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Dr. George Dumurrier is looking for money to expand the San Francisco-based clinic he runs with his brother. He is also having an affair with Jane, a glamorous fashion photographer. When Dumurrier’s wife, Susan, dies following an asthma attack, leaving him a million dollar insurance payout, it seems that all his problems are solved - until an anonymous phone call sends him to the Roaring ‘20s strip club where he is astonished to discover that its featured performer, the dangerously desirable Monica Weston, looks exactly like his dead wife. As he tries to unravel this mystery, George learns that the police are now investigating his wife’s death and that he is under suspicion of murder. (From Mondo’s official synopsis)

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD
With some exceptions, Italy’s giallo genre can more or less be divided between the nominally popular films of the ‘60s, spawned from Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Italian: La ragazza che sapeva troppo; aka: Evil Eye, 1963) and Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino, 1965), the boom that followed Dario Argento’s massively popular The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970), and the stragglers/tributes that followed throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, and modern age. But neither Bava nor Argento invented/reinvented the genre in a void. Bird with the Crystal Plumage, for instance, was a methodical combination of pop-art aesthetics, another author’s plot (it is a loose, uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown’s The Screaming Mimi, pub: 1949), and a film language that was being developed by Bava, Umberto Lenzi, Massimo Dallamano, Antonio Margheriti, Giulio Questi, and others. Among the many hardworking journeymen that jumped on the bandwagon just before Argento changed the genre’s focus was Lucio Fulci with Perversion Story (Italian: Una Sull'altra; aka: One on Top of the Other, 1969).

Fulci is now known almost exclusively for his hyper-violent Gothic horror movies, but, at the time, he was churning out comedies (many for the popular duo, Franco & Ciccio) and dabbling in westerns (like every director working in Italy during the ‘60s). The closest he came to making a thriller was story credit on Riccardo Freda’s Double Face (Italian: A doppia faccia; German: Das Gesicht im Dunkeln), which was released only a few months before this one in 1969 (if we’re pedantic, Double Face should be categorized as krimi, anyway, because it was made for a German market and falsely advertised as being based on an Edgar Wallace story). Soon after it finished its international theatrical run, Perversion Story was mostly forgotten. Even when the home video era rolled around and fans of the director’s zombie movies discovered that they had been missing out on literal decades of material, it was sometimes assumed that, based on both of its known titles, Perversion Story was a sexploitation comedy. A surprising amount of writing on the subject of Fulci from the ‘90s actually marks the brutal historical drama, Beatrice Cenci (aka: The Conspiracy of Torture), as his first brush with horror, not realizing that film was actually released a couple of months after this one. Perversion Story doesn’t hint at the buckets of gore we’d see in Zombie (Italian: Zombi 2, 1979), but it is definitely a warm-up for the more Fulci-esque gialli that immediately followed it – A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italian: Una Lucertola con la pelle di donna; aka: Schizoid, 1971) Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si Sevizia un Paperino; aka: The Long Night of Exorcism, 1972), and The Psychic (Italian: Sette Note in Nero; aka: Seven Notes in Black, 1977).

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD
Fulci sometimes touted a supposed rivalry with Argento that seemed to be largely one-sided, because Argento rarely acknowledged other contemporary Italian filmmakers, period, unless he was working directly with them or they were among the international elite class, like Sergio Leone and Michelangelo Antonioni. However, Fulci’s assertion that Bird with the Crystal Plumage snagged some ideas from Perversion Story is probably more accurate than not. In an interview for Luca M. Palmerini & Gaetano’s Spaghetti Nightmares (pub: 1996), he breaks down a couple of similarities – some probably incidental, like the “mystery maturing with the characters” and others more convincing, such as the failure of police to do much of anything, in spite of their superior experience and technology at their disposal. The latter became an ongoing theme throughout the rest of Fulci’s gialli and a number of Argento’s films, leading up to Tenebre (1982), where the lead police detective does solve the case, but is almost immediately clobbered to death with an axe before he can arrest the guilty party. During the same Spaghetti Nightmares interview, Fulci credits Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah [Italian: Il dolce corpo di Deborah, 1968] as the progenitor of Italian thrillers. This may be a mistranslation based on he and co-writers Roberto Gianviti & Jose Luis Martinez Molla possibly basing their script on Guerrieri’s movie. As Tim Lucas notes in Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (pub: 1999), the two movies share common themes and other narrative elements. Either way, Fulci has referred to Perversion Story as ultimately a failure, calling it “too mechanical.”

