The Perfume of the Lady in Black (RaroVideo)
A 1975 Italian horror turned psycho-drama starring Mimsy Farmer, the chilly blonde mod icon of giallo who specializes in characters both sexually active and repressed, The Perfume of the Lady in Black (RaroVideo) is quite the giallo find.
Farmer, an American whose career was largely in Europe (Barbet Schroeder’s More) and specifically in giallo and genre cinema (Argento’s Four Flies on Gray Velvet, Fulci’s The Black Cat), does Tippi Hedron/Mia Farrow duty here as a professional chemist who is haunted by visions and flashbacks of past trauma and surrounded by a small chorus of characters—some friends, some suspicious-looking strangers—who keep orbiting around her, most of them for no good reason. Unfazed by her increasing hallucinations and hysterical outbursts, they drag her to a séance so they can mess with her already shaky grasp on reality and then shadow her as she tracks down the sweaty brute from her flashbacks and finds that he’s a taxidermist. But of course he’s surrounded by lifelike incarnations of dead predators a la Norman Bates.
Reverberating with echoes of Rosemary’s Baby, Marnie and Alice in Wonderland, this plunge down the rabbit hole of sanity doesn’t always add up to logical explanations, but the hall of mirrors reflecting reality and fantasy back on one another is part of the fun and the Satanic reverberations of the conspiratorial climax only adds to the mystery. Director/co-screenwriter Francesco Barilli never (to the best of my knowledge) made another giallo (though he did script Who Saw Her Die?), which may be why this film so freely winds its own way through the conventions. Barilli leaves the flashbacks and visions purposefully vague, always pitched on the edge of memory and nightmare, but they definitely reverberate in her adult life; you just have to see her family photos, with the father’s head neatly cut out of every snapshot, or listen to her stories of her absent sea captain father to see the psychic damage. And Barilli doesn’t draw a straight line between the repressed memories and the current torment of nightmares and paranoia, which leaves her ordeal unexplained, or perhaps inexplicable is a better word. We know what finally happens to her in no uncertain terms, but the mystery as to why hangs over the film as the credits roll.
The American home video debut from Raro Video features the 26-minute Italian language featurette “Portrait in Black” (originally made for the Italian DVD release) and the alternate English dub soundtrack in addition to the original Italian soundtrack with English subtitles.