Director: Lucio Fulci
Severin Films

Looking back at the history of director Lucio Fulci’s films appearing on DVD, it would seem that all of his best work is readily available. Anchor Bay, in its heyday, released all of the director’s quality titles save for a handful of trashy latter-day flicks and the incomparable LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN from Media Blasters. Severin, the company behind these two releases (1972’s THE EROTICIST and 1977’s THE PSYCHIC), even released a flawed release of ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER last year. So one has to wonder: what is left of Fulci to appear on the digital format? Apparently, just BEATRICE CENZI, as Severin steps up to fill the gaps with these two very different Fulci titles. Unfortunately, both are far from his greatest work and can only be recommended to the most dedicated completist of Eurocult films.

Jennifer O’Neill is Virginia, who psychically sees her mother’s suicide as a young girl, and as a grown woman, randomly sees a series of bizarre images and people that she can’t quite comprehend. When she treks to her husband’s abandoned villa to remodel it, she comes across a room from her vision, and hacks into a wall with a pickaxe to discover a woman’s skeleton, who turns out to be the former lover of her current husband Francesco. He is arrested for the crime and she must not only prove his innocence by piecing together the puzzle surrounding the murder, but potentially stop another murder from occurring.

Released in-between Fulci’s classy giallo period and zombie gutmuncher phase, THE PSYCHIC is neither as stylish or engrossing as his earlier films, nor as violent and outrageous as his later works. It falls squarely in-between, and could be seen as a nice transition piece for the director. But for fans with low attention spans, this will be a tough one to sit through. The mystery takes a while to get started, and at 95 minutes, could have used some trimming, but Fulci keeps the pacing moving smoothly and the mystery is still quite compelling. The script throws in a number of red herrings and continually recalls Virginia’s visions to piece it all together. A gripping suspense sequence finds Virginia discovering a bloody corpse and pursued by the murderer; she successfully hides from him, only to be given away by her watch alarm. It’s a wonderful sequence, played out mostly without a score (wise move by Fulci), and the highlight of the film for sure. Much has been made of the film’s shock ending, and few may see the last 10 minutes coming. Well, fans of Edgar Allan Poe could probably predict the finale, but it’s executed nicely. Writer Dardano Sarchetti claims on the disc’s featurette that it was inspired by an American crime film, but it’s clearly a mix of “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Cask of Amontillado”, which has been used in countless horror films before and since. Those looking for the trademark Fulci gore shouldn’t even bother with this one, but he does recreate the notorious gory “fall to the death” from DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING in his pre-credits sequence of Virginia’s mother plunging from a cliff to much lesser effect. All in all, THE PSYCHIC is a fine mystery worth discovering. It’s not in the ballpark of being Fulci’s best film, and pales in comparison to his earlier gialli masterpieces A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN and DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, but is a great effort that has deservedly won a cult following over the years and certainly deserves a place on any Eurocult fan’s DVD shelf. It’s kind of refreshing to see this restrained thriller from Fulci a couple years before he broke loose with ZOMBIE, and honestly, THE PSYCHIC holds up much better than that overrated film.

Jennifer O’Neill is a strange choice for a leading role; while she may have had international sales appeal because she had worked in Hollywood productions and does a fine job as the clairvoyant struggling with her visions, she’s no Florinda Bolkan, who went through a similar ordeal in LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN much more capably. Reportedly O’Neill suffered from some major drug problems during this period in her career, and her current website and bio don’t even acknowledge her fine work in this film. It’s no surprise she doesn’t appear in the supplements here, though it would have been great to hear from a vacationing American star’s experiences with the tyrannical Fulci. It’s nice to see Evelyn Stewart, star of the underrated Sergio Martino giallo CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL, as Virginia’s sister-in-law, and Gianni Garko as the suspicious husband who may or may not have murdered his lover; Marc Porel (in the director’s previous classic DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING) is also impressive as Virginia’s psychiatrist friend helping her with the investigation. Beware of the opening credits song, sung by Linda Lee, and surely one of the worst vocal themes of any Eurocult film! However, the rest of the soundtrack, a combined effort by Franco Bixio, Vince Tempera, and Fabio Frizzi (who would become a regular contributor to Fulci’s films in the years to come), is just fine and very atmospheric.

