International Horror Film Review: The Psychic (a.k.a. Seven Notes In Black) (dir by Lucio Fulci)

Also known as Seven Notes In Black, The Psychic is an Italian paranormal thriller that was made and released in 1977, shortly before the film’s director, Lucio Fulci, reinvented Italian horror with Zombi 2.

For years, Virginia (Jennier O’Neill) has been haunted by visions.  When she was a child, she saw a vision of her mother jumping off a cliff.  It turned out that, at the same time Virginia had her vision, her mother was doing exactly that.  18 years later, Virginia is living in Rome and she’s married to a wealthy businessman named Francesco Ducci (Gianni Garko, who also starred in several Spaghetti westerns).  Virginia would seem to have the perfect life but she’s still haunted by disturbing visions.  She sees an old woman murdered.  She sees a wall being ripped apart.  She sees a discarded letter.  Is she seeing the past, the present, or the future?  She does not know.  Ducci insists that her visions mean nothing but Virginia is convinced that something is reaching out to her.

While Ducci is away on business, Virginia visits an abandoned house that her husband has recently bought.  Virginia wants to renovate it but, as soon as she sees it, she realizes that the house previously appeared in her visions.  When she investigates, she discovers a skeleton in one of the walls.  With the police now convinced that Ducci is a murderer, Virginia tries to figure out the meaning behind her visions and looks for a way to clear Ducci’s name.  Strangely, Ducci still doesn’t seem to be that concerned about any of it….

Along with Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture A Duckling, The Psychic is a film that gets a lot of attention as an example of Fulci’s pre-Zombi 2 horror output.  After Zombi 2, Fucli would become best known for making films that were full of gore and that often seemed to be deeply angry with the world.  The fact that Fulci was also a brilliant stylist who created some of the most dream-like images ever to be captured on film would often be overlooked in all the controversy over the often violent content of his movies.  One thing that makes The Psychic interesting is that, visually, it’s clearly a Fulci film.  The cinematography is lush and vibrant.  The visions are surreal and disturbing.  However, there’s very little of the gore that came to define Fulci’s later films.  Instead, the emphasis is on the atmosphere and the mystery.  This is one of the few Fulci films that you could safely show an older relative.

Fulci was often (a bit unfairly, in my opinon) portrayed as being a cinematic misanthrope, as a director who little use for the characters that populated his films.  That’s certainly not the case with The Psychic, though.  Virginia is probably one of the most sympathetic characters to ever appear in a Fulci film and Jennifer O’Neill does a good job in the lead role.  Even more importantly, Fulci seems to like her and, from the start, it’s clear that the film is fully on her side.  The entire story is told through her eyes and she’s a character who you immediately root for.  Like Fulci himself, she’s a visionary whose visions are often underappreciated until it’s too late.  Though the film ends on a characteristically downbeat note (happy endings were rare even in Fulci’s pre-Zombi 2 films), Virginia is still allowed her triumph with one final and rather clever little twist.

The Pyschic is a bit slowly-paced but it’s still a far better film that many Fulci critics seem to be willing to acknowledge.  (One gets the feeling that many critics resent any film that indicates that there was more to Fulci than eye damage and zombies.)  It’s an entertaining and intriguing latter-era giallo and proof that there was more to Fulci than just blood.

Book Review: Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta

Do you love Italian horror?

If you answered yes, Spaghetti Nightmares is a book that you simply must own.  Actually, you probably already do own it.  You’re probably looking at it sitting on your book shelf right now.  And you’re thinking, “Gee, thanks Lisa.  Maybe next you’ll tell me that giallo is named after the cheap yellow paper that thriller novels were published on in Italy and then you’ll really blow my mind!”

Okay, well fine.  Make me feel bad.  That’s okay.  I hope you’re proud of yourself.  It’s a pretty good thing that we both love Italian horror because, if we didn’t, I’d probably never speak to you again….

Anyway, just in case you don’t own this book, you really should.  First published in 1996, Spaghetti Nightmares is a collection of interviews with some of the top figures in Italian horror.  Michele Soavi, Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, David Warbeck, Umberto Lenzi, Lamberto Bava, Luigi Cozzi. Antonio Margheriti, and many more answer questions about their careers, their artistic visions, and their feelings about the future and the past of the Italian film industry.  What makes this volume special is that it was written at a time when Italian horror was just starting to be appreciated.  So, the questions and the answers are a bit more honest than they probably would be now that everyone is a confirmed Italian horror fan.

This book also features what I believe was Lucio Fulci’s final interview before he passed away.  He describes himself as being Italian cinema’s “last zombie” and displays a strong knowledge of cinematic history.  Unlike some of the directors interviewed, who come across as being competent (if charming) craftsmen, Fulci comes across as being a true artist.  The interview with Michele Soavi is also poignant as he would soon abandon filmmaking to take care of his son.  (Fortunately, he has since returned.)

