The Perfume of the Lady in Black will be revelation to anyone who thought they knew everything there is to know about Italian terror.
When you think of Italian horror, several seminal names come to mind. There is Mario Bava who brought the genre up to date in his native land, then Dario Argento who took said terror and ran with it to all manner of fanciful, frightening places. There’s Mario’s son Lamberto, who never saw a sequence of gore he couldn’t amplify and/or exploit, and Lucio Fulci, who fumbled around between cinematic categories before settling on his own obsession with splatter. In between all the Ruggero Deodatos and Michele Soavis, Umberto Lenzis and Sergio Martinos, few namecheck Francesco Barilli. Granted, the noted writer/director hasn’t had hits as substantial as Black Sunday, Suspiria, Profondo Rosso, City of the Living Dead, or Cannibal Holocaust, but with his 1974 shocker The Perfume of the Lady in Black, he definitely announced himself as a possible pretender to the throne, if not royalty himself.
The film follows a young chemist named Silvia Hacherman (a very effective Mimsy Farmer). She is living in Italy and haunted by memories of her missing father and dead mother. Currently, she is dating animal anthropologist Roberto (Maurizio Bonuglia) and yet finds that relationship oddly unfulfilling. One night, she meets some of her new lover’s friends from Africa. They discuss voodoo and sacrificial rights, with Roberto arguing that such human atrocities occur all over Europe - it’s just that few in the media report such outrages. Silvia scoffs at the suggestion, but over the course of the next few days, she starts to have disturbing visions. She sees a vase her mother once owned. More distressing are hallucinations involving her childhood, a sex act, and a man who is not her parent. As she slowly spirals out of control, her neighbors in the apartment building she lives in offer support. But one thing is certain - the visions are getting worse, and what they suggest is something both scary, and very, very sinister.