Alberto de Mendoza
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Perversion Story (1969)
20th Nov 09
A successful doctor is understandably vexed when he meets a dirty dancer who bears an uncanny likeness to his recently dead wife.
What a pleasure it is to be able to view Lucio Fulci's excellent thriller Perversion Story all clean and crisp, as the late director no doubt intended. That dodgy video burn of One on Top of the Other (the UK title) I got off eBay years ago can go in the bin now, thanks to our friends at Severin Films, whose Region 1 release is a worthy addition to any serious Italian thriller collection.
The plot follows Dr George Dumurrier, a highflying physician who runs the swanky Dumurrier Institute - a posh San Francisco clinic up to its neck in debt. However, it is his brother, Henry, who performs the day-to-day running of the clinic, while his younger and more handsome sibling reaps all the glory. George's asthmatic wife Susan is ill at home, and it's quite obvious that their marriage is over, because she likes to complain about him spending so much time at the hospital, just like Dr Menard's wife in Zombie Flesh Eaters ("It's always been the clinic!"). It soon transpires that George is a real gigolo, as demonstrated by a lengthy and arty sex scene involving him and a hot young photographer called Jane. Soon, he receives news that his Susan has died at home, and that she has, unbeknownst to him, taken out a $2M life insurance policy, of which he is the sole beneficiary.
Next, George discovers an erotic dancer in one of those amazing kitsch bars. She's hot. She's sexy. She's dancing sexily, and in a really hot way. With a motorbike. But that's not what is worrying George. No. Because this dancer, Monica Weston, looks exactly like a blond version of his dead wife. Once George gets to know Monica a little (by shagging her, naturally), he is satisfied that she is not Susan, but the insurance company has a different take on recent events. Evidence soon suggests that there may be some kind of conspiracy afoot.
When exploring Lucio Fulci's autumnal output (such as Cat in the Brain, Nightmare Concert, Demonia), it's all to easy to forget what the little maestro was once capable of back in the days when the Italian film industry was at its absolute creative peak. Before he had to resort to much letting of blood and even more crunching of flesh to get his maggot-ridden message across, Fulci relied more on the strength of the script which, in the case of Perversion Story, he wrote himself. And it's an absolute peach.
For 1969, this is quite a steamy affair. Firstly, we have divine euro-cult queen Marissa Mell (Danger Diabolik) very much in the spotlight as Monica/Susan, while Jean Sorel is perfectly cast as the suave entrepreneur, and it's quite clear that he's much more into fast cars and fucking than trying to keep the clinic financially afloat. And who can blame him? You'll know exactly what's in store once you've experienced the first sex scene; a sensual, arty act of coitus presented with a subtle psychedelic edge. Later in the film however, Fulci really ups the ante during George and Monica's shagging session, all beautifully accompanied by Riz Ortolani's slightly whacked jazz score. Fantastic stuff.
Of course, this is all in the context of all that late 60's social permissiveness - an aspect something Fulci was obviously keen to incorporate, and we're pleased he did. However, don't expect much in the gore department; like I mentioned earlier, it looks like Perversion Story surfaced before Fulci discovered the delights of serious carnage, though one gets a hint of things to come during a memorable mortuary scene. It would only be a mere 2-3 years later when he would really start getting his hands bloody with the giallo genius of Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Don't Torture a Duckling. And then the 1980s happened, and we would never see the likes of Perversion Story from him again. But I guess that's ok, because we did get The Beyond.
Another bonus here is the locale - San Francisco - a city intrinsically associated with movie making. From Vertigo’s dreamlike, rear-projected streets to Bullitt’s awesome car chase, it has always looked fantastic, and even though Alejandro Ulloa's cinematography can be occasionally shaky (Fulci was yet to work with his finest lensman Sergio Salvati), he nevertheless manages to conjure some lush panoramas of the city while we try to figure out exactly what is happening to George.
Perversion Story is a totally satisfying slice of vintage Fulci, and a great example of a well-crafted early giallo. The measured plot is efficiently carried by an attractive cast who totally look the part, whether fully clothed or naked and very much getting it on. What's not to like about that great little Fulci cameo (when he was young enough to have a full head of hair), playing the police graphologist, or indeed the obligatory giallo photo studio scenes featuring naked late 60s babes? (“Yeah baby, that’s nice…”) Although fairly reliant on erotica over violence, this remains an immensely enjoyable watch with a real killer of an ending.