Color, 1977, 97m.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Jennifer O'Neill, Marc Porel, Gabriele Ferzetti, Gianni Garko, Evelyn Stewart
84 Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Severin (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Neo (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1977, 97m.
The final film in Lucio Fulci's '70s giallo cycle before he turned to gut-splattering supernatural epics, 1977's underrated Sette mote in nero (retitled The Psychic for its U.S. release) functions as a clever, surprisingly restrained summation of his thriller career to date while anticipating a few ideas yet to surface in the following decade. The film kicks off with an outrageous suicide reprise of the finale from Don't Torture a Duckling as a woman hurls herself from a cliff, her face smashing against the rocks on the way down to the sea. The horrific event is telepathically witnessed by her young daughter, Virginia, who grows into an adult (now played by Jennifer O'Neill) happily and wealthily married to Francesco (Garko). One afternoon while driving through a tunnel, she has another chilling psychic vision involving a dying woman walled up alive, a cigarette, and a magazine cover. When Francesco goes away on business, she decides to surprise him by redecorating his old house -- which frighteningly resembles the murder scene in her vision. With a handy pickaxe, she whacks away some drywall to expose a long-decomposed cadaver; not surprisingly, the police quickly arrest her husband upon his return. However, Virginia becomes convinced that portions of her vision have yet to pass and enlists the aid of her therapist, Luca (Porel), to uncover the sinister truth.
Though promoted as a horror film, The Psychic is a much trickier beast as it navigates between a genteel drawing room mystery, a pulse-pounding traditional thriller, and Poe-inspired gothic horror. This wasn't the first Italian thriller to lift from Poe's "The Black Cat" (Sergio Martino beat Fulci to the punch by a couple of years), but the narrative gimmick is nicely carried over here and sets up Fulci's later return to the same story with 1981's The Black Cat. Fans of Fulci's One on Top of the Other and A Lizard in a Woman's Skin will find a few subtle echoes here as well, though the lack of overt sadistic violence or sex has often confounded newcomers expecting another black-gloved special. Instead viewers are given surprisingly rich and committed performances by O'Neill and the late Porel, a knockout music score by the triad of Frizzi/Bixio/Tempera (later reprised prominently in the hospital sequence of Kill Bill), a tight and twisty narrative, and a nicely ambiguous resolution. Unfortunately the American ads blatantly gave away the film's big mid-story twist, but it still stands up well even with the key reversal exposed. Many of Fulci's best collaborators are in fine form here, with prolific scribes Dardano Sacchetti and Roberto Gianviti offering a much more coherent and literate script than usual for a late '70s Italian exploitation film and talented cinematographer Sergio Salvati making skillful use of shadows and sparing colored lighting for maximum dramatic effect.
Many sources claim The Psychic was heavily butchered for its U.S. release, though most of the missing running time can be attributed to the fact that the opening titles (complete with a wonderfully kitschy theme song) were hacked away by more than half and the end titles were removed entirely. The bulk of the film remained intact, though the poor prints and absolutely wretched VHS incarnations from Vestron Video did little to win the film over with North Americans. It was one of the first Fulcis to receive a truly prominent stateside release, though, and its great Giger-inspired poster art managed to lure in a few ticket buyers. (Indian filmmakers must have been impressed, too, since they hilariously remade it almost scene-for-scene in the '80s as 100 Days.) Gray market buyers had to resort to tracking down uncut, widescreen Japanese dupes (under the wonderful title of Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes), and eventually a remastered French DVD (under the title L'emmurée vivante) popped up without any English-friendly options.
Severin's now-discontinued 2007 American release offered the original English language track (the preferable one as this was how the film was obviously shot, even though many of the supporting cast were looped by other voice performers later) and a cleaner, more skillfully compressed presentation of what seems to be the same anamorphic transfer (albeit with a different title card). Color and sharpness look just fine, and the framing appears ideal. (The transfer is interlaced but seems to play okay bumped up to HD progressive, for those whose DVD decisions live or die by that.) The disc includes the rarely-seen U.S. trailer, in scratchy but colorful condition, which makes vivid use of the poster art and the Frizzi score, and a half-hour featurette, "Voices from the Black," using audio interviews (with various video clips to cover the footage) with Sacchetti (who has some clearly mixed feelings about his Fulci collaborations), editor Bruno Micheli, and costume designer Massimo Lentini, all of whom share stores about working with one of the grand fathers of Italian horror. The same disc was also included in their three-film Fulci set with Perversion Story and The Eroticist.
In late 2014, German label 84 Entertainment released a three-disc limited edition (2,000 units) that easily marks the best and most elaborate presentation to date. The Blu-ray and the first DVD are identical in terms of content, though the HD presentation on the former makes it a more satisfying option. The slightly windowboxed transfer is a bit above average for what appears to be an Italian-sourced master, sporting the Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes title. Colors are absolutely stunning and feature a richness barely hinted at in past video editions, and the level of detail advances miles beyond the DVDs. There's some natural film grain, but on the downside there's also some of that odd frozen grain effect that indicates some digital chicanery with presumably unnecessary processing involved; it's especially obvious in brighter scenes but at least avoids the dreaded splashy watercolor effect that plagues the worst Italian HD jobs. (The fact that the film was shot with an insane amount of diffusion and wacky filter effects complicates things even further.) Audio is presented in either German or the original English with removable German subtitles; the English track hasn't really sounded all that great on any video release to date here, and that's still the case with the opening "With You" song sounding particularly rough and unbalanced. (To be fair, it's also damaged and in less than prime condition on the soundtrack CD.) There's also a German-only audio commentary by Marcus Stiglegger. Video extras on the Blu-ray (and first DVD) include the U.S. trailer (identical to the one on the U.S. disc), a newly-created German "trailer" (complete with fake grindhouse-y scratches for some reason), a shorter new promo teaser, and the Italian opening credits (which feature the best title treatment by far) and end title. The third disc, a DVD, features a slew of additional Italian-language extras with German subtitles: "Fabio Frizzi: Die Fruhen Jahre" (a 14-minute interview with the great composer), "Die Entsehung Der Filmmusik" (a 9-minute appraisal of the film's score and placement in the Italian giallo canon), a 13-minute interview with Gianni Garko, a 4-minute "Inside Sette Notte in Nero" video overview, "Stimmen in Schwarz" (a 24-minute scholarly look at the film compiling comments from most of the participants), a 5-minute chat with Fabio Traversari about the camera operations of the opening sequence, a 5-minute chat with the multiple participants about a slated remake, a poster and stills gallery, and a batch of incredibly cool vintage German trailers for Suspiria, Conquest, Witchfinder General, Contamination (under the title Astaron), and Formula for a Murder, all of which make this worth picking up for genre fans all by themselves. The packaging is labeled as Region B and Region 2, but all discs played without issue on Region A-locked players.