Review Date: March 15, 2007
Released by: Severin
Release date: 2/27/2007
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
The sixties were a time of great change for Italian cinema. The decade began with L’Avventura
and La Dolce Vita
, propelling the country into the forefront of arthouse films from the likes of Antonioni, Fellini, Visconti and Pasolini. With the surprising mainstream success of Antonioni’s Blow-up
in 1966 and the country’s pulpy infatuation with those yellow crime books, Italian films started to move into the realm of the sensational. With the spaghetti western, giallo and sex comedy becoming viable exports in the latter half of the decade and into the seventies, Italy’s focus shifted from auteurs to genres.
One person to seemingly go against this trend (as he would any and all trends throughout the rest of his life) was Lucio Fulci. An artisan of many hats throughout the sixties, directing comedies, romantic epics and the occasional thriller, he came into his own as an auteur at the very time when the rest of the country had lost focus in a reigning directorial vision. 1969’s Perversion Story
was his first giallo, and then One on Top of the Other
he’d make horror after horror, with each film more excessive than the last. Perversion Story
, or One on Top of the Other
as it is justifiably better known, is an interesting anomaly in his horror canon. Made before Argento introduced black gloves and high style into the genre with Bird with the Crystal Plumage, it is a thriller told without an ounce of bloodshed or even a killer, so to speak. Here’s Fulci without any gore or style to fall back on…can he tell a Story?
Dr. George Dumurrier (Jean Sorel
) is a wealthy physician who has fallen on hard times. He owes a lot of money to some powerful people, the newspaper is slandering his name, and his wife Susan (Marissa Mell
) hates him. All the while he continues on an affair with a fashion photographer (sadly not David Hemmings), the boyish Jane (Elsa Martinelli
). His fortunes change significantly when his asthmatic wife is found dead. While this gives him the freedom to swing with whomever he pleases, it also gives him a lot more spending money too. See, the day before his wife’s sudden death, she changed their will to make him the sole beneficiary of her $2 million estate. Just enough for him to payoff his investors and live the high life. Or the high life behind bars, if inspector Wald (John Ireland
) has anything to say about it.
The circumstances of Susan’s death seem too calculated for mere coincidence, and Dumurrier falls predictably under the strict watch of the San Francisco Police Department. Probably not the smartest move he ever made, Dumurrier decides to head over to a strip club, where nude women swing from the ceiling and paint their vaginas fittingly as pussy cats. An anonymous call lead him there, and Monica Weston (also Mell
) keeps him there. Looking almost identical to his wife, but with blonde hair and green eyes this time, Monica begins her seduction. Dumurrier’s déjà vu sours when he realizes the case of his deceased wife is far from, well, dead.
The cops investigate this Monica character, and insurance agents force another autopsy to determine whether or not it actually was Susan who died. A gooey cadaver (which certainly anticipates Fulci’s later fascination with the undead) doesn’t prove all that much, but when other significant details about the case start pouring in against Dumurrier, he quickly winds up in the slammer. A surprise visit from someone close gives Dumurrier a whole other alibi, but he’s got only 24 hours to act on it. Apparently Americans are so callous and irresponsible that they’d send a man to a gas chamber based on indecisive facts and give no more than a day for any other extenuating evidence to fall in. So under the gun Dumurrier’s attorney tries to track down Monica, but someone else might be doing his job for him.
One on Top of the Other
is another solid early giallo from Fulci, and while not as good as Don’t Torture a Duckling
or Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
, it is equally as notable. While Duckling
is Fulci’s most emotionally powerful work, and Lizard
his most effectively erotic and surreal, One on Top of the Other
deserves credit has one of his most twisty and pulpy scripts. Without gore effects or surrealist style to fall back on, Fulci is forced to tell a strong story with this One, and he largely succeeds. Like the films of Luciano Ercoli, there is a thrill here in sifting through all the facts and trying to play detective, especially since the leading man is behind bars for the climax of the movie! The end comes with great payoff too, Fulci effectively playing with the chronology of the film for heightened tension and a greater payoff.
Even without any gore (save for the pictured cadaver shot) and essentially no deaths, Fulci manages to keep the film exciting. While he does resort to gratuitous nudity (especially in this Perversion Story
cut – more on that in the image quality section), his primary gimmick is plot, and he proves himself more than a capable storyteller on his own merits. Having giallo staple Jean Sorel (Short Night of Glass Dolls
, Fulci’s Lizard
) and the Bava beauty Marissa Mell in the leads certainly help keep the viewer involved, too. Riz Ortolani’s score, a jazzy number along the lines of Venus in Furs, also adds intrigue to the already compelling story.
As enjoyable as the pulpy story is though, this still represents Fulci at a time when he was finding his raison d’etre as a filmmaker, and as such those looking for his signature style will be somewhat disappointed. Aside from a few modest zooms and some red-tinted lovemaking, any semblance of his later style is shrouded by his fairly static camera and loose compositions. He seems to be doing little more than telling a good story here, his socially pointed Duckling
and surrealistically inspired Lizard
, The Beyond
still very far away. This is more a film for giallo fans than fans of the Fulci, since at this point he was still searching for a distinctive voice. Still though, Fucli’s search is much more interesting than most directors’ conquests.