So, if you don’t own this book, get it!

International Horror Film Review: Manhattan Baby (dir by Lucio Fulci)

“Manhattan, baby!”

That’s what a friend of mine yelled a few years ago.  Jack was a choreographer who had just received a call from someone in New York City, offering him the chance to come work on an off-Broadway show.  He accepted, of course and then he hugged everyone who had been standing nearby, listening to the call.

“Manhattan, baby!” he shouted.

Now, the show itself didn’t really work out but Jack did get a trip to Manhattan out of it and really, I think that’s what everyone was excited about.  No matter how many bad things you may hear about New York City, it’s hard not to get excited when you hear the word Manhattan.  For many, Manhattan represents culture, sophistication, and wealth.  For others, Manhattan represents crime, inequity, and alienation.  Across the world, Manhattan stands for everything that is both good and bad about America.  Just the word Manhattan carries a power to it.  You would never get excited if someone announced that they had gotten a job in Minnesota, for instance.  If Jack had shouted, “Minnesota, baby!,” we all would have been concerned about him.  Minnesota?  Who gives a fuck?  But Manhattan …. Manhattan has power, baby!

Manhattan also lent its name to one of Lucio Fulci’s post-Zombi films and the title just happened to duplicate Jack’s proclomation, Manhattan Baby.  Released in 1982, Manhattan Baby is often cited as being the last of Fulci’s “major” productions.  While his career was reinvigorated by the success of the films he made with producer Fabrizio De Angelis (including Zombi 2 and the Beyond trilogy), Fulci and De Angelis had a falling out over Manhattan Baby.  Fulci claimed that De Angelis essentially forced him to make the movie, despite the fact that Fulci himself did not have much interest in the script.  Initially, the film was to be a special effects spectacluar with a large budget but, after the controversy surrounding Fulci’s The New York Ripper, the budget was drastically scaled back and the special effects were done on the cheap.  Fulci later said that he felt the movie was terrible and that it set back his career.

As for what the film is actually about, Manhattan Baby deals with …. well, the plot is not easy to describe.  Fulci’s films were always better known for their surreal imagery than their tight plots and, even by his standards, Manhattan Baby is all over the place.  The film opens in Egypt, where archeologist George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) is struck blind when he enters a previously unexplored tomb. Meanwhile, his daughter, Susie (Brigitta Boccoli), is given an amulet by another blind woman.

Back in Manhattan, George waits for his sight to return and Susie and her little brother, Tommy (Giovanni Frezza, who played Bob In The House By The Cemetery) start to act weird.  It turns out that their bedroom is now some sort of demensional gateway, from which snakes sometimes emerge.  At the same time, the gateway occasionally sucks people through and they end up stranded in the Egyptian desert.  Why?  Who knows?  Is Susie possessed or does the gateway operate independently from her?  Why does she occasionally glow a weird blue color?  Why do she and her brother suddenly seem to hate their nannny (played by Cinzia De Ponti, who was also in The New York Ripper)?  It all has something to do with the amulet but the exact details of how it all works seems to change from scene-to-scene.  Eventually, it turns out that the owner of the local antique shop knows about the amulet and its evil designs.  Unfortunately, all of his stuffed birds come to life and peck his eyes out.  Meanwhile, Susie’s parents and her doctors wonder why her latest x-ray seems to indicate that Susie has a cobra living inside of her and….

Like I said, it doesn’t really make any sense and, despite the power of the name, the meaning behind Manhattan Baby as a title is never really explained.  In fact, more time is probably spent in Egypt than in Manhattan.  It’s easy to assume that the film was called Manhattan Baby because it was felt that the title would appeal to American audiences but, when then the film was released in the U.S., it was actually retitled Eye of the Evil Dead in an attempt to disguise it as being a sequel to Sam Raimi’s classic shocker.  (This was actually a common practice as far as the Italian film industry was concerned.  Many films were retitled to disguise them as being a sequel.  Fulci’s Zombi 2, for instance, recieved that title because, in Europe, Dawn of the Dead was released under the title Zombi.)

One can understand Fulci’s frustration with Manhattan Baby but, at the same time, is it really as bad as he often said it was?  Yes, the plot is incoherent but that’s to be expected with a Fulci film.  Yes, the special effects are cheap but again, that’s kind of part of the charm when it comes to Italian exploitation films.  While Manhattan Baby never duplicates the ominous atmosphere of Zombi 2 or achieves the same sort of surreal grandeur as The Byond trilgoy, there are still enough memorable, if confusing, moments to make it watchable.  The sequece where a shot of a man standing in a doorway cuts to a shot of him lying dead in the desert works surprisingly well.  The scene where the shop owner is attacked by reanimated birds is both ludiscrous and scary, in the grand Fulci tradition.  With their emphasis on foolhardy explorers ignoring curses, the Egyptian scenes feel almost as if they could have been lifted from one of the Hammer mummy films.   Manhattan Baby may not be Fulci’s best but it’s hardly his worst.

