The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or ‘The Vision Thing’

In my previous post on The House of Clocks, I told you guys I was gonna get into some more under-appreciated Lucio Fulci goodness, and here I am making good on that promise, so don’t say I never gave you anything, okay? Okay. As I mentioned in the previous entry, Fulci could make a pretty decent film in any genre you’d care to name, and as fun as his horror gorefests are, some of his best movies fall more into the giallo or thriller genre. One of these, probably my favorite of his thrillers, is the subject of today’s post.

I'M WATCHING YOU. WATCHING AND JUDGING.

I’M WATCHING YOU. WATCHING AND JUDGING.

Sette Note In Nero, aka Seven Notes In Black, aka Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes, aka The Psychic (damn those foreign distribution deals!) came out in Italy in 1977, though it wasn’t released on DVD in the US until many years later. It’s a tight little supernatural murder mystery that deftly maintains an air of heightening tension throughout the entire film, keeping you on that fabled edge of your seat until the very end. In addition, the set design is gorgeous, and the performances from leads Jennifer O’Neill and Gianni Garko seem to be excellent (the dubbing is a little distracting, but not nearly as bad as some other Italian films of the period). There is very little gore, other than an amusingly Fulci-an moment in the opening flashback scene where a suicidal woman repeatedly sloughs flesh off her face as she jumps to her death off a cliff; other than that, the only blood that appears accompanies a couple of not-terribly-graphic head wounds. So if you’re squeamish about that kind of thing, you may feel free to watch this movie while digging into a huge, glistening bowl of spaghetti marinara; you’ll probably be fine.

MANGIA MANGIA.

MANGIA MANGIA.

The Psychic, like several other gialli, utilizes a plot device I’ve always liked; I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but I’m going to call it “partially spoiling the outcome.” In other words, the viewer already knows more or less what’s going to happen, but the suspense of the film is generated by seeing the way in which the inevitable will come to pass. Even though the film is structured this way, it’s actually still full of surprises, which is one of the reasons I’ve always admired its rather clever screenplay (written by Dardano Sacchetti, who incidentally also penned a bunch of Fulci’s most beloved gore films, like City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery).

Jennifer O’Neill plays Virginia Ducci, an American interior decorator who has recently married a hotshot Italian playboy named Francesco. It is established in the first scene that Virginia is a clairvoyant; we see a flashback of her as a schoolgirl having a vision of her mother’s suicide. Back in the present, she drops her dashing husband off at an airfield for a business trip, and then drives down a highway punctuated by long, dark tunnels. As she drives through one of the tunnels, she suddenly has a disjointed and unsettling vision. Aspects of her vision include:

  1. Shafts of red light, and what appears to be someone placing a brick in a layer of mortar.
  2. A pretty but sinister little tune, like something from a music box.
  3. A cigarette with yellow paper balanced on the edge of a blue ashtray.
  4. A magazine with an attractive dark-haired woman on the cover.
  5. A yellow taxi parked on a dark street.
  6. A broken antique mirror.
  7. A sumptuously decorated room containing an overturned bust with a letter underneath it.
  8. A glimpse of a man’s feet as he walks with a decided limp.
  9. The clearly visible face of a man with a mustache, emerging from the shadows.
  10. An obviously dead old woman with blood all over her face and head.
  11. A room with a floor lamp with a red shade, and beyond that a wall with a substantial portion of the masonry removed.
BAROQUE AS FUCK.

BAROQUE AS FUCK.

I'VE FALLEN AND I CAN'T GET UP.

I’VE FALLEN AND I CAN’T GET UP.

REALLY ADDS A NICE "CASK OF AMONTILLADO" VIBE TO THE DECOR, DOESN'T IT?

REALLY ADDS A NICE “CASK OF AMONTILLADO” VIBE TO THE DECOR, DOESN’T IT?

After seeing this seemingly nonsensical collection of images, she awakens on the side of the highway with a police officer knocking on her window and asking if she’s all right. She snaps out of it pretty quickly, but is still troubled by what she’s seen and heard. Despite her unease, however, she continues on to her first destination, the office of her friend Luca Fattori (Marc Porel), who is a parapsychologist and has apparently been counseling Virginia about her visions for many years. She tells him about her latest vision and he records it, though he doesn’t believe it has any particular significance.

"cagna, si prega di"

“CAGNA, SI PREGA DI.”

Virginia’s next destination turns out to be an old palazzo that is owned by her husband Francesco. He hasn’t lived in it for several years, and it looks all but abandoned, but Virginia has decided that she is going to surprise him by starting to restore the beautiful old place. The caretaker lets her in and she begins poking around. In what was previously Francesco’s bedroom, Virginia starts removing the covers from the furniture and stops cold when one of the items revealed is the antique mirror she saw in her vision. The mirror isn’t broken as it was in her psychic episode, but it’s clearly the same one. Disturbed, she starts pulling off other covers, and yes, here is the floor lamp with the red shade. She glances over at the wall behind the lamp, which of course had a large section missing in her vision. It looks normal now, but she gets closer to inspect it. At first she doesn’t see anything and laughs at her own folly, but then she notices a very faint yellowed line and what appears to be a hairline crack. Still not completely sure she should be doing this, she finds a pickaxe in the basement and goes to town on the wall. It takes her forever, and the movie almost makes us think that there’s not gonna be anything back there, but nope, Virginia’s vision is vindicated (alliteration, bitches). She finds a skeleton and summons the polizia.

