Deep Red (1975)


Dario Argento is known now primarily as a horror director, thanks to Suspiria and a string of supernatural and slasher features from his peak creative period from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s.  Highly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and his own mentor Mario Bava, Argento himself became an influence on Brian De Palma, George Romero, John Carpenter and a number of classic American suspense and horror directors.

Before turning to horror, Argento was one of the most noted directors of giallo films, a genre of Italian crime films that often featured a combination of complex whodunit plots and brutal murder scenes.  Though he would return to the genre later in his career, Deep Red (originally titled Profondo rosso) was one of the last he would do for quite a while.

During a conference on parapsychology, psychic Helga Ulmann (Mach Méril) suddenly has a vision of the murderous thoughts of someone in the audience.  The experience causes her great concern, largely because the thoughts don't seem to go away.  Obviously the killer is not too happy about Helga's vision, as she is murdered in her apartment later that night. 

While out drinking with his friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), English pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses Helga's death and the killer, dressed in a brown raincoat, fleeing from the scene. While speaking with the police he meets journalist Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), and the two begin their search for the killer by interviewing the psychic researchers that were on stage with Ulmann when she had her vision.  Professor Giordani (Glauco Mauri) recalls most of what happened quite clearly, except the audience was not really visible to them at the time.  Still, Giordani agrees to help them out as well, and their research leads them to a book by Amanda Righetti (Giuliana Calandra) that details a murder similar to the one Helga saw in her vision.

Marcus decides to speak with Righetti, but the killer gets to her first.  However, Righetti is able to leave a message on the bathroom wall, one that is read by Giordani once he steams up the room and looks in the direction her corpse was pointing.  Since he is getting too close the professor soon becomes the next victim.

While his friend Carlo tries to convince him to let it go, Marcus becomes further obsessed with discovering who the killer is, since he is also sure that at some point he will be a target as well.  The clues lead him to a crumbling mansion where Daly finds a mural painted on a wall that shows a person being stabbed to death in front of a child and a Christmas tree.  Before Marcus can further explore he is hit over the head and the house set on fire, but his foresight in letting Gianna know where he was going pays off as she shows up in time to rescue him.  At the caretaker's house he sees the same picture in his daughter's room, and asks her where she saw it.  At first she claims she drew it, but the truth comes out that she saw the picture in the archives of a local abandoned school.

Marcus and Gianna go to investigate the school, and indeed find the archives.  Unfortunately, shortly after informing the police what they are up to, Gianna is stabbed.  Marcus finds the picture, as well as the name that it is under, and confronts the man who was once the child that drew the picture.  The police arrives and he flees, only meet a gruesome death.  Gianna is sent to the hospital and survives, and it seems things are all wrapped up.  Some facts still don't sit well with Marcus, and he realizes that the real killer may in fact be laying in wait for him.

Deep Red is considered to be one of Dario Argento's best films, and it is far and a way his best giallo.  His own style is on display throughout, no longer trying too hard to copy Bava and Hitchcock.  What set Argento apart during his prime was not his consistent pacing nor his ability to truly scare the viewer, but rather the visuals.  Whether it be blood spraying from a wound or something as simple as framing two friends talking in front of a fountain he makes the effort to make everything look like a living painting.  Unsurprisingly, paintings and visual motifs are quite important to the story as well, particularly in the final reveal.

The other thing that comes together for Argento this time around is the soundtrack.  Originally supposed to be jazz piano pieces all the way through, he was unsatisfied with most of the soundtrack given him, and an attempt to get Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack fell through.  Instead, he turned to Claudio Simonetti and his band Goblin, and their music has since almost become synonymous with Argento's films.  While not as creepy as the soundtrack for Suspiria, Goblin's music is effective in ratcheting up the tension when the killer strikes.

Famously, Argento has always been more concerned with the visual elements of his films than he has been with his actors' performances.  His partner Daria Nicolodi comes across quite well in this, giving more than just lip service to being a strong female character.  David Hemmings often looks quite strung out which fits his musician character well, especially since he spends a good portion of the film wondering if the killer is going to be back for him if his investigation doesn't lead to the answers first. 

This is rather straightforward and, for Argento, largely follows some sort of logic, but that doesn't keep some question from popping up about what knowledge the killer must have or how they can be one step ahead at all times - questions that are exacerbated once all is revealed. Another problem is pacing. This is one of the few films in which I enjoy the shortened international cut a bit more than the original.  The Italian version is slightly over two hours, while the typical version seen in the U.S. is around 106 minutes.  This is not due to U.S. censorship, but rather was an edited version overseen by Argento himself, largely removing some scenes of humor that take focus off the proceedings plus some rather clumsy attempts to develop a romantic subplot between Marcus and Gianna.  The original has long stretches where nothing happens, but it doesn't flesh out anything or make the story any clearer.  With the shorter cut there is more emphasis on the story, visuals and gore scenes. 

I would just warn away from watching the Mill Creek version, and stick with the more recent releases.  In fact, stay away from any pan and scan version of the movie, as it is important to be able to see this in widescreen to enjoy everything the way Argento meant us to see it.

Deep Red (1975)
Time: 126 minutes
Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi
Director: Dario Argento

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