I'll be frank--I'm not comfortable casting Lucio Fulci in an Italo-horror trinity with Mario Bava and [classic] Dario Argento. While I think that Fulci has his great moments(skindiver vs. zombie vs. shark--YES, PLEASE) and that he produced a solid body of work, I find his films, when taken as a whole, have a workmanlike feel with too-infrequent moments of auteurship and elegance. I'll be doubleplusfrank--I watched "Perversion Story," Fulci's 1969 erotic thriller, due to the presence of steamy Austrian screen goddess Marisa Mell* in a pivotal role and not because of a real affinity for the director's work. I emerged from the movie-watching experience with what might be a renewed interest in the work of Lucio Fulci--this was an unexpected gem of Italo-thriller cinema.
"Perversion Story" tracks the twisty personal life of Dr. George Dumurrier (Jean Sorel, whose character name evokes the author of that other famed work of Wicked Spouse fiction, "Rebecca") after his wife's death due to a lingering illness. Far from being the devoted husband, Dr. Dumurrier carries on a torrid affair with bohemian fashion photographer Jane (Elsa Martinelli) during his wife's final days. A sometimes overly-convoluted plot brings Dumurrier into contact with "strip tease artist" Monica Weston, who bears a remarkable resemblance to his late wife--most likely because she's also played by Marisa Mell in a blonde wig. Things take a hard left when Dumurrier unexpectedly becomes the beneficiary of a large sum of insurance money resulting from his wife's demise, bringing him under suspicion from the authorities.
While all acting parties put in good performances throughout, the real star of the movie is the visual presentation. This is a stunner, folks, from the San Francisco cityscapes to the ultra-stylish mod fashions to the bravura cinematography. It's clear that this movie had a significant budget, with scenes taking place across the United States and Europe, including on-location shots within San Quentin Prison. Mell's and Martinelli's characters are kitted out in some outrageous outfits, none moreso than Monica Weston's motorcycle striptease gear that includes thigh-high leopard-print boots and a matching jacket.
The cinematography was surprisingly energetic, including really creative point-of-view shots (such as scenes shot as if within the medicine cabinet in Dr. Dumurrier's home) and wonderful use of forced depth-of-field. When Dumurrier arrives at his home to discover his wife dead on her bed, there's a fantastic shot of her corpse reflected in the mirror while his emotions play across the doctor's face. Other scenes are shot through clear platforms in a move similar to Metzger's "Camille 2000" [reviewed here on March 31, 2008]. Two montages are shot in a split-screen style that evokes Richard Fleischer's 1968 docu-drama "The Boston Strangler"--a daring move that goes a long way to creating drama and interest.
All told, this movie was an unexpected treat! Although seekers of real "perviness" might want to look elsewhere, there's a whole lot to recommend Fulci's "Perversion Story."
View the set of film stills from "Perversion Story" on my Flickr account.
*Much like the More Berger = More Better corollary, More Mell = More Better, thus mathematically proving that "Beast with a Gun" [reviewed here February 15, 2008] is one of the hottest movies EVER.