Perfume of the Lady in Black is one of the finest studies of psychosis and madness ever filmed, and it’s a real surprise that director Barillinever really built a successful directorial career based on the quality of this film.
The film starts with a close up of a photograph, featuring a young girl and her father. Something is not quite right about the photograph, and the girl looks almost afraid of her father.
The film then cuts to the present day, and we are introduced to Silvia (Mimsy Farmer),a scientist working for an engineering firm. It quickly becomes apparent that Silvia is the girl from the photograph, and that she has severe problems in relation to both her mother and her father. Silvia is having terrible visions (even when she is awake),including one of an older woman who appears when Silvia is about to make love to her boyfriend, and also one of a young girl who is almost constantly at her side.
Silvia's hallucinations start to take a sinister turn, affecting her everyday behaviour, and at times she turns violent towards her friends and neighbours. People she knows seem almost conspiratorial against her, and we are never quite sure if Silvia’s descent into madness is being engineered by these people or whether it is just part of her mental illness. Throw into the mix witchdoctors, cannibalism, and a possible supernatural explanation, and you get a pretty heady brew at times. Events spiral out of control towards a truly shocking climax, before which we find out that the events that have transpired could be related to an incident involving Silvia's mother that happened in Silvia's childhood.
Barillis' film is his masterpiece, but it is a film (similar in effect to Short Night of the Glass Dolls) which really makes the viewer work hard, and doesn’t just explain every single event to the casual voyeur. Deliberately paced, it could alienate some viewers more used to the thrills and spills of Dario Argento’s giallos. The look of the film is exquisite, the lighting and the photography are beautiful, and a lot of care has obviously been taken throughout the entire production.
Perfume of the Lady in Black is probably one of the top ten Italian genre films ever made, and is thoroughly recommended to fans of both serious cinema and of Italian horror films.
It's not the easiest film in the world to track down however, and is a much bootlegged title, but your best bet is the Greek VHS videotape on the Sunrise label, which is in English and is letterboxed.