Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
      ( 3/20/2007 09:09:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"LIKE YOUR GIRLFRIEND: SHE'S AWFULLY . . . FEMININE!" – Give whoever came up with the English title to Lucio Fulci's Perversion Story (original Italian title, One on Top of the Other) credit: the new 'un is more evocative than Una Sull'Altra - even if the actual movie proves to be marginally more "perverse" than a Hallmark Channel mystery teleflick. An "erotic thriller" set in 1969 San Francisco (lotsa shots of characters drivin' the well-filmed Streets of – for those of us who get a kick out of period travelogues), Story centers around handsome doctor George Dumurrier (Jean Sorel), owner of a prestigious medical clinic. A philanderer and ardent publicity hound, Dumurrier has his good points, too – such as, ummm, the ability to look cool with a cigarette hangin' from his lip. But things go bad for our man when an afternoon tryst with his photographer mistress (Elsa Martinelli of Blood And Roses) is interrupted by a phone call telling him that his estranged wife Susan has been fatally given the wrong medication during an asthma attack. He rushes home to find the body of his spouse decked out in black and stretched on a black bedspread, her nostrils plugged.

The fact that the late Missus Dumurrier had a two million dollar life insurance policy on her icy self naturally piques the suspicions of the Royal Insurance Company, who promptly assign an agent to tail the good doctor. Dumbo George remains utterly oblivious to the unhandsome agent's omnipresence, blithely taking his mistress out to eat in public, then unsuccessfully attempting to ditch her to visit a strip club called the Roaring Twenties. Our patsy protagonist's been led there by a mysterious phone call: to his amazement, straddling a motorcycle and stripping with vehicle stickers pasted strategically on her 38-24-38 frame (stats courtesy the IMDB – ain't technology grand?), is a gal who looks exactly like his late wife, except her hair is blond and her eyes a different color.

Is George being set up for something? Gee, ya think? Fulci (who co-scripted this flick with two other guys) is clearly working a variation on Hitchcock's Vertigo (even the San Fran setting's a giveaway), only with lots more sex and nudity than any, oh, suspense. In addition to the prolonged strip club sequence (lotsa nekkid girls kickin' colorful balloons around), we get two gauzy late 60's sex scenes, plus a warmish moment where stripper Monica plays at coming onto George’s mistress. There's little in this flick that could be considered "perverse," though, unless you're a complete stick-in-the-mud. Unlike Vertigo, which garnered its creepier moments from Jimmy Stewart's necrophiliac impulse to remake Kim Novak into the dead woman of his dreams, Story has no such interesting undertones. Marisa Mell's stripper is simply treated as a shapely mystery – not an apparition. Still, Fulci's camera gives her unclothed bod all the lingering respect it deserves.

Considering that Fulci is the horrorflick auteur who'd later lense the edifying image of a young girl literally vomiting her guts out – not to mention Zombi's unforgettable zombie/shark underwater wrestling match – Perversion Story is fairly restrained. The only "shocking" images we get are of a decaying corpse on the autopsy table (gee, that thing got mussy pretty fast, the audience thinks) and of two cherry red shootings. When the story's villain finally reveals himself, it's totally no surprise to anyone – so to prolong the stupidity, Fulci gives his miscreant a lonnnng gloating speech to fill us and his framed victim in on everything that we've already untangled for ourselves. Once the big climax arrives, Fulci proves so uninterested in his lead that he doesn't even film him sweating it out – instead, the director brings on a teevee reporter to speak into the camera and tie up all the loose ends. Dumbest denouement since Herschel Gordon Lewis told us "there is no monster" at the tag of Monster A-Go-Go.

Severin Video, which seems to regularly repack obscure exploitation flicks (they've also got a Black Emmanuelle boxed set coming out), does a fine basic job with the flick. Viewers interested in the disconnect between dubbed and subtitled versions of foreign genre flicks are especially invited to take a look at the subtitles in this version, since the contrast between flat dubbed dialog ("You never say a word.") and subtitles ("Love makes you speechless?") is particularly rich. Even cooler than the movie itself, Severin's set also includes a separate CD of Riz Ortolani's spiffy jazz soundscore: great music for driving around the city at nite, chain-smoking and thinking up ways of getting back at all the double-dealing dames who've done you dirty in the past . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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