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There’s something skin-crawling about horror when it has
real vibrancy, when ghastly acts of the body and mind take place in living,
energetic color. Oftentimes, classic Italian frights were saturated in a wide
palette, where even the blood is bright yet simultaneously off-putting. Raro
Video’s recent DVD release of Francesco Barilli’s THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN
BLACK showcases nothing short of a soaring example of such, both stunning to watch
and eerie when considered.
A descent into madness, PERFUME sees chemist Sylvia (Mimsy
Farmer) become plagued by hallucinations and long-forgotten traumas that appear
to her so vividly, they intrude on her reality and shake her life apart. The
elegantly crafted PERFUME plays like a dream wherein the horror doesn’t arrive
through shocks but a rising dread in the viewer as the film puts together the
seemingly random manifestations of Sylvia’s damaged psyche. Barilli, through
striking direction and atmosphere, slowly reveals the implications of Sylvia’s
long-suppressed past and her complicated relationship with her mother and
long-lost father (and, subsequently, the sweaty, grunting brute who replaced
Farmer does a lovely job at the center of the story.
Starting in a secure, rational place, with her science-based career and
headstrong independence (willfully and quickly refusing a whimsical Monday off
with her boyfriend to be at work), it’s an eerie journey watching Sylvia fall
victim to the throes of hysterics. What’s even more troublesome are those who
surround her and all that’s underneath her affliction. To say any more would
surely spoil where THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK goes (and an incredible
finale it is), and as the film hasn’t been as widely seen as many of its giallo
brethren, its secrets should remain as such.
Raro Video’s 1.85:1 transfer looks beautiful; the Dolby
Digital audio greatly compliments Nicola Piovani’s score, and thankfully,
there’s no dub track to be found. The main attraction feature-wise is a candid
talk with Barilli (who also penned 1972’s WHO SAW HER DIE?), who details his
introduction to the script, the producers’ intentions, his thoughts on Farmer
and his own personal interests and how they played into his shaping of the
story. It’s lengthy enough that the lack of a commentary shouldn’t be a bother.
A booklet with a brief essay placing THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK in the
context of its time and place in horror is also included with the package, and
while it’s a fun read conveying the many praiseworthy and original traits of
Barilli’s film—especially in relation to its being born out of an attempt to
emulate the success of previous horror winners—it’s ultimately too short for
any real critical analysis, and one shouldn’t be expecting such.
THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK really is a bit of a
treasure. It’s a haunting look at possible insanity only made scarier by the
paranoid fears that one’s psychological downfall (SPOILER ALERT) can be
orchestrated by the most casual of acquaintances. Representing what audiences
love about late-’60s/early-’70s psychological horror, PERFUME isn’t just a
lesser Xerox, but its own beast worthy of discovery.
DVD/ Blu-ray Reviews
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