The director expressing disappointment at his work being too cleanly plotted when being interviewed in the 1990s is emblematic of how quickly attitudes towards gialli changed in the wake of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Regardless of the delayed impact of Blood and Black Lace, in the brief period between Perversion Story and Argento’s film, it was not unusual for storylines to revolve around a single crime, instead of the misdeeds of a serial murderer, nor was the driving purpose of gialli to design the most elaborate murder set-pieces. Perversion Story’s focus on scenario, structure, and character are all strengths that would be seen as irrelevant in the years to come, as plots grew ridiculously convoluted, characters became fodder for the bloody body count, and style generally overtook any substance outside of opaque allegories. Not to imply that The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is an act of substance-free storytelling – it’s just that, in the rush to reproduce its conventions, these things tended to be left by the wayside, as filmmakers struggled to one-up each other with increasingly abstract and exploitative exercises. Given this soon-pervasive disinterest in narrative sense or focus, Perversion Story actually feels kind of refreshing in retrospect. Coupled with Beatrice Cenzi, it paints us a picture of a director in-flux, as he learns how to tell a dramatic story using the skills he acquired making stiflingly formulaic comedies.

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD
It’s not hard to understand why modern audiences don’t react as strongly to Perversion Story as they do to Fulci’s other gialli, his esoteric horror movies, or even the sleazy STV junk he was churning out before his death in 1996. As you may have gathered from this review, a lot of the film’s appeal is found in comparing it to other movies and such comparisons aren’t always flattering. At worst, it will only be remembered as a possible first step towards Fulci completely unleashing his mad id in the years that followed. For those that really just want to enjoy Perversion Story on its own merits, it’s easier to approach it as a mainstream romantic thriller. Fulci makes this easier by dialing back on the gore, social commentary (there’s a built-in anti-death penalty statement, I suppose), and hallucinatory elements, but the key component is that he goes out of his way to disguise every ounce of the film’s Italian heritage. There are no ritzy villas, no Eurotrash villains, no downtrodden, whitewashed rural communities to confuse international audiences – just external location shots of California/Nevada landmarks, interior footage of San Quentin’s real life gas chamber (yeah – no idea how California state authorities let that happen, but it was a huge part of the advertising), and over-the-top, yet non-region-specific, late ‘60s interiors. I’m guessing some American audiences were tricked, assuming they didn’t notice the dubbing. For what it’s worth, Perversion Story succeeds in this regard much more than Fulci ever did for the supposedly New York-set movies he made in the ‘80s.

Video


Many obscure Fulci movies made the rounds on bootleg VHS during the ‘90s, usually duplicated from European videotapes and Japanese laserdiscs, then sold at conventions, from the back pages of fan zines, and in early internet forums. Unfortunately, Perversion Story didn’t make the cut and, as a result, was basically a lost movie outside of Europe, until Severin Films finally released it on anamorphic DVD in 2007. According to reviews available on Mondo Digital and [rul=http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film3/dvd_reviews51/pe...]DVD Beaver[/url], this was called the English export cut, but was actually assembly cut, hobbled together from English/American, German, and French sources. Generally, the same version was used for German and Australian DVDs as well. This brings us to Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray, which marks both the film’s HD debut as well as the debut of a new assembly cut that uses elements from original negatives and a 35mm print. This 108-minute, 1080p, 1.85:1 disc is now the longest version on record.

