Starring Jean Sorel, Marisa Mell, Elsa Martinelli
"Listen honey, don't think so hard. Get undressed."
By the time he had gotten around to directing Perversion Story (A.K.A. One On Top Of The Other/Una sull'altra) Fulci had twenty directing credits under his belt. Despite his immense talent, he was not immune to the currents of Italy's film cycles. He'd directed westerns, spy thrillers, and now he faced the giallo genre. This is a cycle that a part of me wishes had never gone away, because as much as I love his horror output, his giallo features exude much more charm. And Perversion Story is a shining example of what makes the maestro, the "Maestro".
Set in San Francisco during the swinging sixties, Perversion Story weaves a tail of lust, and betrayal. While some betrayals are forgivable. Dr. Geroge Dumurrier (Jean Sorel) faces a betrayal that threatens to destroy his life. When his asthmatic wife Susan (Marisa Mell) dies suddenly. He has to return home from the arms of his beautiful mistress Jane (Elsa Martinelli) to handle the details. Meanwhile, his practice is in danger of failing. And Jane is gearing up to dump his married ass.
Despite all the drama surrounding him, this massive cloud seemingly has a silver lining. Susan had a secret life insurance policy, naming him the sole beneficiary of two million dollars upon her death (Some sources online cite the amount as one million dollars, this may partially be Severin's fault. However at the 21:09 mark, two million is the figure stated.). With his money problems evaporating, and having escaped a loveless marriage George Constanza style, Dr. Geroge is preparing to move on with his life.
However with a two million windfall, the shadow of suspicion falls on Geroge with all of the grace of a brick to the face. It doesn't help that he is having liaisons with a stripper/prostitute (Monica Weston, also portrayed by Marisa Mell) who just so happens to look exactly like his deceased wife. Naturally, the insurance company prods the police to initiate a full blown investigation, and as the case builds against him, it becomes clear to Geroge that he is being framed for the murder of his wife. But by who? And why?
Fortunately for him, Geroge does not have to figure this out all on his own. He has an ally in his mistress, Jane. From the very start it is clear that Jane is in love with the beleaguered doc. And as the evidence against him mounts, she refuses to let go. But as Geroge finds himself rotting on death row (on location in San Quentin), he has to wonder if her gumption and loyalty will be enough to save him.
Perversion Story is in a word, sumptuous. Fulci is running on full cylinders here and it shows. Taking full advantage of the San Francisco location, the city here takes on the role of a character in the movie, not unlike the city of New York does in Woody Allen films. We even get a guided tour of the gas chamber in San Quentin. This is a location where real killers have been executed, and this adds a gravity to the proceedings that most Giallo's lack.
But it is not all doom and gloom for the viewer. Fulci also takes us on a tour through some of the seedier aspects of the city. There is even an extended scene in a topless bar that features nudies on swings, beach balls, theater, and plenty of interesting characters to fill out the background. Such as an old lady in a fur coat. Why would an old lady be here? What does she want? And why is she so unhappy? We never know.
The film itself is a visual feast. How much of this is due to Alejandro Ulloa's, cinematography, and Fulci's direction, we may never know. But the fact remains that you could view Perversion Story on mute and still be entertained. The visuals teem with imagination, and creativity. Unconventional perspective shots, and gorgeous and well thought out compositions abound, all accompanied by bold strokes of primary colors that pop onscreen. There is a scene where Dr. Geroge is making passionate love to Jane. And as they writhe about atop the red sheets, the camera shows us the view from below, seeing them from the opposite side of the sheets. It's amazing shots like this that take the film to the next level.
As I mentioned, you could view it on mute and still be impressed, but why would you want to when Riz Ortolani provides a hip, jazzy score that instantly marries itself to the film. Much like John Williams with Star Wars, Ortolani's score guides us through the proceedings with bombast and cool beats, not in a distracting manner, but instead guiding and informing us. It truly sets the hip shaking mood for the picture.
As you've probably gathered, I really love this flick. Fulci has a sizeable cult following for his horror output, and deservedly so. But one would be remiss to overlook his giallo entries. Perversion Story is a fantastic film by a legendary Italian filmmaker at his peak, with full studio backing. It comes highly recommended.
Availability: Perversion Story is available on DVD with bonus soundtrack CD included at Amazon.