Let’s talk about the transfer that’s here before we address the elephant of what’s not. Perversion Story
, as presented here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Severin Films, looks quite good. There is a prominent grain throughout, and there seems to always be light specs, hairs and the like going through the gate, but still the film manages to retain a relatively sharp visual look. The progressive transfer helps with clarity, as does the wonderful color reproduction here. Everything is really vivid, which is something that can be validated with all those sixties colors floating around. Considering of the poor (and limited) incarnations found on VHS, this new print is a godsend for those wanting to see the film as it was meant to be seen.
Unfortunately, how it was meant to be seen is under strict debate since this DVD release. The cut included here is the French cut, which contrary to the back of the box’s 103-minute listing, is actually 97-minutes. The 103-minutes refers to the English cut of the film more commonly available.. There is more than just a mere 6-minute discrepancy though, since the French cut here loses about 11-minutes of dialogue from the English version, filling up the remaining minutes with added sex and nudity. Since the film was a co-production between Rome, France and Madrid, differing cuts catering to different social climates seems an inevitability. That brings up the question though, as to which version is most akin to Fulci’s vision.
The longer English cut has more plot details and logically makes the most sense. In the French version, almost an entire subplot has been eliminated, which makes the ending much less believable, since the eliminated character ends up playing a huge part in the resolve. At the same time however, the longer English cut has some superfluous tacked on shots of San Francisco, so much so that for a moment you think you have been transported back to the hell that is The Forest. Both cuts have their plusses and minuses, and considering Fulci was still more or less a director for hire at this point in his career, I don’t think he preferred either cut over the other.
The best option, then, would be to make a sort of discretionary cut between the English and French cuts of the film. Taking a little from one, cutting a little from the other. Of course people would argue that this version wouldn’t represent how the film was ever meant to be shown, but there exists out there other copies of the film (notably the Greek VHS) which provides an even different cut of both, adding a little more sex than the English version, but retaining the dialogue. This film seems to have been cut by distributors in whatever country it was released, so really, the definitive version is still out there waiting to be cut.
It is a shame that Severin could not track down the more widely available English cut of the film and attempt to piece the two source elements together, or at the very least just included the English cut as an extra. Since even if the footage looked worse than this beautiful French print, it would still be desirable, since it serves the plot much better than le francais. The French is all that is included here, and although it isn’t the most desirable, it still makes for solid entertainment. With once great companies like Blue Underground seemingly down for the count, we should be happy that we are still getting anything at all from these smaller cult labels.
Even though what is presented here is the French cut, only English and Italian sound options are included. The English cut is preferable, given the actors are clearly speaking in English and the setting is San Francisco. There is a moment in the strip bar where a brief dialogue exchange between Dumurrier and Jane is silent in the English cut, but the English subtitles can fill you in if you really must here the trite exchange. As per usual when there are English and Italian options, the Italian track is a bit fuller, with less instances of momentary silence and music dropout, but here those moments are so negligible the English track is still preferred. This English track is worthy of praise too, considering how awful and patchy the English track is on several of the VHS dubs of the film floating around are. The hiss has been considerably reduced, and Ortolani’s score comes through with some fidelity. Like the video, it isn’t pristine, but it has been cleaned up nicely.
The only film extra is a short trailer, which is a piece of work. Several random cuts, a moment of extended black, blocked transitions and then a hilariously somber voice over testimonial on how the filmmakers were granted access to San Quentin to film. Fun stuff. The other extra is a soundtrack CD featuring all of Ortolani’s jazz music from the film, although truth be told, it sounds much more cacophonous here than it does in the film. Most of the tracks sound repetitive, riffing on the whaling trumpet theme throughout the 11 tracks. Still, there’s the very nice romance theme included too, which is certainly the standout. It isn’t one of the best soundtracks ever composed, but a definite point of intrigue.
lives up to its title twofold, in the way this DVD includes more sexual perversions than the English cut of the film, and in the way this is much more story driven than the bulk of Fulci’s horror films. Even without blood, gore or wild camerawork, Fulci still proves here that he can captivate with his intriguing script which gives the beautiful Marissa Mell double exposure with two mysterious roles. Although this cut of the film is missing close to 11-minutes of dialogue compared to the English cut found on VHS, what is available here looks and sounds great. Severin has done a good job remastering the film, and the inclusion of the soundtrack is a nice added bonus. Much like Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
, the final word won’t be said until the longer cut of the film is released, but since that likely isn’t going to happen any time soon, this Fulci rarity deserves your bucks. If you like gialli for their stories (Playboy’s for their articles?) or Fulci before the excess, then you won’t be able to put down this Story.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 37 minutes
- Not Rated
- 2 Discs
- Chapter stops
- English mono
- Italian mono
- English subtitles
- Riz Ortolani soundtrack
- Theatrical trailer