It seems clear that Virginia has seen a vision of the murder that ended up with a body walled up in her husband’s palazzo. She assumes that the victim was the dead old woman she saw, and that the murderer was the limping, mustachioed man lurking around on a staircase. So she’s a little put out when her husband is picked up for questioning as soon as he arrives back from his business trip. The cops and her lawyer assure her that this is just a formality, since the skeleton was found in Francesco’s house. Virginia is certain that he is not the murderer, not only because she saw another man in her vision, but also because the estimated time of death of the victim partially overlapped with a point in time, several years earlier, when Francesco was provably out of the country. Virginia is determined to clear her husband’s name, enlisting a couple of lawyers, Luca, Luca’s perky secretary Bruna (Jenny Tamburi), and Francesco’s sister Gloria (Evelyn Stewart) in this endeavor.

NOT TO WORRY, THE ITALIANS ARE ON THE CASE. THEY HAVE PIPES. AND PROBABLY MOB TIES.

NOT TO WORRY, THE ITALIANS ARE ON THE CASE. THEY HAVE PIPES. AND MAYBE MOB TIES.

Things get confusing pretty quickly, though. First of all, it’s discovered that the skeleton behind the wall is not that of an old woman at all, but of a 25-year-old woman named Agneta Bignardi. Upon seeing a photograph of her, Virginia realizes that she is the dark-haired woman on the magazine cover in her vision. Francesco admits to having a relationship with her several years back (uh-oh). And that’s not the only fact that seems to contradict her vision: she also sees the old woman, very much alive, outside her window one night and gets several phone messages from her in which she insists she knows something about the murder. Turns out that Francesco’s sister smokes cigarettes with yellow paper, and also gives her a watch that plays the sinister little tune she heard in her vision. The man she saw in her vision that she assumed was the murderer, Emilio Rospini (Gabriele Ferzetti), doesn’t have a limp, though he does seem to know something about the girl’s death and acts sinister as fuck. She finds a photograph of Agneta that was apparently taken several months after Francesco left Italy, meaning that the girl was probably killed by Rospini. Or was she?

SYMBOLISM (PROBABLY).

SYMBOLISM (PROBABLY).

The tense, nail-biting fun of this movie is seeing each of the images in her vision turning up one by one in reality, and trying to piece together how everything fits. The coolest aspect of this narrative structure (and this is a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT) is that for pretty much the first half of the movie, both the viewer and the film characters assume that Virginia’s vision was of the circumstances of the past murder. But as the story goes on, we slowly begin to realize, along with the characters, that Virginia’s vision was actually of the future, and the suspense gets more and more intense as the details begin to fill in and we realize what’s likely to happen and what exactly is at stake. It’s a self-contained and very satisfying narrative, and even though the very end leaves you going a little, “Wha…?” it’s still a taut, enjoyable ride.

Until next time, Goddess out.

The Goddess’s Favorite Creepy Movie Scenes, or Time Ain’t on Your Side

Despite my oft-repeated love of subtle, atmospheric horror, I will also admit to being something of a gorehound. And I’m assuming that my fellow gorehounds will be intimately familiar with the works of the legendary Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci. Although Fulci made movies in pretty much every conceivable genre (comedies, westerns, thrillers, cop dramas), he is today primarily remembered as The Godfather of Gore, and widely beloved for scenes like these:

I’M HALF THE MAN I USED TO BE

I’M HALF THE MAN I USED TO BE

HEAD LIKE A HOLE

HEAD LIKE A HOLE

ANDALUSIAN DOGGY STYLE

ANDALUSIAN DOGGY STYLE

NO GUTS, NO GORY

NO GUTS, NO GORY

However, true to my contrarian nature, I’d like to discuss one of Fulci’s lesser-appreciated horror films, one that is perhaps not as colorful as the above examples, but serves as a reminder that the cranky, bespectacled Italian was more than capable of producing a disturbing, relatively low-key scare experience without necessarily resorting to buckets of blood and entrails.

1989’s The House of Clocks (aka La Casa nel Tempo) was actually filmed for Italian cable television, but was considered too violent for TV. It never aired, and was later relegated to direct-to-video hell. Briefly, it tells the chilling story of an elderly couple, Victor and Sarah (Paolo Paolini and Bettine Milne) who are set upon by a group of three robbers in their palatial home in the country. The gang sort-of-accidentally murders the oldsters during the attempted heist, but then they begin to notice that some weird-ass shit is going on in the spooky old mansion. The countless clocks around the place all mysteriously stop at the exact moment the couple are killed, and thereafter follows a bizarre narrative where time itself appears to be running backwards. The crotchety codgers seem to return from the dead to take revenge, but then they are apparently killed again, and then other people are returning from the dead, and then it turns out that the robbers were just high the whole time and never even entered the house at all, but then they get killed in a car crash before the robbery even happens, or something…? Anyway, like many Italian horror movies, the plot doesn’t really make a lick of sense, but if you can just go with the flow and soak up the unsettling, well-constructed atmosphere, then I think you’ll find that House of Clocks is a wonderfully eerie and underrated film in Fulci’s vast canon.*

and if you disagree, someone has a bone to pick with you.

