Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

I usually have a pretty high tolerance for plot incoherence when it comes to Italian giallos and horror flicks but Francesco Barilli’s 1974 Perfume of the Lady in Black (Il profumo della signora in nero) really challenged that tolerance.

Mimsy Farmer is Silvia Hacherman, a pretty blonde scientist who appears to be going slowly mad. She is haunted by memories of her childhood, rather confused and disjointed memories, but memories that obviously relate to something sexual. She is also involved with people who seem to be dabbling in voodoo.

Her hold on reality is gradually becoming more tenuous. As her childhood memories become clearer, her madness grows. Sometimes it’s better to leave the past in the past.

For the first 90 minutes or so it seems to have the potential to be a reasonably entertaining giallo, but then comes the final ten minutes. And that’s when you realise you’ve just wasted 100 minutes of your time as the movie spectacularly self-destructs. Sometimes this can be can a morbidly fascinating experience, but sadly not in this case.

There have been occasions when I’ve watched a movie and I’ve been underwhelmed by it, but then when I listen to the commentary track or see an interview with the film-maker I find myself inclined to judge the move less harshly. In this case the accompanying interview with writer-director Francesco Barilli actually made me dislike the movie even more, although it did at least explain a great deal about why this movie turned out to be such a trainwreck.

Bariili had been working on two separate projects, one involving madness and one involving voodoo (and other related elements but I’m trying not to reveal spoilers). Bariili got the bright idea to combine the two projects. Unfortunately they aren’t actually combined, they just exist side-by-side without really meshing. And then the producer insisted on the addition of another pointless sub-plot, which just makes things worse.

None of this would matter because this is after all Italian horror which is all about style rather than substance, except that what we have here is an incompatibility of mood which is far more serious than a plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense. The final ten minutes seem like it belongs to a different film, and it just doesn’t fit stylistically or atmospherically.

It might still have been salvageable had it been made by someone with real visual flair but Barilli’s directorial style is just a bit too pedestrian.

On the plus side Mimsy Farmer is quite good.

Raro Video deserve credit for releasing such an obscure movie although they’re a little overenthusiastic in describing two pages of text and two very small illustrations as “a fully illustrated booklet containing critical analysis.” The desperate attempts to compare it to Argento’s movies and to Rosemary’s Baby also ring rather hollow.

Ultimately Perfume of the Lady in Black is just not worth the effort and I can’t recommend this one at all.

1 comment:

Richard of DM said...

Oh man. I love this movie. I rank it much higher than Rosemary's Baby though I question why Raro Video would even bother comparing the two other than to sell a few extra copies. I really dig how Perfume just does whatever it wants, zigging and zagging all over the place. The film is filled with style, is especially morbid, and is loaded with dread. Mimsy Farmer's character has been damned from the start. The plot strays from the norm and has a very satisfying (though confounding) ending. What's not to love?