Margaret Lee, features a similar storyline (coincidentally co-written by Fulci) and is much deserving of a DVD release, too.

Eurocult icon Marissa Mell has rightfully been given the lion’s share of attention and credit for the film’s enduring popularity, and it’s no surprise. Whether as a brunette or a blonde, the Austrian beauty not only commands the camera like few others among her contemporaries, but could also act, an important attribute many overlook. As the dubious Monica, Mell is a sexual nymph, suspicious red herring, and criminal mastermind all rolled into one, with not one false moment in her entire performance. Her sultry introduction in a stage performance involving a motorcycle and strategically placed body painting is nothing short of show-stopping!! On the flipside, co-star Elsa Martinelli is woefully miscast as Jane, George’s mistress; in a completely bland and cold performance, she exudes no sexuality or personality that would interest George in an extramarital relationship. Poor George can’t win; he has a sick wife who loathes him, and a mistress who looks as if she’d rather be spackling her ceiling than show emotion during sex with him. As our hero, Jean Sorel does a fine, if unremarkable job, and is the perfect brand of handsome everyman personality that makes the final series of surprises so effective. Vacationing Americans John Ireland and Faith Domergue (barely recognizable) fail to make an impression, and considering they were marquee value for overseas sales in 1969, it’s funny that they’re rarely mentioned when discussing the film today. Attribute this to Mell’s mesmerizing screen presence, overshadowing all other cast members! Watch for a cameo by Fulci himself as a handwriting analyst!

Originally announced by Anchor Bay but dropped with little notice from their upcoming releases list, Severin Films (the heir apparent to currently dwindling Blue Underground) stepped up to bat to release PERVERSION STORY to the digital format. However, upon revisiting the film through this DVD, I almost immediately noticed that the film felt more disjointed and choppy in its narrative than I initially remembered. Several dialogue scenes abruptly began or ended that I remember running longer and giving more in-depth characterization and plot development, and I knew something was up when several lines of dialogue being spoken on-screen couldn’t be heard on the English language track. Further investigation turned up the fact that Severin had in fact found only one decent film element for the DVD, a long-lost negative of the French cut of PERVERSION STORY (is this why Anchor Bay dropped the title to begin with?). The problem: the French version, while featuring additional sex and nudity (featuring Marisa Mell and Elsa Martinelli), omits a number of dialogue scenes, thus making the film harder to follow and, as mentioned before, disjointed; the flow is off. As with many international co-productions of the 1960s and 1970s, various countries received different theatrical cuts than other nations, resulting in no one definitive version existing of certain titles. In the case of PERVERSION STORY, the closest to representing Fulci’s vision would seem to be the English export version, which runs 103 minutes and demonstrates his mastery of the thriller genre and what he could do with a strong script. Rather than make an ill-fated attempt at comparing the two, I invite everyone to check out Michael MacKenzie’s very detailed comparison at the link found HERE.

Despite MacKenzie’s valiant efforts to inform fans and consumers, there are already those in our fine fan community seeking to make him out to be nitpicking and viciously attacking Severin for this release. His points are valid, and if this was indeed the only surviving film element in good enough shape to use on the DVD, then the question must be asked: why aren’t the deleted scenes at least included from a less-than-optimum source? The choice is yours: PERVERSION STORY is Fulci’s first of a select few masterpieces, and featuring a strong central performance by Marissa Mell and a completely involving script, stands up beautifully almost 40 years after it was made. But this abbreviated version, while including a few more minutes of exploitive material, loses some of its power and flow. Those who have never seen the film should definitely check this disc out, but fans of the popular English language cut can’t be blamed for feeling unhappy about having to continue to wait for a “definitive” DVD version.

Culled from the aforementioned negative, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of PERVERSION STORY is leaps and bounds beyond any previous home video incarnation of the title. Though there are a number of unfortunate discoloration issues, some debris here and there, a handful of in-frame hairs, and some splice marks in certain scenes (to indicate moments cut out of the French version, most likely), colors are consistently eye-popping, with accurate skintones and deep blacks. A slight sheet of grain appears in some scenes, but for a film shot in 1969, this is a pretty splendid restoration job. Two audio options, English mono and Italian mono with optional English subtitles, are included. The English track has some moments of hissing, but is the preferable option, as it is the language the film was shot in. The English subtitles are valuable, however, during the scene in the Roaring Twenties, when a dialogue between George and Jane isn’t heard on the English track.

The only other extra on the disc is the theatrical trailer, which creates much ballyhoo over the fact that Fulci was allowed to shoot at San Quentin (an unprecedented move). It’s unfortunate that star Jean Sorel, who was interviewed for the LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN disc, couldn’t be called upon to discuss his first Fulci film here. But it’s probable that the entire supplements budget went towards the major addition to this two-disc set: Riz Ortolani’s jazzy score is presented on a separate CD. Personally, I don’t feel this is one of his better scores; it fits the film well, but unlike other Ortolani soundtracks, can’t really be listened to on its own, except perhaps as mood music. For fans of the film who don’t want to shell out more money for an import CD of the soundtrack, however, this is a very welcome addition that more DVD companies should attempt to include.

For reference’s sake, here is the track listing for the 30-minute soundtrack CD (the Dagored import soundtrack includes four bonus tracks, all alternate takes; Riz Ortolani completists might want to seek that out, but these 11 tracks should suit everyone else just fine):

1. Una Sull’Altra (Titoli)
2. Susan and Jane
3. Lombard Street
4. Sitar in Blues
5. St. Francis Railways
6. St. Quintin
7. Golden Gate Bridge
8. Latin Quarter
9. Susan and Jane
10. The Roaring Twenties
11. Una Sull’Altra (Finale)

(Casey Scott)