one, you lock the target.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about this movie is its use of one of my favorite horror tropes: Malevolent Old Folks. Sure, lots of movies have spooky children, but fewer utilize the other end of the age spectrum in such an effective way. Creepy old people are creepy, I assume, for one of the same reasons that creepy children are: namely, that people tend to view both children and the elderly as rather innocent and harmless, so when they go bad, it fucks with our sense of perspective about how the world should work. Old people, though, also have the additional creep factor of being far closer to death, thus subconsciously reminding us of our own impending decline and inevitable expiration.

Victor and Sarah are a prime example of this. I find that I almost want to compare them to the evil Castavets from Rosemary’s Baby, though where the Castavets lured the Woodhouses into their web using a sort of potty charm and conscientiousness that bordered on bullying, Victor and Sarah feign a doddering helplessness to throw the gang of robbers off their game. The suspense in House of Clocks comes from the fact that viewers are aware right from the beginning that the old folks are not the sweetly genteel grandparents they appear to be. In the very first scene, for example, the sexually-ambiguous housekeeper creeps around the mansion with clear trepidation, and eventually stumbles upon a hidden chapel containing two rotting corpses in wedding clothes who have been stabbed through the throat with huge nails. And the next scene shows Victor, in his gentlemanly black suit, entering the dining room for breakfast. He picks up and pets a kitty cat, then he notices a pretty little bird sitting on the open windowsill. He feeds the bird some toast and coos at it, looking lovingly down at the tiny creature just seconds before he smashes it to death with his cane. And directly afterwards, there’s a really disturbing sequence where Victor and Sarah are in the chapel with the dead bride and groom. Victor casually hammers the bride’s throat-nail in deeper, and then brushes some dust off the groom’s coat. Sarah peers through her glasses and shakily reapplies the bride’s lipstick, then kisses her forehead. All the while, the geriatric pair are sadly lamenting to the corpses (who are their nephew and his wife, it turns out) that they were ungrateful little shits who were only after the couple’s money. So yeah, Santa and Mrs. Claus these two ain’t.

we could have just put lumps of coal in your stockings, but we decided to throat-stab you instead.

we could have just put lumps of coal in your stockings, but we decided to throat-stab you instead.

By now, you’ve probably got the gist that these fossils are definitely not to be trifled with, but Fulci isn’t done. The very next scene shows the housekeeper, Maria (Carla Cassola) approaching the greenhouse. She passes one-eyed groundskeeper Peter (Al Cliver), who appears to be digging a grave in the garden. She then goes into the greenhouse and finds Sarah fussing over her flowers. She informs Sarah that she will have to be leaving the couple’s employ to care for her mother. Sarah takes this all in stride, making sympathetic and understanding noises right before swiftly turning, grabbing some kind of spear-like garden implement, and stabbing Maria right in the delta of Venus.

YOU CAN’T QUIT, I’M FIRING YOU!

YOU CAN’T QUIT, I’M FIRING YOU!

The cool thing about the first twenty minutes of the film is that Fulci takes his time setting up the couple’s murderous streak in spades, so when the robbers show up, you’re thinking, “Oh man, did you dipshits pick the wrong house to plunder.” But then he toys with our expectations by having Victor and Sarah get blown away almost immediately.

YOU THINK A GAPING CHEST WOUND IS GONNA STOP THIS LADY? HELL NO. SHE’S A PISTOL, THAT ONE.

YOU THINK A GAPING CHEST WOUND IS GONNA STOP THIS LADY? HELL NO. SHE’S A PISTOL, THAT ONE.

It is only then that the viewer realizes that not only can the feisty seniors handily kick ass in this life, but also apparently can bend space and time to their will, making them able to fuck your shit up before you even did anything. There should be some kind of hardcore AARP for these two to join, is what I’m saying.

Also, is it weird that I sort of wish Victor and Sarah were my grandparents? Sure, you’d never, ever ask them to borrow fifty bucks to cover your electric bill, but if you were super nice and appreciative they’d probably have you over to their wicked-cool mansion for tea and scones, and if anybody ever messed with you, your beloved Nana and Pop-Pop could take care of your little problem with a minimum of fuss, even returning from the dead to do so if necessary. Just a tip, though: if Victor and Sarah do you the favor of gorily eliminating one of your sworn enemies, the least you can do is call them on their birthdays or bring them a case of Ensure or tape that Matlock marathon for them or something, for heaven’s sakes. You know, give something back, that’s all they ask.

should have given nana those coffee coupons, shouldn't you? she did ask nicely.

should have given nana those coffee coupons, shouldn’t you? she did ask nicely.

Until next time, Goddess out.

*If you’re a Fulci fan, keep watching this space, because I eventually want to do a writeup on another of Fulci’s underseen gems, 1977’s The Psychic (aka Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes).