Archive for September 19th, 2010

(Francesco Barilli, 1974)

(essay by Kevin)

When I was approached by Jamie to participate in this countdown I knew I wanted to make sure Italian horror got its due. And when Jamie told me his intentions for the countdown – a numerical listing of films with the intent to raise awareness rather than rank one better than another – I knew I wanted to shed some light onto some Italian horror movies that weren’t as well known as the staples of the subgenre. These are films like The Short Night of the Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado) or The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati); films that have a cult following within a cult subgenre. One of the real joys about this particular sungenre is the hope that the more you watch the same old gialli over and over that just maybe this time you’ll un-mine some hidden gem. Case in point: Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black, a fantastic addition into the most hallowed halls of Italian horror.

The story – an odd mix of giallo/Hitchcock and some of the baroque qualities of a Bava – concerns Silvia (Mimsy Farmer), an industrial scientist, who becomes increasingly disturbed by a series of eerie visions from her past. These visions, crucial pieces to solving the film’s puzzle, include a seductive woman who appears when she is about to make love with her boyfriend and a little girl who piques Silvia’s interest. What’s fascinating about the picture is the way Barilli approaches the mystery of these visions: are they specters acting as representations of something from Silvia’s past, or are they merely figments of Silvia’s imagination? 

Silvia’s psychosis becomes a point of emphasis, and it sucks the viewer in much in the same way Silvia is taken hold by these visions (it reminded me of the obsessed quest of Scotty from Vertigo). It isn’t long before Silvia’s neighbors, friends and Roberto, her lover, begin to take on sinister significance. Whether or not the significance of these visions is a clue to Silvia’s past, or something more sinister, is what makes the film’s mystery so brilliant. I was blindsided by the ending of this film, perhaps because of its deliberate pace and lush visuals I wasn’t expecting the visceral jolt I received with those final images.


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