In fact, with its obsession with blindness, Manhttan Baby is actually one of Fulci’s more personal films.  Fulci was diabetic and reportedly lived in fear that he would someday lose his eyesight.  Many critics, including me, have suggested that he dealt with this fear by having people lose their eyesight in his movies, often in the most violent ways possible.  Manhattan Baby is full of people losing the ability to see.  George Hacker is rendered blind in Egypt.  The mysterious Egyptain woman hands out amulets to people who she cannot see.  The store owner loses his eyes.  One of George’s colleagues falls on a bed of spikers and, of course, one spike goes straight through an eye.  Manhattan Baby is all about blindness and only be getting rid of the amulet can George hope to once again truly see the world and the people that he loves.  If only illness could be tossed away as easily as an amulet.

Despite Fulci’s disdain for the final result, Manhattan Baby is hardly the disaster that it’s often made out to be.  Those who aren’t familiar with Fulci’s unique aesthetic will undoubtedly confused by the film but, for those of us who know the man’s work, Manhattan Baby may be a minor Fulci film but it’s still an occasionally intriguing one.

4 Shots From 4 Catriona MacColl Films

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

This October, we’re using this feature to highlight some of our favorite actors and directors, all of whom have made invaluable contributions to the horror genre!  Today, we both pay tribute to and wish a happy birthday to the British actress, Catriona MacColl, with….

4 Shots From 4 Catriona MacColl Films

Hawk The Slayer (1980, dir by Terry Marcel, DP: Paul Beeson)

City of the Living Dead (1980, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Sergio Salvati)

The Beyond (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Sergio Salvati)

The House by The Cemetery (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Sergio Salvati)


12 Shots From 12 Films: Special Lucio Fulci Edition

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

94 years ago today, Lucio Fulci — the maestro of Italian genre filmmaking — was born in Rome.  Fulci would go on to direct some of the most visually stunning (and, occasionally, most narratively incoherent) films ever made.  Fulci worked in all genres but he’ll probably always be best remembered for launching the Italian zombie boom with Zombi 2.  His subsequent Beyond trilogy continues to fascinate and delight lovers of both horror and grindhouse filmmaking.

Lucio Fulci, needless to say, is a pretty popular figure here at the TSL.  In honor of the date of his birth, it’s time for….

12 Shots From 12 Lucio Fulci Films

Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Sergio D’Offizi)

Four of the Apocalypse (1975, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Sergio Salvati)

The Psychic (1977, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Sergio Salvati)

Conquest (1983, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Alejandro Ulloa)

Murder Rock (1984, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Giuseppe Pinori)

Demonia (1990, dir by Lucio Fulci, DP: Luigi Ciccarese)

6 Trailers For October 30th


Halloween comes closer and that means that it’s time for another holiday edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  Today, we have 6 of my favorite Italian horror trailers!

  1. The Beyond (1981)

I’ve always liked the trailer for Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond.  It does a good job of capturing the dream-like amtosphere of Fulci’s classic film.

2. Raiders of Atlantis (1983)

Raiders of Atlantis is hardly my favorite Ruggero Deodato film but I do really like the trailer.  Add to that, I think this might be the only Deodato trailer that’s actually safe for work.  The trailer for Cannibal Holocaust features that body being found with the stake driven through it.  The House on the Edge of the Park trailer features the scene with straight razor.  Meanwhile, the trailer for Raiders of Atlantis has fun music and a laser-shooting statue!  It also has Tony King shouting, “Come on, come on, come on!”

3. Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1987)

This movie sucks but, for some reason, I’ve always found the trailer to be very effective.  I think it’s the scene with the woman smiling despite being pinned to the wall and apparently dead.  That’s pure nightmare fuel.

4. Spasmo (1974)

This is from director Umberto Lenzi.  I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person in the world who likes this film.  As for the trailer, I just enjoy the anguished cries of “Spasmo!  Spasmo!”

5. Lisa and the Devil (1973) 

This is one of my favorite Mario Bava films.  Yes, some of it is because the lead character is named Lisa.  I’ll admit it, I like my name.  However, it’s a really good film as well!

6. Tenebrae (1982)

And finally, here is the trailer for Dario Argento’s brilliant, Tenebrae!

Seriously, if you want to have a truly wonderful Halloween, watch some Italian horror!  If you haven’t already discovered Bava, Fulci, Argento, Lenzi, Soavi, D’Amato, and all the rest, now is the perfect time to do so!  Do it now before their work gets canceled by the online puritan mob.

(Always remember: invest in physical media.)

