How is it possible that I haven't seen this film yet? I love 1970's horror with a capital LUV, and I have to admit to having seen at least one important scene is some collection of the greatest Horror Scenes of all-time someplace. But I've never sat down and watched it. Something I decided to correct when I saw it available on Amazon Prime Instant. The film was directed by Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth) and based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier (The Birds), so it's got some serious semi-pretentious/artsy weight behind it as well. I'm stoked to see this.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (1970's!!!) are a married couple dealing with the tragic accidental death of their young daughter. Sutherland's character has accepted a commission in Venice to restore an ancient church. They encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is blind and claims to be clairvoyant. She tells Christie that she's seen her daughter and that she's happy. This naturally upsets the already distraught mother, causing her to faint. And Sutherland has been "seeing" his daughter as well. Or at least a small figure in a red rain slicker in a photo of the church he is restoring. In fact, he "saw" her there even right before her tragic accident. A bit of foreshadowing that came just a moment too late to save his daughter's life.
They keep seeing the creepy psychic sisters all over Venice. They claim that Sutherland has a bit of a psychic gift himself. Maybe that's why he knew their daughter was in trouble right before her death. He is skeptical, even as his wife feels the need to work out her grief with the sisters. They warn her that the couple needs to leave Venice. That something awful is going to happen. Again, Sutherland meets this prediction with skepticism. There's also a killer on the loose in the canals and streets of Venice. You know...just for kicks.
What follows is a psychological exercise of the affects of grief on those who have recently lost a loved one, especially a young child. There are supernatural elements to it, of course. It IS a horror film. But instead of over-the-top frights, we are given a slow and often confusing glimpse in the lives of thee characters. Confusing because of the inconsistencies of spatial time employed by Nicolas Roeg. They are used to throw the viewer off-kilter and to mimic the confusion associated with psychic precognition.
I guess I should mention the famous and infamous sex scene between Sutherland and Christie. Graphic and a bit artsy, cutting between shots of the the couple having sex and later getting dressed for a night out. Roeg had to cut several frames out of the scene to avoid an X-rating. And there were persistent rumors that that two actors actually had real sex on camera, rumors that Sutherland and others later denied adamantly. But it was skillfully done and something you don't see in movies of that era very often. Or any era, for that matter.
It's atmospheric, entertaining and creepy as all hell. Exactly what I was hoping it would be. I don't think it's for everyone, but if you dig psychological horror, Venice or the 1970's then you may enjoy it as much as I did.
Verdant Dude rating: 4 out of 5 pumpkins