From the suggestive, atmospheric supernatural terrors of its Gothic 'Golden' period in the 1960s to the psychosexual paranoia and stylish slayings of the 70s Giallo, Italian Horror has challenged established rules of social acceptability, storytelling tradition, and cultural conscience. Whether examining the fog-shrouded corridors of warped minds and decadent ancestral estates or digging deep into the steaming viscera so crucial to the meaty marvels of the later Zombie and Cannibal opuses, Italian horror shares an intimacy to both sheer sensationalism and mature psychological suspense. This unique combination of graphic violence, emotional terror, and decadent beauty was embodied in Lucio Fulci, one of the genres most maligned directors.
A filmmaker whose defiance of authority was as striking as the blood-and-sex drenched images layering amoral splatter-ballets of nihilism and wonder, Fulci is perhaps best known for the gleefully excessive gut-muncher Zombie (1979). Often (and quite erroneously) referred to as a "rip-off" of George A. Romero's hugely successful Dawn Of The Dead, the grand guignol of Zombie was an international sensation that paved the way for a quick succession of atmospheric exercises in brutal surrealism, resulting in a Fulcian Golden Period, which included City Of The Living Dead (1980), The Black Cat (1981), The Beyond (1981), and House By The Cemetery (1981). Despised by censors, reviled by proponents of 'subtle' terror, and victim to the political/economical factions of his native film industry, Fulci was also betrayed by the intensity of his own thematic obsession with decay, moral corruption, and the questionable integrity of perception -- the very tool by which we define reality and one's place in a larger spiritual and physical context of an often malignant universe. Fulci crafted in his unrepentantly somber, inspired cinematic fragments a geography of fear and isolation. In the chaotic center of triumphant decay Fulci's vision imbued his own particular fetishistic visions of earthly decadence and supernatural speculation with a philosophic vitality unavailable in the crude pseudo-documentaries of his countrymen or the uninspired Drive-In fodder of American exploitation cinema.
A poet of the perverse who delighted in peeling back the raw exterior of existence, Fulci defied the knee-jerk philosophy of traditional conservative cinema, employing ultra-violent examinations of the flesh and the surreal to study the chaotic decay lurking below the crust of polite society and logic. With a camera lavishing detail on horror and the supernatural, Fulci displayed in his lengthy if erratic career the ability to force audiences weaned on the laughably rigid morality of Hollywood to investigate new possibilities of physical corruption, emotional lethargy, and spiritual decadence - themes largely ignored by directors who lacked the nerve or aesthetic sense required to treat the macabre in any other sense than playfully. But Fulci explored the fragile dimensions of the human psyche before he probed the soft underbelly of the flesh. Investing the Giallo with grim believability and social consciousness, Fucli tackled the 'Love Me' generation of the 70s with Lizard In A Woman's Skin, investigating the hallucinatory conflict between the desires and fears of the subconscious. And before he exposed the scandalous sexual perversion of the Catholic Church in Don't Torture A Duckling, Fulci lent his unique sensibilities to the Giallo/thriller format with Perversion Story (known as One On Top Of The Other in the English version), a surprisingly sensitive and 'understated' murder mystery that was a fore runner to his Giallos. Lacking the gore that would characterize his 'golden period,' and missing the surreal atmosphere dependent on the fantastical situations that would breath such malignance into films like The Beyond, this film exhibits the director's disenchantment with the human race. Important as a first rate who-done-it, this suspense gem is also an essential example of the director's ability to create an complex, emotionally involving story when granted the proper screenplay and resources. Released under the French title Perversion Story by Severin -- a company quickly building one of the most unique DVD catalogues for devotees of exploitation and horror -- this crime thriller makes up for in emotional involvement what it lacks in visual excess.
An effective variation of the traditional 'insurance scam'/murder frame-up narrative pattern often utilized in classical noir, Perversion Story is lent energy and emotional resonance by Fulci's sure compositions and character sympathy. The story follows brothers George and Henry Dumurrier, both of which who run a private clinic and make false promises about their medical procedures to generate publicity and income. Balancing an affair and work with Susan's (his ill wife's) emotional demands, George allows her sister to tend to her physical needs. Deep in an affair with Martham the cheating wife of a business associate, George's complicated life worsens when he receives a call informing him of Susan's death -- followed by the discovery that he is the beneficiary of an insurance policy he wasn't aware of. It doesn't take the police long to suspect him of her murder. Later, patronizing a night club, he and Martha are fascinated by Monica Weston, a mysterious blonde who resembles his dead wife. Opening a sexual relationship with the mystery woman, George discovers that Susan's body had traces of poison found in it, and he is formally charged with murder. As the net of frame-ups, blackmail, and betrayals tightens around him, George and the insurance company fight to discover the truth behind a case of murder and hidden identity. If he is to save himself from certain death, and gain peace of mind, George must locate the elusive mystery women to whom he has given his heart, and prove his innocence.
If Fulci's 'Zombie Quartet' continues to win him fans for their atmosphere, ultra violence, and nihilistic vision, his Giallos best represent him as a storyteller. Fans accustomed to the director's surrealistic visual approach -- and the disjointed scripts emphasized in his dark fantasies -- will be surprised by the complex, psychologically naturalistic suspense of Perversion Story. Fulci's Gialli are suspenseful as a result of their wit and careful scaffolding of suggestively telling events, not dependent on special effects or spectacle. Each is anchored by realism and believability, particularly his first. A traditional mystery thriller at first glance, Perversion Story is a character study of lust, greed, and guilt saved from mediocrity by an intelligent screenplay and Fulci's intimate understanding of moral corruption. Mell is the seductive highlight of the story, a Fem Fatal radiating needy yet deadly femininity. Equal parts chilly and soft, victim and victimizer, Mell is believable as an individual while also serving as an archetype for sexual enticement in general. Lover, mother, bitch: she is the typical Fulci female. (in this light she can also be seen, for those caring to look below the surface, as a symbol of the mythic triple goddess). For the lions share of its running time, 'Una Sull altra' is an exquisitely crafted thriller that never seems less than real in its depressing intent and erotic fury. The camera work -- from Alejandro Ulloa -- compliments Fulci's splendid direction, and the erotic underpinnings of Marisa Mell is an engaging contrast to the subtle performance delivered by Jean Sorrel.
Better known as One On Top of The Other, and often appearing on collector's gray market dupes, Severin's release of Perversion Story represents the first time that the film has appeared in the English market proper. A labor of love, the film is treated with respect and affection, and the company should be praised for its devotion to such a rare yet significant piece of Italian cinema. Compared to past VHS prints, this is a thing of beauty, both in presentation and the decision to include the extra four or so minutes of erotic footage. The transfer is itself is practically faultless, sporting crisp and pleasing images from source material that must have been in rather good condition. The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85. This is easily the best this film has ever looked. Colors are sharp and full-bodied. There is very little evidence of scratching present, but they in no manner reduce our enjoyment of the picture. No speckling or grain is noticeable. Audio is featured in both Italian language and English, and is just as professional, thankfully lacking the usual distortion that appears in rare titles. While the English track is nicely done, the Italian option is recommended for a purer feel of the experience, taking greater advantage of the wonderful score.
If the visual and audio presentation of this film is admirable, the extras are superb (if scant), thanks to the inclusion of the film's complete score! While not as evocative or moody as Fabio Frizzo's music for The Beyond or City of the Living Dead, Riz Ortoiani's compositions are orgies for the ears, reaching various emotional dimensions with cool stands of jazz. A collectible item, this CD is a major find, and is alone worth the price of admission. The other extra is the lengthy English trailer, which is full of spoilers, so if you haven't yet seen this film, watch it after the feature!
Some question exists as to the completeness of this version of Perversion story-- a fact that has some genre message boards crying foul. In fact, this isn't a case of dishonesty or incompleteness but an example of varying prints/versions existing of the same feature. The edition that Severin utilizes for this wonderful transfer was taken from the French version of the film. While opening and end titles are in Italian, the film itself contains the French print, which featured the extra minutes of erotic footage available. And while some ten minutes of exposition footage has been lost (featured in the English language prints that wouldn't have matched the quality continuity of the French version if spliced together), they are not as significant as other critics appear to believe. Yes, there are moments of dialogue and characterization missing, but nothing that significantly harms or would have improved upon Fulci's basic story or premise. While the inclusion of the sexy material referenced above is a welcome bonus, it does result in approximately 6-10 minutes of "tame" material (dialogue, exposition, etc) present in the US print that goes missing here. In a perfect world this missing footage would have been featured as extra material, but its loss is far from the tragedy that some would have you believe. It should be noted that Severin itself comes right out and TELLS prospective buyers that this is the French theatrical cut of the film. In fact, here is what their website reads:
"Thought to have been lost for more than 35 years, this is the French theatrical cut newly transferred from the Parisian negative element containing salacious scenes never before seen in any English language release. In France the film was released under the title Perversion Story even though it carries the Italian title card Una Sull'Altra and is an alternate edit from the US and UK releases we know as One On Top Of The Other."
Did we all see that? Good. This is "an alternate edit from the US and UK releases." Severin has done a commendable job of presenting us with a racier cut of the French version of Perversion Story on English DVD for the first time ever. The beauty of the print, and the quality of the film, are reason enough to shell down your dollars for this piece of genre history.
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Severin|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|