4 Shots From 4 Lucio Fulci Films: Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, The House By The Cemetery, The New York Ripper

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

This October, we’ve been using 4 Shots from 4 Films to pay tribute to some of our favorite horror filmmakers!  Today, we honor the one and only Lucio Fulci!

4 Shots From 4 Lucio Fulci Films

Zombi 2 (1979, dir. Lucio Fulci)

City of the Living Dead (1980, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The House By The Cemetery (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The New York Ripper (1982, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Song of the Day: La Lucertola by Ennio Morricone

Today’s song of the day comes form Ennio Morricone’s score for Lucio Fulci’s 1971 giallo, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin!  This may not be one of Morricone’s best-known scores but it’s still one of my favorites.  It perfectly captures the feel of Fulci’s psychedelic thriller.

From Ennio Morricone, here is La Lucertola.

Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:

  1. Deborah’s Theme (Once Upon A Time In America)
  2. Violaznioe Violenza (Hitch-Hike)
  3. Come Un Madrigale (Four Flies on Grey Velvet)
  4. Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence)
  5. The Strength of the Righteous (The Untouchables)
  6. So Alone (What Have You Done To Solange?)
  7. The Main Theme From The Mission (The Mission)
  8. The Return (Days of Heaven)
  9. Man With A Harmonic (Once Upon A Time In The West)
  10. The Ecstasy of Gold (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
  11. The Main Theme From The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
  12. Regan’s Theme (The Exorcist II: The Heretic)
  13. Desolation (The Thing)
  14. The Legend of the Pianist (The Legend of 1900)
  15. Theme From Frantic (Frantic)

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #14: Contraband (dir by Lucio Fulci)

The 1980 film, Contraband, tells a story of the Neapolitan underworld.

Luca Ajello (Fabio Testi) and his older brother, Mickey, have a pretty nice operation going.  They pilot boats up and down the coast of Italy, smuggling cigarettes and booze into Naples.  It’s given both of them a pretty good life.  They own a racehorse.  Luca’s got a big house with a beautiful wife (Ivana Monti) and a precocious son.  The police are too incompetent to stop them and their disco-loving boss, Perlante (Saverio Marconi), keeps them safe from any interference from the other mob bosses working in Naples.

But then, one night, two men disguised as policeman pull Luca and Mickey over while they’re driving down an isolated road.  The fake cops proceed to fire what seems to be over a hundred bullets into Mickey.  Luca, having ducked down in his seat, is not spotted by the assassins.  Determined to find out who murdered his brother and why, Luca immediately suspects a rival mobster named Scherino but Scherino insists that Mickey’s murder was actually ordered by a mysterious French drug lord known as Il Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzuffi, who also played a French drug smuggler in The French Connection).  The French are trying to take over the rackets in Naples and a sudden surge in violence, one which sees nearly every mob boss in Naples murdered on the same day, suggests that Scherino is telling the truth.

Contraband is a brutal Italian crime film, one that is notable for being one of director Lucio Fulci’s final non-horror films.  (Contraband was released after Zombi 2 but before City of the Living Dead.)  Though the film might not feature any zombies or any talk of “the Beyond,” it’s still unmistakably a Fulci film and some of the film’s brutal violence remains shocking even when seen today.  The scene where a duplicitous drug smuggler gets her face melted with a blow torch is nightmarish and it’s followed by a scene where a rival gangster graphically gets the back of his head blown out.  (Fulci lingers on the hole in the man’s head, giving us an out-of-focus shot of the people standing behind him.)  A later gunfight leads to one gangster dying with a gaping hole in his throat while another has his face shot away, despite the fact that he’s already dead.  It’s graphic but it’s also appropriate for the story being told.  This is a movie about violent men and, as Fulci himself often pointed out whenever he was challenged about the graphic gore in his films, violence is not pretty.  Contraband is not a film that’s going to leave anyone wanting to become a gangster.

The plot is not always easy to follow but, as is typical with a good Fulci film, the striking visuals make up for any narrative incoherence.  Fulci’s camera rarely stops moving, creating a sense of unease and pervasive paranoia.  Much like the characters in the film, we find ourselves looking in every corner and shadow for a potential threat.  A meeting with an informant at a mist-shrouded sulfur pit ends with assassin literally emerging from the mist and stabbing the informant from behind.  A later gun battle on a narrow street seems to feature gunmen literally appearing out of thin air.  Fabio Testi is ruggedly sympathetic as Luca while Saverio Marconi does a great job as the decadent Perlante.  Meanwhile, Marcel Bozzuffi is legitimately frightening in his few scenes as the evil French gangster.  He’s a great villain, smug and willing to kill anyone.  You don’t have to support organized crime to support the idea of running the French out of Naples.

Contraband is a minor crime classic and proof that there was more to Fulci than just zombies and serial killers.  Today would have been Lucio Fulci’s 93rd birthday and it’s also a good day to track down Contraband, an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa