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Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "Il profumo della signora in nero" (Francesco Barilli, 1974)

Last weekend I missed yet another Chiller Theater Expo. By now I might have missed more than I've attended. It felt weird when I thought about it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Chiller Expo, well, it's kind of pretty much like any other fan convention (e.g., Fangoria, ComicCon), only with more of an emphasis on, shall we say, psychotronic fare. Horror, exploitation, odd television, '60s "roughies," all that sort of thing. Movies and memorabilia sold, some of said material extremely outré (I'll never forget the figurine of O.J. Simpson brandishing the severed head of, I assume, Nicole Brown). Complemented by an extremely motley celebrity-signing section. Whoever assigned talent in that section had an offbeat sense of humor—one year the porn legend Seka's table was positioned directly opposite that of of then 13-year-old actress Davleigh Chase.
As I said, I haven't been in a while. Partly because the thing's moved to Parsippany, New Jersey, a somewhat more challenging mass-transit destination than its former home in Secaucus was. (There seemed something karmically apt about it being in Secaucus.) Also because I got married. Also, a couple of the fellows with whom I used to make the trip got married. One of our spouses dubbed the whole enterprise "the heart of dorkness," without even the benefit of having attended it once. The two others actually did deign to attend the show once, and if you ask either of them about it now, they will crawl into a fetal position and begin to sob softly.
It was at the Chiller Expo that I used to do quite a bit of my impulse foreign-region DVD shopping. This was before it became so easy for any yob with reasonable language skills to shop for stuff on the varied European and Asian Amazon sites. I picked up a lot of cherry stuff at various tables, mostly in the giallo department—a Japanese disc of the staggeringly weird 1968 La morte ha fatto l'uovo (Death Lays An Egg), with Jean-Louis Trintignant as an experimental chicken farmer negotiation a bizarre love triangle; a German disc of the very excellent 1972 Tutti i colori del buio (All the Colors of The Dark, which title Tim Lucas borrowed for his mammoth Mario Bava biography, although this isn't a Bava picture), starring Edwige Fenech—and this little number, a very handsome disc from the Italian label Raro Video's "Nocturno" line.
Directed by the guy who—no kidding!—played the young male lead in Bernardo Bertolucci's Before The Revolution (and co-produced by Bernardo's cousin Giovanni Bertolucci), Profumo has pretty much all the hallmarks of a supernatural giallo. There's the spooky little girl in the white dress who inexplicably (for a while, at least) haunts the heroine, here played by Mimsy Farmer, the American-born icon (to me, at least) of European art and exploitation fare. There are shady characters following said heroine. There is gratuitous nudity on the part of the actress playing the heroine. There is a big close-up of a phone. In most giallos, it's a red telephone, but here, flouting tradition, director Barilli presents us with a clear plastic phone.
The heroine also is plagued by hallucinations—or are they?—and varied intimations about supernatural practices are dropped here and there. Among her social circle is an African-born man who pontificates about black magic, and tries to remedy a cut on the heroine's palm by rather insistently sucking on it.
Above, manifesting herself in a mirror, is the titular woman in black—the heroine's mother, we are told, despite the actress's complete lack of resemblance to Mimsy Farmer. That's the way it often goes in these pictures. And below is a shot from the séance our heroine attends, to try and get to the bottom of her visions. She doesn't, of course.
These elements all add up to what is, for some, a kind of cinematic comfort food. What distinguishes Profumo is not just its lush, often pungent, but never particularly ostentatious visual sense, but also the fact that not a whole lot actually happens in it—a lot of it is just Farmer walking around looking perturbed, not that I mind. Usually such pictures have at least one grisly murder in the first ten minutes; here, it's over an hour in before you see so much as a single severed finger. And you're never treated to a glimpse of the whole corpse from which said finger came. A rather daring , some might even say heretical, deviation from genre convention, that.
Which isn't to say that the picture's denouement isn't plenty grisly, perhaps even offensively so, which is saying a lot by giallo standards. But it's also patently ridiculous. And as giallo lovers know, ridiculous by the aforementioned giallo standards means really reidiculous. Adrian Luther Smth, author of the invaluable Blood and Black Lace: The Definitive Guide To Italian Sex and Horror Movies, has a spirited defense of the setup and the wrapup: "Whether the tragic heroine's plight was indeed caused by devilry or it just happened that her mental illness was seized upon as part of a conspiracy is immaterial. Like any nightmare, the film exists in its own frightening world and defies any definite interpretation." I sympathize with the argument; why should we not grant such a genre piece the perquisites of a deliberately irrational work of art? In practice, I still found the ending goofy. But I'll always be glad to have found the film, and looking at it again reminded me that, despite now having access to all manner of this kind of stuff via my computer, there's a certain thrill to happening upon such an item in a more, um carnivalesque atmosphere than there is in acquiring it in a more bloodless fashion. I shall have to return to Chiller next year, I think, even if I must go it alone.

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