Italian horror master Lucio Fulci is best known for his gruesome Gates of Hell trilogy—especially The Beyond—and the immortal Zombi 2, but his career also contained excellently off-kilter giallo movies, including Don’t Torture a Duckling and The New York Ripper. The Psychic, coming soon to Shudder, has fewer of those lurid elements that became Fulci trademarks, but it’s a tightly wound thriller with just enough weirdness to remind you who was calling the shots.
Like most European horror and giallo movies of its era, 1977’s The Psychic is also known by several other titles, including Seven Notes in Black, Death Tolls Seven Times, and the most word-salad of them all, Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes. The Psychic might be the most generic, but it’s certainly accurate, even if most of the other characters chuckle at the protagonist’s claims of clairvoyance. But Virginia (Scanners’ Jennifer O’Neill) is the real deal; in the movie’s opening scene, there’s a flashback in which the young Virginia “witnesses” her mother’s suicide (a cliffside plunge that involves a hilariously obvious mannequin) despite being hundreds of miles away.
The movie picks up 18 years later, when Virginia—now a glamorous interior decorator newly married to the wealthy Francesco (Gianni Garko)—decides to stop by her husband’s long-empty country home for the first time, thinking it might make for an ideal renovation project. Once she’s inside, however, she has instant heebie-jeebies: she’s glimpsed this place in a disturbing recent vision that seemed to involve a woman’s murder. She can’t fight the urge to take an axe to the wall, targeting one specific place—almost instantly discovering a skeleton hidden within, to her absolute horror.
You’d expect this to be proof positive of her ESP, but the local police remain stubbornly skeptical about Virginia’s abilities as they poke into the identity of the skeleton and how it came to be plastered over in Francesco’s crumbling palazzo. Francesco and his sister, Gloria (Ida Galli), also shrug off her gifts. Virginia’s left to ponder what the rest of her vision might mean—a taxicab, a painting, a broken mirror, a magazine cover, a menacing man with a limp?—with only her parapsychologist pal, Luca (Marc Porel), and his resourceful assistant, Bruna (Jenny Tamburi), having her back. Once Francesco becomes the cops’ number-one suspect, Virginia picks up the pace on her own detective work, trying to figure out a timeline that will prove her husband’s innocence.
While The Psychic may not keep you guessing much about the killer’s identity—there are only so many characters, and you know one of them did the deed—the real fun of The Psychic comes as each fragment of Virginia’s vision finds an explanation, and is slotted into the puzzle as it slowly comes together. This is definitely a giallo, complete with the genre’s trademark shots of sinister black-leather gloves. Its effectiveness is helped along by Fulci’s splashy use of color, particularly red, and a propulsive score created in part by frequent Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi. But for the most part, Fulci operates with surprising restraint; rather than getting gruesome for shock value, The Psychic focuses on the mystery Virginia’s trying to solve—or rather, multiple mysteries, as she tries to crack not just the crimes in her midst, but also the bizarre clues flowing from her own mind.
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