In The Psychic (1977), in which O’Neill plays the titular clairvoyant, the latter’s performance is a tour de force in expression; the dialogue’s scarce (and fairly terrible when it does come out of the shadows), so O’Neill must almost exclusively act with her face and her body, both of which are regularly trapped in a whirlwind of consternation and confusion. The Psychic is a low-budget horror movie humble in its origins and likely not made to be anything other than a dreamier take on the giallo thrillers that were so commercially viable at the time. We don’t expect much, not just because the likelihood of actual quality is skimpy but also because it was directed by Lucio Fulci, who would become the most famous gorehound in the B-movie milieu just a few years later. (His most notable features are remarkably awful at anything besides staging grotesque, bloody death scenes.) Surprisingly, the film proves itself a stylish, thrilling psychological-cum-supernatural horror movie intensified by O’Neill’s unexpectedly excellent performance and by Fulci’s similarly unanticipatedly exquisite use of atmosphere and lingering, frantic sequences of suspense.
Initially, we’re skeptical of The Psychic’s capabilities. Its dubbing is execrable (always a signifier that the movie ahead has a high chance of shabbiness), and its premise, involving a medium (O’Neill) having to prove her husband’s (Gianni Garko) innocence after a corpse is discovered in their country home and he’s charged with murder, quickly seems far out of the comfort zone of the movie’s screenwriters. No one involved in the film’s making carries even a hint of Agatha Christie’s cleverness or Fulci peer Dario Argento’s knack for sleazy, but effective, mysteries. But a couple twists later — and a plethora of sumptuous, nervous images courtesy of the film’s cinematographer, Sergio Salvati — and we’re captivated. With O’Neill’s performance already so magnetic, we’re further pulled in by the for-the-most-part competently-told whodunit at the center, which ebbs and flows nicely and eventually boils over into a dazed, intelligently-staged climax. The film was the last giallo Fulci would make before becoming a full-time splatter artiste. Its surprising potency makes us wish the director had stuck with pieces as stylistically vibrant and generally focused as it a little longer. Note-perfectly nightmarish and skillfully labyrinthine, The Psychic is among the best of the genre, a must-watch not only for style but also for its luminous star. (And for its soundtrack, much of which was used in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 masterstroke Kill Bill: Vol. 1.) B+
1 Hr., 37 Mins.
The Psychic October 17, 2017
Jennifer O’Neill is ravishing. A hybrid of Vogue untouchability and Crawfordian angularity, she moves about the room like an undiscovered It Girl waiting for her close-up — she's unyieldingly photogenic. She’s tall and athletic, cheekbones even sharper than Sophia Loren’s and eyes more suggestive than Bette Davis’. We cannot bear to look away from her when she's on the screen; we goggle at her exotic beauty with the attention we might give to a particularly well-realized baroque portrait. Yet she possesses a full-bloodedness necessary for a movie star.