Monday 5 June 2017

Perversion Story

“Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly”... Yes, the Dalai Lama really said that in a chain email forwarded round and round the world in 1999 by people who probably also owned refrigerator magnets saying “Forget love, I'd rather fall in chocolate.”

Or perhaps he didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s generally good advice and, if you look at the evidence – Picasso painted realistically as a teenager; Stephen King was a high school English teacher – it also holds true. It’s certainly a good argument to use when you want to counter anyone who claims that “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci couldn’t tell a coherent story.

Prior to his whirlwind run of insane splatter masterpieces beginning in 1979 with Zombie, Fulci crafted dozens of straightforward comedy, drama and action films – as well as a number of neatly-constructed gialli, including the widely-praised Don’t Torture a Duckling and, my favourite of his, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

But it’s his first giallo, Perversion Story (aka One on Top of the Other), which he also co-wrote, that shows him demonstrating his tightest grip on plot. It’s a kind of giallo spin on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, even set in San Francisco, and focusing on a man (Jean Sorel) who becomes obsessed with a woman who looks just like his dead wife. In this case, however, she’s a nightclub stripper fond of disrobing atop a golden motorbike in front of a screen covered in psychedelic blobs (ah, the Sixties) and he’s an adulterous surgeon who may have been responsible for his wife’s death in the first place (ah, the giallo genre).

While, naturally, the situation quickly descends into a complex web of deceit and murder, the perhaps surprising thing is that it never stops making sense and, particularly as it moves into its final third, becomes extremely tense. There’s no killer on the loose stabbing prostitutes in the eye with a melon baller but, what Perversion Story lacks in gimmickry, it makes up for with pacy plotting and a couple of genuinely surprising twists. And what it lacks in kitchen utensils, it also makes up for in fabulous Sixties fashion and decor (seriously, it’s one of the most sumptuously designed 60s flicks I think I’ve ever come across).

If there is a fault, it’s that none of the characters are particularly likable, although this is tempered by the fact that Jean Sorel and his co-star Florinda Bolkan are two of the best-looking stars in all of giallo, and together share a subtle but devilish kind of chemistry. The ending, while conclusive, also falls perhaps one scene short of being totally satisfying, but not in a way that spoils proceedings. Well worth checking out, it’s also the Dalai Lama’s favourite film... Honest.

Rating: 4/5
Review originally published at Retro Slashers, 22 August 2011.