Uptight, posh Carol Hammond is stuck in a wet blanket of a marriage, to that reliable philanderer Jean Sorel (/Frank Hammond). She is plagued by nightmares/erotic dreams about her party-loving, sexually liberated neighbour, Julia Durer. She recounts these dreams to her psychoanalyst, who interprets everything in a 'very good, you're making progress' kind of way. When Carol dreams about Julia's murder, she's shocked to discover that life has imitated the land of the nod, and Julia's been slain in exactly the manner she dreamt. All the evidence, specifically a murder weapon with her fingerprints all over it and one of her fur coats being found at the scene, seems to suggest that Carol is guilty, but the police can't find an acceptable motive. Meanwhile, a Mrs Smith was trying to blackmail Carol's politician father by hinting that a member of his family is up to no good sex-wise, and sure enough Frank's cheating is exposed. It's also discovered that Carol kept a dream diary, which would have provided anyone who read it with the perfect opportunity to frame her for Julia's murder by copying her dream. Then the police establish (without divulging their methods) that Julia Durer was Mrs Smith. Who has silenced her, and why? And what the hell do the damn hippies who keep lurking in the background want?
I'll get this out of the way first, before I chip away at the film's flaws-this is a great giallo. Despite not having any real murder scene, beyond a depiction of Carol's dream killing of Julia, in every other way it is a quintessential giallo. The music is beautiful, nudity abounds, there's style to burn, plenty of stalk (if not slash) sequences, and the plot makes absolutely no fucking sense at all. This last point is something that tends to get tossed around as a defining characteristic of gialli, but that does the work of Ernesto Gastaldi, for example, a great disservice. Here, though, with the frequent diversions into dreamland, the film does a damn good job of making you unsure just what the hell is going on.
This is necessary-the plot is actually paper thin. It's difficult to get too deep into discussing this film without spoiling it, so if you haven't seen it, reread the last couple of sentences of my opening paragraph and jog on. The chief reason for the lack of plot is that the solution to the murder mystery is actually presented to us right at the start of the film. We see a stylised, slow motion depiction of the murder as Carol recounts it to her psychoanalyst, which turns out to be a confession of sorts, fed through a dream prism in an attempt to generate an alibi. The evidence which the police accrue-which seems pretty airtight to me-also points squarely at her. So, instead of unravelling layers of a mystery as it progresses, the film actually begins with the solution, then attempts to cloak it from us and by adding layers of obfuscation and distraction.
Some of these layers, it has to be said, come from characters acting fairly irrationally. Carol, in particular, makes some incredible decisions, which seem chiefly motivated by the scriptwriters' desire for her to seem innocent of the murder. She's worried that the hippies who were present when she murdered Julia will go to the police, so she follows them to a commune and lets them observe her to see if they recognise her. Presumably if they did, they wouldn't necessarily be forthcoming with that information; most people wouldn't tip their hands to a murderer if they can help it. She also agrees to meet the hippies in the empty basement of Alexandra Palace-a location which should've raised some suspicions-and travels there without any weapon. Surely she should've been trying to eliminate the hippies? Instead they try to murder her-which the film does a decent job of justifying, to be fair. Still, though, her approach to the meeting makes no real sense.
The police, also, provide much scope for the wool to be pulled over our eyes by essentially being shit at their jobs. The crime scene unit (who provide possibly the first instance of Fulci's beloved extreme flash photography) are pretty efficient-and the scenes wherein they present their evidence to the inspector are very well directed and presented-but the subsequent investigation has more holes than a human being. First off-given that for anyone apart from Carol to be guilty of the murder they'd have had to read the written description of her dream,* why don't they go looking for her dream diary? Also, their method for tracking down the red-haired hippy who tried to kill Carol is to put out an instruction to 'check out anyone [in London] with red hair and put the screws on them'. This specifically isn't an example of the film using police incompetence to further muddy the plot waters, but it does sum up the investigative level of the fuzz. The one thing holding them back from charging Carol is a lack of a motive. Aren't there hours of psychoanalytic recordings of her describing her obsession with Julia which would tick this box? Obviously these could come under doctor-patient confidentiality, but that didn't stop the doc from readily passing them to Carol's father.
The fact that we're presented with the solution early on means that there's not much of an investigative thrust to the film. Jean Sorel musters up a brief flurry of energy to search for the dream diary, and his daughter-Julia's step-daughter-tracks down the hippies to try and clear her father's name. Once the incompetent bobbies take over from the crime scene analysts-who, interestingly, are portrayed as bumbling fools in contrast to the suave detectives despite being much more efficient in their work-they mostly just lurk in the background, waiting for the family machinations to deliver a suspect to them. Although, to be fair, the manner in which Carol's guilt is eventually uncovered is pretty slick**.
Style-wise, we have the same occasional bursts of shonky handheld footage which intruded into Perversion Story, although here they aren't quite as off-putting, and may on a couple of occasions (the dinner scene and when Julia's suspiciously eyeing Joan and Deborah) have actually been a deliberate stylistic choice. The dream sequences and chase scenes make good use of a variety of angles and lenses, and are played out for the most part without music, relying on ambient sounds, frenzied breathing and the inventive camerawork. The editing is extremely sharp, with an energy to some scenes which anticipates Orson Welles's manic style from F for Fake and (what is currently viewable of) The Other Side of the Wind. The acting is decent, although I've finally figured out what's at the root of the frequent criticisms of Jean Sorel-he's fine portraying any emotion up to a medium level, but once something properly cataclysmic befalls his character, he always seems to plump for catatonia as his character's response. Maybe he thinks he's doing more with his eyes than he really is, or maybe he just knows his limitations as an actor, but it really hampers his last few scenes here, as he stands around stony-faced after the murder of his daughter. Florinda Balkan is pretty damn good, though.
In terms of Uncle Lucio, he's really beginning to hit his stride here. The style is, as just stated, very impressive throughout, being at least a match for Sergio Martino's slick gialli of the time, and possibly being more in tune with the narrative demands of the material. His stated aversion to psychoanalysis isn't quite as much in evidence as it might have been, although the doc doesn't exactly come across as providing a competent service. Fulci's mistrust of hippies and the counterculture are very much in evidence, although there seems, in Carol's fantasies about Julia, to be an acknowledgement of the appeal of such a lifestyle. Or maybe just an acknowledgement of the appeal of watching two women lezz off. The idea of a crime being anticipated by, or mirroring, a dream later became the central concept of The Psychic, a more restrained but no less impressive offering. Overall, this isn't quite as good as Fulci's next giallo Don't Torture a Duckling, but, then again, very, very few films are...
*There's some confusion as to whether or not the murder happened on the same night Carol claimed to have had her dream. Carol seems to imply at one point that it did, but that would in turn make it impossible for anyone else to have read her diary and copied the murder within an acceptable timeframe.
**Although-and don't tell Leo Genn this-she could've escaped unscathed had her father told the police that he'd told her about a certain phone call subsequent to his discussing it with the police.