[review by Bengt Wallman]
When seeing MURDER TO THE TUNE OF 7 BLACK NOTES it's impossible to understand why it is relatively unknown. For this is in my opinion Lucio Fulci's finest movie. So get those DVD machines pressing already, Anchor Bay!
Fulci himself was heartbroken that the film flopped, and on viewing it the fact that it was a commercial fiasco is something of a mystery. Perhaps someone failed terribly in the PR or distributions department. But you could also argue that the film was out of date in late seventies Italy, seeing as this film is much more in debt to Italy's gothic cinema tradition than any of its gore filled genre equals of the time. Most likely shock cinema in general and zombies & cannibals in particular stole the thunder of this splendid murder mystery full of chilling psychological horror. Whatever the case, after this film, Fulci ended up producing music hall revues for TV for almost two years, until producer Fabrizio de Angelis finally saved him. After seeing MURDER TO THE TUNE OF 7 BLACK NOTES de Angelis was convinced no one would be better to direct a little script of his called ZOMBIE 2, the rest as they say, is history.
Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's the Black Cat, MURDER TO THE TUNE OF 7 BLACK NOTES has the timeless style and class of Mario Bava and a plot twist in my book only equaled by Henri-Georges Clouzot's LES DIABOLIQUES.
Ever since her mother's suicide when she was a child, interior designer Virginia (Jennifer O'Neil) has had psychic abilities. Newly married she is heading out to her husband's old country estate to begin a surprise restoration. But on the way to the house she has a vision of a woman being killed and walled up by a limping assassin. When she arrives to the house she discovers the skeleton of a woman behind the living room wall. But something is wrong, the girl died young and the woman in Virginia's vision is in her fifties. Virginia's husband is arrested and she embarks on an investigation together with her therapist to clear her spouse's name, which they eventually do. I won't go into more detail about the plot on the risk that I might spoil the film's surprising twists for you. Suffice to say Virginia's torment has only begun.
Lucio Fulci paints a bleak picture of the dark side of psychic abilities and portrays Virginia's descent into fear and utter hopelessness to the maximum extent and keeps us on the edge of our seats for the duration. And even though this is a quite talky thriller with a low body count and virtually no gore at all it stands out as one of the most intriguing Italian thrillers I've seen. There is a unique dreamlike atmosphere to the film, which makes it stand comparison with even Argento's best gialli although it is clearly made with a much smaller budget. Perhaps that is the only thing the film really lacks; sufficient funds to make the visuals as exciting as the story. But in all honesty that becomes secondary to the suspense of the fine crafted plot. For the skill of the film is enormous and MURDER TO THE TUNE OF 7 BLACK NOTES truly deserves to be hailed as the classic chiller it is.
Who would have thought it? - A Fulci film with more brain than brains.
(Avoid the American butchered cut of the film - The Psychic.)
Justin: I can certainly share Bengt's enthusiasm for Fulci's giallo (although, perhaps, not quite as ecstatically!). Once again the old goat has proved that he was much, much more than a one trick pony. Fulci is well known, and understandably so, for his near surreal living dead quartet from the early 1980's; the gothic opulence and non-lateral storytelling have often been mistaken for sloppy film making on his part. One thing I remember from art school is being taught that you must be able to 'construct' before you can 'deconstruct' and, here, Fulci once again admirably shows that he can spin a compelling narrative driven tale with the best of them - although, never loosing that signature edge. Already a master at the daring (albeit 'straight') giallo Fulci's latter films were a progression of his art rather than the corruption of it.
MURDER TO THE TUNE OF 7 NOTES is a fascinating Russian doll of a thriller, which, as the layers peel away becomes all the more beguiling. It has, as Bengt points out, a wicked central twist which spins the whole film on its head and knocks the viewer sideways.
I would imagine, however, (just to temper the unbridled enthusiasm) that a fair few people would find the film a little slow; it has a dreamlike ambiance, which turns nightmarish in the last scenes, and may not suit all tastes (certainly not those who merely want a rerun of his later excesses). There would be the argument also that it could benefit too from a few more old fashioned giallo thrills, too, but ultimately this is a class thriller from a class director, and well worth seeking out.
BODYCOUNT 4 female:4 / male:0
1) Female falls to her death
2) Female found dead
3) Female found dead
4) Female struck over head