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A successful mix of visual elegance and visceral horror
The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a distinctive Italian thriller from the less obvious end of the giallo spectrum. It brought me to mind of other more psychologically focused gialli such as Footprints on the Moon (1975) with its dreamlike feel and mentally fragile female protagonist who finds herself in the midst of mysterious events that connect with something strange in her past. It also has similarities to the apartment-based horror/thrillers of Roman Polanski. Its story centres on a woman who starts to experience strange hallucinations that include visions of a mysterious black-clad woman who applies perfume and a ghostly little girl.
Director Francesco Barilli helms this one and, on the strength of this film, he is a director who definitely didn't get a chance to make enough movies. This is a very odd giallo which mixes unusual elements together such as Alice in Wonderland and the African occult. It's presented in a visual style that is often breathtakingly beautiful; one scene involving a medium particularly stands out, where the use of colour and mirrors is quite wonderful. On the whole, it's a very classy production that begins like it means to go on with a fantastic extended opening crane shot that takes us from a child's toy boat in a fountain way up to the high balconies where a couple of the key characters are introduced. This visual elegance in some ways can throw the viewer off-guard however as there are some proper visceral shocks to come in this one, as anybody who has seen it can attest. The lead actress is Mimsy Farmer who also starred in Dario Argento's earlier classic-style giallo Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). On the basis of that movie I wasn't too impressed with her, seeing as she over-acted excessively; which is why I was so pleasantly surprised with her work here, where she is in practically every scene and does pretty convincing work in a role that requires a decent amount of range.
This is certainly a high quality giallo, although it will no doubt not have universal appeal to all seasoned fans of the sub-genre given it travels down a less hysterical path to its conclusion. It does venture into some very unusual territory for these kinds of films, however, and certainly is a very fine example of the genre.
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