Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) Italian giallo

Oh, Kittymuffins, is this a humdinger of a film! This might, just might, bounce Bird With Crystal Plumage out of the #1 spot in my favorite giallo list.

Where to start…

It has all the best elements of a great giallo, plus Mimsy Farmer–she’s terrific.

If you aren’t familiar with the genre, here’s a quick catch up. In the late 50s or thereabouts, a German production company got rights to do a series of films based on Edgar Wallace novels. They were usually in black and white with less than stellar acting, a good bit of camp, some detection, some slasher stuff. They’re called krimi (=crime). About the same time, this type of thing caught on in Italy. They derived from cheap pulp novels published with predominantly yellow covers. Giallo means yellow. The giallo genre runs a spectrum from gory sadistic slashers (not my thing) to detective story. Anything mystery/thriller/horror/supernatural. But there are some elements to a giallo that make it a giallo: masked killer in designer leather shoes, paranoia, helpless heroine —

Mystèrew, I find this trope surprising really. I watched a fair number of Sophia Loren films and as I recall, she was not a shrinking violet who would just cower against the wall as the killer came at her holding a knife. And older Italian women look pretty tough–like collectively they would beat anyone to death with skillets and rolling pins while their hair remained perfect, protected in kerchiefs, know what I mean? Anyway, the trope is usually gorgeous women whose clothes seem to fall off easily (fire the tailors!) and are ridiculously easy targets. In The Killer Reserved Nine Seats for example, a woman in a cocktail dress and three inch heels goes poking about in a basement. “Hey, crazy killer– come find me! No one could possibly rescue me here! You can’t miss me, I’m sparkling in my dress and click-clacking in my heels!” But not always. Mystere is a glorious departure from this. Wish they’d make a series. She’s fabulous.

Where was I? Oh yes, giallo elements. Lots of red herrings and mystery, and sometimes, like with this one, a saturation of gorgeous colors. Plot aside, this is a luxurious film cinematically speaking. Good thing colors don’t have flavors (unless perhaps you have synesthesia, in which case, I really want to know what that blue in the bedroom tastes like!) or you’d be wanting to lick the screen.

The plot is pretty simple: Sylvia is either a chemist or a manager of a perfume company. She is invited to a gathering of friends and the discussion veers into the dark arts of witchcraft in Africa. It is explained that when a sacrificial subject is chosen, he/she will gradually descend into madness. From this moment, Sylvia begins to experience hallucinations that become increasingly more bizarre and it is obvious that her sanity has broken free from its mooring. We learn more of her backstory, including trauma from the suicide of her mother, whom she remembers sitting at her dressing table in a black dress with white polka dots, spraying herself with perfume. I don’t want to give away much more, but I will say that the ending is quite a shock. You almost feel like that time at the theater where you went to the bathroom and accidentally returned to the wrong theater. What? Zombies? This can’t be right. Oops! Wrong film! Only it’s not.

Now here’s the thing. Up until the ending, you think you know what’s going on. As the credits role, you will probably have questions, as I did. “But…but…huh? What about–?” And while the first half of the film is pretty tame relative to the hack-and-slash gialli, it does get to the blood splatter eventually. I’m going to assume that if you are going to give this one a go, you can handle that. Brace yourself for the ending though.

I’ll be honest, I had to hunt up reviews so someone could explain the ending to me. So glad I did! Many thanks to giallo aficionado, Carlin Cook. I add the link to his review below. His take on it, and I totally agree, is that this film is similar to Identity and the ending is not literal but symbolic. Carlin suggests, and I agree, that multiple viewings would reveal just how amazing this film is–so much subtle symbolism and plot hints along the way.

FIVE MONKEYS!

Here’s a link to a video explaining the giallo genre that includes pics of the original giallo book covers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU3nyeFiDK4

Here’s a link to Carlin Cook’s review on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=l5MkkiEDp5Q&fbclid=IwAR3IKG4sUbDq92VlOEEKQt9w-75DKp4EwsuCyZeBlqKsQo8acCbA3c-qcbY

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