within the confining frames of a celluloid strip and she becomes the heroine of a lifetime.
In The Psychic (1977), in which O’Neill plays the titular clairvoyant, the latter’s performance becomes a tour de force in expression; the dialogue’s scarce (and fairly terrible when it does come out of the shadows by way of exposition), and 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 film just a few years later. (His most notable features are remarkably awful at anything besides staging grotesque, bloody death scenes.)
But the film proves itself a stylish, thrilling psychological cum supernatural horror movie, its prowess 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 waiting 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 Dario Argento’s knack for sleazy, but effective, cinematic 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. O’Neill’s performance already so magnetic (how much of that is a result of her magnificent beauty we cannot say), we’re further pulled in by the competently-told whodunit at the center, which ebbs and flows superbly 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. But its surprising potency makes one wish that the director had stuck with pieces as stylistically vibrant and generally focused as it. Note-perfectly nightmarish and skillfully labyrinthine, The Psychic is among the best of the genre, a must-watch not only for its many artistic provocations but also for the luminous O’Neill. (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
ennifer 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, unyieldingly photogenic and pleasing to the eye. She’s tall and athletic, cheekbones better than Sophia Loren’s and eyes more suggestive than Bette Davis’. We cannot bear to look away from her — we goggle at her exotic beauty with the attention most usually given to a Caravaggio portrait. And yet she possesses a full-bloodedness necessary to find in a movie star. She may not look like anyone we’ve drifted past on the street, but held hostage