Sunday 25 March 2012

The Perfume of the Lady In Black

From Giallo To Noir

The Perfume Of The Lady In Black
aka Il Profumo Della Signora In Nero
Italy 1974
Directed by Francesco Barilli
Raro Video Region 0 or 1 (?)

Barilli’s The Perfume Of The Lady In Black is not, as it’s often touted, an Italian horror film. Nor is it, I’m afraid, a giallo either... no matter how much the DVD companies want you to believe it is, now that this particular film genre has become so popular again... in fact I’m not really sure what it is in terms of a single movie genre, although there are other movies which follow a similar template to this one.

What it is, though, is definitely a movie which is completely shot through with a certain giallo sensibility: the lightning, writing and direction are all assuredly within the realm of the Italian giallo of this period. Although much of this stylistic leaning probably owes no small amount to the film crews which were used to churning out a lot of movies in that particular genre, and I say churning out without any derogatory intent or slight to the fine works of art which were often committed to celluloid in the giallo’s name, it’s also perhaps a style of shooting which was the best to highlight Barilli’s script. Barilli himself, after all, had contributed to the scripting of Aldo Lado’s great contribution to the genre, Who Saw Her Die? only two years earlier.

To further enhance the giallo connections, it stars Mimsy Farmer as the main protagonist, a lady who had already famously worked with giallo master Dario Argento for his film Four Flies On Grey Velvet and who would star, just a year after this film, in another giallo called Autopsy (aka Sun Spots). I’ve gathered from various DVD extras over the years that she could sometimes be a bit of a pain to work with but she is great in classic “woman in peril” kind of roles and she is also always able to imbue her performances in these kinds of films with a certain inner strength which eventually starts informing her characters by the final reel of the movie, perhaps the most extreme example of this would be her character in the aforementioned Dario Argento movie, but I don’t want to spoil the ending of that one for anybody who’s not yet seen it.

The Perfume Of The Lady In Black is a beautiful little movie which involves a heroine who comes into contact with a group of people who are into voodoo... although the incidents in this film are carefully depicted so that there is a scientific possibility for all the hallucinogenic manifestations which appear to our main protagonist in the film... such as being cut with a nail sticking through a tennis racket, for example, which could have easily been laced with something potent. When her boyfriend’s mate tries to suck the blood from the wound on her hand there is an implicit indication of where this movie is really going right at the end... but I don’t want to give too much away if you’ve never seen this one.

The film is deliberately ambiguous in setting up certain scenes and it became clear to me after a while that, while some scenes seemed to be flashbacks of Mimsy Farmer’s character Silvia which she watches past events... other interactions from her “past” are actually “really” happening in her present and are quite possibly taking place in her head. She spends a lot of time interacting with herself as a child (in a nod to the look of Lewis Carroll’s Alice character) for instance, but these scenes are happening in the “now” and in Silvia’s apartment block... not in her past. Again, the end of the film leaves you in no doubt as to what is really happening... but only in the last couple of minutes. You have to stay right until the end to get a handle on what is really going on.

There are some fairly violent deaths towards the end of this movie... some of which may or may not be taking place. I’ll leave you to discover which but I would point out that the very final sequence includes some gore which really wouldn’t look out of place in a George A. Romero zombie movie.

Regardless of all this, however, the film is so vibrant, like a typical giallo, that it’s very hard not to be impressed with it. The colours and sweeping pre-emptive camera movements are what I live for when watching giallo cinema and this, coupled with the beautiful music of Nicola Piovani (buggered if I can get ahold of it though... anybody tell me where I can get a relatively inexpensive CD of this?) and the inclusion of a minor giallo icon, make this a heady and thoroughly entertaining cocktail of female paranoia and suspense which could give many of the prominent giallo directors of its day a fierce run for their money.

I was really impressed by this little movie and if you’re a giallo fan, although again I must stress that this certainly isn’t actually a giallo, then you’ll probably already be keyed in to the mindset of how this movie has been put together and I expect you’ll not want to miss this one. An absolute pleasure from start to finish.


  1. Hey, nice writeup on the film, which is one of my three favorite Mimsy films. As you point out, PERFUME is definitely steeped in giallo conventions even if it is not, in fact, a giallo itself. Speaking of Mimsy, she discusses PERFUME and many more of her Euro films in the lengthy interview that was published in a recent issue of Video Watchdog magazine ... and that interview is available -- FREE and in its entirety -- for a scant few more days on the website! VW has made it available to celebrate its nomination for a 2011 Rondo Award, so enjoy the article, spread the word, and help it win the "Best Interview" Rondo by casting your vote at! Lots of cool fun horror categories to vote in, but voting closes (and the article vanishes) at midnight on April 1st!

    And yes, I am the author/interviewer ... :-)

  2. Hi there.

    I think you honour me with your presence here. Cheers for that.

    Yeah, it's a film I'd not seen until the recent release from Raro.

    I'll definitely try to take a look at your interview before in vanishes in a puff of arterial spray.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. You are very welcome, and thank YOU for the kind words. I hope you do get a chance to read the interview and enjoy it, and cast a vote for it in the Rondos. Hopefully some of your readers will see these comments and take a look also! Great work with the blog -- I've bookmarked it and will be a regular visitor from now on.

    1. Hi there. Just took a quick peek. It looks pretty cool. Will have to try to get on there properly before Sunday and give it a good read.

      If you like gialli there's a few of my reviews of them dotted about this site plus a kind of a defence of the giallo called Giallo Fever which is here...

      Again, thanks for taking the time to visit, read and comment on here. It's very much appreciated.