Color, 1969, 107 mins. 54 secs. / 96 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Marisa Mell, Jean Sorel, Elsa Martinelli, John Ireland, Faith Domergue, Alberto De Mendoza
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD, Severin Films (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
"Nude is not enough. It needs to be disgusting!" So proclaims a minor character early on in Lucio Fulci's Una sull'altra, better known in English as One on Top of the Other and christened more recently on home video under its even more lurid European title, Perversion Story. Stylish, sexy, and unpredictable, it marked a turning point for the director after churning out a series of comedies and historical dramas.
Perhaps inspired by writing a thematically similar Edgar Wallace adaptation, the quasi-giallo Double Face with Klaus Kinski, Fulci begins the film in San Francisco with wealthy Dr. George Dumurrier (Short Night of Glass Dolls' Sorel) tending to his ailing asthmatic wife, Susan (Mell), whose sleeping and respiratory medications cannot be taken together or else she will - gasp! - expire horribly. Naturally she drops dead in the first reel, leaving poor George fingered for her possible murder when he winds up inheriting her multi-million dollar insurance policy. As if George's life weren't complicated enough, his partner and brother, Henry (De Mendoza), is prone to arguing with him about the state of their clinic and their various medical announcements to the press. When George and his unhappily married mistress, Martha (Martinelli), decide to get away from it all by visiting an upscale strip club, he's transfixed by dancer Monica Weston (also Mell), a dead ringer for his wife who does a sultry striptease astride a motorcycle. When he follows Monica to her place, they fall into the sack together... but when he discovers she has the same sleeping medication as his late wife, George becomes suspicious. Unfortunately, the authorities quickly gather enough evidence to land George behind bars in San Quentin, so he and Martha must race against time to unravel the mystery before he winds up in the gas chamber.
A pivotal giallo long circulated on the gray market, Perversion Story benefits from excellent performances by its cast, with the frequently undraped and multi-wigged Mell especially having a field day in two - or is it three? - roles. Sorel also gets to exercise his thespian skills more than usual as the caddish George, who goes through the wringer during the course of the labyrinthine story. American actors John Ireland and Faith Domergue pop up in minor supporting roles, but it's really the European actors' show all the way. Riz Ortolani also contributes a scorching jazz and lounge score that's been an established Euro soundtrack favorite for years, and Fulci keeps the story moving along and surprising at every turn with some wonderful mod touches thrown in like wild multi-split-screen effects and colorful strip sequences bursting with psychedelic colors.
Anyone who viewed this film in its past VHS incarnations (or miserable-looking US prints) had to be flabbergasted by Severin's 2007 DVD, a beautifully pristine presentation that laid waste to every version before it. This edition comes complete with the much snazzier Italian opening titles, which dynamically cut and shift across the screen Psycho-style rather than the comparatively drab English credits. This also represents a significantly different edit of the film, clocking in with an extra four minutes of saucy footage missing from prior English releases. It would be bad form to list the details, but let's just say that Mell and Martinelli fans will be very happy with what they see-- and anyone annoyed by the film's relative lack of sexiness considering its title will find this release much more satisfying. On the other hand it's also missing quite a bit of incidental footage, almost nine minutes' worth, including some extra chit chat and a lot of driving coverage around San Francisco. The familiar English dub track is present here and is solid enough despite the flat dubbing of Sorel. (Whoever dubbed Mell certainly jumped in with gusto!) However, the Italian track feels more organic to the film, has more dialogue than the English track, and uses Ortolani's score much more prominently, though the final scene with the radio reporter still plays far better in English. (For some reason Mell's first scene always has her clearly speaking in a hallway without any words coming out on both versions, which appears to be sloppy sound editing in the original film.) It's really a toss-up between the two, but newcomers may find the Italian track with its more complete and literate English subtitles the more accessible option. As for extras, you get the very long and spoiler-laden English theatrical trailer (as One on Top of the Other), which touts this as the first film to realistically show the incarceration and execution process at San Quentin, and a bonus soundtrack CD containing the full 11-track version of Ortolani's score.
In the wake of that DVD release, some Fulci fans tried their hands at trying to assemble an integral cut of the film with varying degrees of success. That challenge eventually fell to Mondo Macabro with its 2018 Blu-ray edition, which compiles all of the footage from the different cuts into one full version longer than any other out there. The transfer from the original negative looks impressive, though given how superb the DVD already looked it's more of a hi-def refinement with added clarity to the smaller details while featuring the same color timing and framing -- for the most part. Some shots in the early going appear a bit different with a softer, less contrasty veneer (see frame grab comparison #5 below), and the vibrant reds and golds of the original color scheme have been thankfully left intact. In a nice touch, not only are the English and Italian audio options present (DTS-HD MA mono) with optional English (translated) subtitles, but the language choice from the menu plays the film with its respective title sequences (as One on Top of the Other or Una sull'altra). The audio on the English track is much clearer and punchier, but the Italian is functional for what it is. A video interview with Sorel, "On Death Row" (29m47s), covers his glory days in European co-productions (with Italy as the ultimate "meal ticket"), his career-shifting role for Visconti, the limited confines of "erotic cinema" in Italian films at the time, Fulci's penchant for giving everyone nicknames, the pleasures of driving a Corvette all over San Francisco, and more. Probably recorded right before her death, "The Last Diva" (9m58s) features Martinelli discussing her distaste for horror films, her attraction to the basic crime story of this film, and her memorable glass table scene with Mell. Always a poetic analyzer of Fulci cinema, Stephen Thrower turns up for a new featurette (38m22s) covering Fulci's genre-hopping tendencies leading up to this film, the nascent state of the giallo at the time, this film's departure from the subgenre's strict definitions, the influence of Vertigo, the role of producer Edmondo Amati, the peculiar decision to set the original script in Louisiana, the contributions of its stars with a nice focus on Mell, and the possible real-life influence of the case of death row inmate Caryl Chessman. A fuzzy English-language trailer is also included along with the obligatory Mondo Macabro promo reel.
MONDO MACABRO (Blu-ray)
SEVERIN FILMS (DVD)
Updated review on October 13, 2018.