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD
I’ve included screencaps from Mondo’s new BD (top) and the Severin DVD (bottom) for comparison. Interestingly, the two transfers have more in common than not, aside from the standard definition image’s clear, fine detail and compression disadvantages. The colour-timing and overall grading is almost identical, which I suppose renders any arguments about Fulci and cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa’s intentions kind of moot. Fortunately, they both look pretty good in this regard. The new transfer has advantages in terms of patterns and details, though, if the caps are blown to their full size (by clicking on them), the wide-angle shots occasionally exhibit minor bleeding and/or haloing (negligible compared to the DVD). The differences between negative and printed sources are usually designated by a slight intensifying in black levels, a bit of crush, and a slight uptick in grain intensity. This is a predictable result and rarely distracting, especially since the condition of the 35mm source isn’t all that beat-up. The closest thing to a real complaint I have is that some of the finer textures (including grain) can appear over-sharpened, usually during higher contrast sequences.

Audio


Mondo Macabro has included both the original English and Italian dubs in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Here’s the part in every giallo review where I remind readers that these movies were shot without sound and starred international casts. All dialogue was dubbed in post and actors were often speaking their native languages to each other, so there is no official language track. In this case, the English dub comes out ahead, both in terms of sound quality and lip-sync. I’m not sure if any actors are dubbing themselves (Sorel says he was not during the interview on this disc), but most were speaking English on set and the voices match the faces/performances well. On the other hand, the otherwise muffled and flat Italian track has slightly more environmental ambience, especially during outdoor sequences. In both cases, there are brief dips in quality, where dialogue or music sounds a bit rough/hissy, but these straighten out quickly enough. The score was provided by the second most popular Italian composer at the time, Riz Ortolani. Along with Ennio Morricone, Ortolani helped to define the sound of gialli for the next decade, though he clearly hadn’t quite sussed out a trademark at the time. The music is divided (somewhat clumsily) between brassy, Vegas-style lounge, spooky woodwinds, and sultry romantic sax parts.

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD

Extras


  • On Death Row[/i] (29:47, HD) – Star Jean Sorel discusses his career, the dynamic between the French and Italian filmmaking communities during the ‘60s, his desire to play against type, regional censorship rules, and shares anecdotes from the set of Perversion Story, going into particular detail about Fulci and the other actors.
  • The Last Diva (9:58, HD) – Co-star Elsa Martinelli begins by mentioning that she doesn’t enjoy horror movies, but then goes on to praise Fulci as a filmmaker and person. She also says nice things about the rest of the lead cast and recalls parts of her own career, but doesn’t remember much from shooting Perversion Story.
  • Stephen Thrower on Perversion Story (38:22, HD) – Critic and author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (pub: 1999) contextualizes Perversion Story in the pantheon of Fulci’s larger canon and the early giallo cycle. He also explores the film’s themes, its inspirations (Hitchcock’s Vertigo being an obvious one, but there was also a true crime case of a death row inmate), breaks down the production process, from locations to advertising and the differences between regional versions of the film.
  • Trailer and Mondo Macabro promo reel


 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD

Overall


Perversion Story is a stepping stone movie for Lucio Fulci and the giallo genre that probably won’t thrill fans of blatantly Italian exploitation, but it’s still an effective and stylish melodrama and one of the director’s more underrated efforts. Hell, fans of outré ‘60s fashion might even get a kick out of the dozens upon dozens of costume changes. The new transfer isn’t perfect, but it is a valuable upgrade over the OOP DVD and it includes the longest cut of the film available (at least for now). The extras are fronted by two solid cast interviews and an in-depth exploration of the film from author Stephen Thrower.

Now then, who has the rights to release The Psychic on Blu-ray?

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD

 Perversion Story: Mondo Macabro BD
 Perversion Story: Severin DVD

* Note: The above images are taken from the Mondo Macabro Blu-ray (top) and Severin Films DVD (bottom), then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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