Color, 1977, 97 mins. 23 secs.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Jennifer O'Neill, Marc Porel, Gabriele Ferzetti, Gianni Garko, Evelyn Stewart
Shameless Screen Entertainment (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), '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)
The final film in Lucio Fulci's marvelous '70s giallo trilogy before he turned to gut-splattering supernatural epics, 1977's underrated Sette note 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 pickax, 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 Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera (later reprised prominently in the hospital sequence of Kill Bill Vol. 1), 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 over-the-top 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 incarnation 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). 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 albeit highly flawed 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 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 including that recurring Italian transfer bugaboo, scanner noise; it's especially obvious in brighter scenes but at least avoids the dreaded splashy watercolor effect that plagued the worst of them like The 10th Victim and House by the Cemetery. (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.
In 2018, Fulci's film made its U.S. Blu-ray debut from Scorpion Releasing featuring a new 2K scan of the original negative, and it's a sight for sore eyes, to put it mildly. The white balance is tremendously improved, the scanner noise is gone, and the grain has a nice, fine texture that restores the film's elegant cinematic feel from start to finish. Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA English and Italian mono, both of which sound solid, with accurately translated English subtitles for the Italian version. While the English one may be more authentic to the performances and the best way to watch this film the first time around, the Italian one is very valuable as it features a significantly different, spookier mix at times, including a prolonged, eerie wailing that bleeds over into the opening titles that differs from how it plays in the English track. A new audio commentary by Troy Howarth (author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films) is another excellent addition to this growing roster of gialli chat tracks, presenting the film as a significant transition work from Fulci's thrillers to Gothic horrors and detailing much of the history behind the project including its now almost imperceptible literary origins. He's not a particular fan of O'Neill's performance (this reviewer thinks she's quite effective but tastes may vary), but otherwise his enthusiasm for the film shines through and greatly enhances one's appreciation for this beautifully mounted macabre chamber piece. On the video extras side, "Defeating Fate" (50m14s), an extensive interview with Sacchetti, is interspersed with vintage audio comments from Fulci and explores how this "unlucky" production came together with two writers; he's also extremely candid about Fulci's personality, his resentment of Dario Argento at the time, the odd claim that he and Fulci invented Italian horror in the late '70s, and the "light smell of the supernatural" that he loved about this script. A gallery of stills, lobby cards and posters gathers today a wealth of material from the U.S., France, and Italy; the theatrical trailer is also included along with bonus ones for The Church, Murderock, Blind Date, Rituals, and The House on Sorority Row. The Blu-ray was first available from Ronin Flix and from Diabolik including a limited edition slipcover (complete with that spoilerific tagline from the American poster) and a 9x11 mini poster with artwork by Wes Benscoter, which sold out fairly quickly. The disc was then given a general retail release in 2021 distributed via Kino Lorber featuring different cover art.
Also in 2021, U.K. label Shameless Screen Entertainment gave The Psychic its British Blu-ray debut with a presentation sourced from the same 2K scan used for the Scorpion release (and thankfully not the one from the German disc!). The packaging touts this as a new restoration, which means digital clean-up has been used to remove some little specks and other fleeting blemishes on the original scan. (See the first frame grab comparison below, or the demo video on the Shameless link.) In terms of color grading, it's similar for the most part (and virtually identical in some scenes) with minor variations in black levels and, most notably, a notch more intensity to that vibrant lamp in the final scene. Amusingly, the film's main title card has been been tweaked to read The Psychic, Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes, presumably so folks won't think they've started playing the wrong movie. Sound-wise you get two English options for some reason, either LPCM or DTS-HD MA English mono. However, the LPCM sounds way better here and comparable to the U.S. disc, while the DTS is tinny and closer to the way it sounded on VHS. So, uh, go that way if you're feeling nostalgic. The Italian track is also included, not sounding too hot but present if you're curious and featuring optional English subtitles. Antonella Fulci appears here for two separate featurettes, "Touching Fate" (21m12s) devoted strictly to this film and "Daddy Dearest" (35m3s) speaking more generally about her father, covering everything from his tastes as a "movie consumer" and his genre-hopping career to the casting and production of this "pessimistic" film including the attempt to make something lavish like the film O'Neill had just made in Italy, Luchino Visconti's The Innocent. In "Escape from Doom" (50m12s), Sacchetti speaks (after a brief 1989 interview excerpt with Fulci) about his complicated relationship with the director and the main points touched on in his earlier chats about this unorthodox "parapsychology" giallo. Finally in "Behind the Wall" (24m27s), the always genial and articulate Fabio Frizzi charts his musical journey to this film from his early music days through his other work with Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera, including the strong presence of pop music in their work starting with Four of the Apocalypse. The disc also includes a short restoration demo (2m31s) covering the process from raw scan to final grading.
SCORPION RELEASING (Blu-ray)
'84 ENTERTAINMENT (Blu-ray)
Updated review on August 8, 2021.