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An underrated giallo gem, “The Psychic” is easily one of Fulci’s best — an innovative, smartly scripted, surprising supernatural mystery.

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Lucio Fulci has always been a mixed-bag director for me. Some of his films I’ve loved, others I’ve hated. I think Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) is one of the most unique giallo films of the ‘70s, and Zombie (1979) is also a lot of fun. But unlike most horror fans, I have little patience for the “Gates of Hell” movies like The Beyond (1981), which I find boring and formless.

So, when I picked up Fulci’s 1977 movie The Psychic, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Was it going to be a cleverly structured thriller or a laborious exercise in gore effects?

I’m happy to report that The Psychic is a very effective film for what it is: a mystery-thriller with paranormal elements.

Our protagonist is Virginia Ducci (played very well, despite dubbing, by Jennifer O’Neill), a woman with clairvoyant abilities. The inciting incident occurs when Virginia has a vision of another woman being murdered and then bricked up behind a wall by a mysterious man. Even crazier, she finds the wall in question in an abandoned mansion owned by her husband, Francesco (played by Gianni Garko).

She digs into the wall and finds a skeleton. This sets the plot into motion as Virginia teams up with her friend Luca (played by Marc Porel) to try to discover who the murderer is.

Because this is a mystery movie with some stupendous twists, I’ll avoid giving any more plot details here.

What The Psychic accomplishes with such skill is a perfect melding of paranormal themes within the plot structure of giallo.

In a conventional giallo, people are murdered one by one by a mysterious killer, and the audience is led to suspect various characters throughout the film. Giallo films often include multiple plot twists (some earned, some ridiculous) before finally revealing the identity of the killer.

The Psychic, however, does not feature murder set-pieces; the murder already happened in the vision. But we do get to experience the uncertainty and twistiness inherent to the genre, as various characters are suspected of being the murderer, only for another piece of evidence to shift suspicion elsewhere.

Thematically, The Psychic also seems interested in subverting expectations around the trope of clairvoyance.

At the beginning of the film, we assume that Virginia’s visions are transparent reflections of what actually happened. But many of the movie’s twists revolve around a realization that her clairvoyance is actually more like an “unreliable narrator.” It shows her the truth, but only in bits and fragments that may not actually cohere in the way we think.

This is an incredibly ingenious way to build tension in the movie: the audience starts to become more and more suspicious of what the vision actually means.

In a lot of ways, this movie might not be hugely original.

Many Italian horror movies feature people digging into walls and floorboards to discover secrets, showing a debt to such classic Edgar Allan Poe tales as “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” And the clairvoyant vision is a well-worn trope.

But The Psychic manages to execute these conventions with total conviction, such that each twist feels logical and earned, not deus-ex-machina.

The movie is well-paced and tense, and the third act is genuinely surprising.

The Psychic is also known by its (frankly much better) Italian title, Sette Note in Nero, which translates to “Seven Notes in Black.”

Even after just one watch, I would probably have to consider this one of Fulci’s best films.

(WARNING: The official trailer for The Psychic gives away a major spoiler. Do not watch the trailer before watching the film!)

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
The Psychic, directed by Lucio Fulci and written by Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, and Dardano Sacchetti, is streaming on Kanopy.

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