Italian master of horror Lucio Fulci is best known for his gruesome Gates of Hell trilogy, especially The afterlife-and the immortal Zombies 2but his career was also very offbeat yellow filmsincluding Don't torture a duckling And The New York Ripper. The mediumcoming soon Shuddercontains fewer of those sinister elements that have become Fulci trademarks, but it's a tight thriller with just enough strangeness to remind you who was in charge.
Like most European horror and giallo films of its time, the 1977 The medium is also known by several other titles, including Seven notes in black, Seven times more deathsand the most word salad of all, Murder to the rhythm of the seven black notes. The medium is perhaps the most generic, but it's certainly accurate, even if most of the other characters laugh at the protagonist's claims of clairvoyance. But Virginie (Scanners'Jennifer O'Neill) is the real deal; in the film's opening scene, there is a flashback in which young Virginia “witnesses” her mother's suicide (a cliffside fall that involves a hilarious mannequin) despite being at hundreds of kilometers.
The film picks up 18 years later, when Virginia, now a glamorous interior designer, newly married to wealthy Francesco (Gianni Garko), decides to stop by her husband's long-empty country house for the first time, thinking that this could be an ideal location. renovation project. Once inside, however, she gets instant chills: she glimpsed this place in a recent, disturbing vision that seemed to involve the murder of a woman. She can't fight the urge to hit the wall with an axe, targeting a specific spot, almost instantly discovering a skeleton hidden inside, much to her horror.
One might expect this to be positive proof of her ESP, but the local police remain stubbornly skeptical of Virginia's abilities as they dig into the identity of the skeleton and how it came to be covered in the palace in ruin of Francesco. Francesco and his sister, Gloria (Ida Galli), are also unaware of his gifts. Virginia must consider what the rest of her vision could mean – a taxi, a painting, a broken mirror, a magazine cover, a menacing man with a limp? – with only her parapsychologist pal, Luca (Marc Porel), and her resourceful assistant, Bruna (Jenny Tamburi), supporting her. Once Francesco becomes the police's number one suspect, Virginia ramps up her own detective work, trying to establish a timeline that will prove her husband's innocence.
While The medium might not leave you guessing much about the identity of the killer – there are only a limited number of characters, and you know one of them did the deed – the real fun of The medium occurs as each fragment of Virginia's vision finds an explanation and fits into the puzzle as it slowly comes together. This is undoubtedly a giallo, with the genre's signature shots of sinister black leather gloves. Its effectiveness is enhanced by Fulci's vibrant use of color, particularly red, and by a propulsive score created in part by Fabio Frizzi, Fulci's frequent collaborator. But for the most part, Fulci operates with surprising restraint; rather than becoming gruesome for shock value, The medium focuses on the mystery that Virginia is trying to solve – or rather, multiple mysteries, as she attempts to solve not only the crimes among her, but also the bizarre clues that spring from her own mind.
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