THE PSYCHIC has had a long road to appear on DVD. Quentin Tarantino originally announced first his plans to re-release it under his Rolling Thunder banner, then intended to remake it (which thankfully never happened, as with all of QT’s remake plans); various DVD companies announced the title, then deleted it from their coming soon list; the film’s primary musical theme appeared in Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOL. 1 a couple of years ago, sparking renewed interest in the film and queries as to why it still wasn’t available on DVD. Well, Severin has finally stepped up to the plate to bring this missing piece of Fulci horror history to the digital format. Originally recalled due to an audio problem, THE PSYCHIC was reissued with the audio problems fixed. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is still far from perfect, and is in fact kind of muddy during some key scenes. There are some print jumps here and there (which is strange and unexpected), and because the film has always had a very drab color palette, nothing will jump out at the viewer except the rare appearances of the color red. It’s a merely presentable transfer, nothing too special. The box copy makes mention of this version containing five extra minutes that were cut from the U.S. version, but judging from my viewing, it would appear to be more dialogue and characterization, which is never unwelcome, of course, but the new scenes probably won’t stick out too obviously for fans who have seen the film before. The English dub track is still a little muffled and muted, requiring one to raise the volume during dialogue in some scenes, but it’s a good job as Jennifer O’Neill provides her own voice and the rest of the actors (who almost all speak in English) are well-dubbed.

In addition to the quite worn U.S. theatrical trailer (supplied by the Synapse boys), a 27-minute featurette is aptly titled “Voices from the Dark”: it’s made up solely of audio interviews! This is kind of irritating, considering that at least one of the participants has been interviewed on video on other discs. So basically you listen to phone conversations with writer Dardano Sarchetti, (uncredited) editor Bruno Micheli, and costume designer Massimo Lentini (all in Italian with English subtitles) over multiple clips from the film for 27 minutes. While there are some interesting stories to be heard (mostly from Sarchetti, who is once again a little egotistical in terms of his writing and input into Fulci’s work, but remembers the film’s genesis most clearly, and Lentini is the only one to give any memories of the actors [albeit very brief]), it’s kind of a wasted opportunity. Not terrible, not great, just average.

Five years before THE PSYCHIC, Fulci hadn’t yet entrenched himself too deeply into the horror genre, sampling various types of films (the 1960s were filled with comedies and musicals on his resume). The most popular of these, or at least to collectors and fans of the director, is THE EROTICIST, a screwball comedy met with much resistance at the time of its initial release in Italy. An Italian Senator has an irresistible urge to squeeze women’s’ butts, so enters a monastery to overcome his affliction, but finds that encountering nuns there is still giving him problems.

If you’re wondering why it took me two months to review EROTICIST (the disc streeted way back in November), there’s one simple reason: it’s a chore to sit through! In fact, I contemplated not even reviewing it to risk inciting interest in readers to purchase the disc! Perhaps THE EROTICIST was funny stuff in 1972, but like many Italian comedies of the period, something is lost in the translation. The obvious knocks on politicians and religious figures were apparently quite controversial when the film was originally released, causing Fulci some trouble. Almost 40 years later, it seems all for naught. Aside from the appearance of some lovely Eurocult starlets (Anita Strindberg, Laura Antonelli, Agostina Belli, Eva Czemerys, not all of whom contribute nudity) and some visually stunning fantasy sequences, THE EROTICIST has only a few funny moments in its mammoth 108 running time and is ultimately more of a historical curio than an entertaining film, and frankly, I can’t bring myself to spend more time talking about it.

For what it’s worth, THE EROTICIST looks simply stunning here, with bold solid colors and a clean sheen throughout. The film is presented 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen in its original Italian language with English subtitles, and appears to be uncut, with all of the nudity and controversial political subject matter intact.

The sole extra on the disc is a 43-minute (!) featurette, “A History of Censorship”, which is far more interesting than the film itself, discussing Fulci’s battles with puritanical censors over his career and primarily focusing on this cheeky comedy. Actor Lando Buzzanca, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, and make-up artist Giannetto de Rossi are interviewed about the maestro, and all share fascinating tales of working with the temperamental director. At this length, however, some chapters should have been included. Still, for fans of Fulci and the Italian film industry in general, this is an invaluable addition to an otherwise disposable disc. Give THE EROTICIST a rental at least to check out this superbly-done documentary.
(Casey Scott)