Deep Red directed by Dario Argento
Following his so-called Animal Trilogy — 1970’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and 1971’s The Cat O’Nine Tails and Four Flies on Gray Velvet — and immediately before creating what turned out to be his most popular picture as of this date, 1977’s Suspiria, Italian director Dario Argento released, in March 1975, one of his most critically acclaimed films, Deep Red (or, as it is more sonorously known in Italian, Profondo Rosso). All these decades later, the picture is still considered, by fans and critics alike, to not only be one of the most impressive in Argento’s still-growing oeuvre, but one of the finest gialli ever made; the excellent reference book DVD Delirium even goes so far as to call it “one of the highlights of Italian cinema as a whole.” And now that I have finally caught up with the film, I can see what all the ballyhoo is about … to a degree.
In the picture, a string of grisly murders begins with the slaying of a beautiful Jewish Lithuanian clairvoyant (played by Macha Meril, who many viewers will recall as the depraved, sophisticated woman in Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders of that same year), who had sensed the presence of a killer at a recent parapsychology demonstration. The homicide is witnessed from afar by jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings, who most will recognize from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic Blowup), who tries to track down the killer with the assistance of feisty news reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, in her first of six films for the director). But with a maniac as seemingly omniscient as this one is, this turns out to be quite a risky proposition indeed…
Deep Red is a remarkable film on several fronts. It features typically impressive camera work from Argento — although his mobile, sinuous camera tricks would be emphasized even more in later films, such as 1988’s Opera — as well as superb editing AND gripping background music (largely from the rock group Goblin, whose work on Suspiria would prove so memorable). Typical for a giallo, stylish murders are highlighted, although, despite that sanguinary title, the film is not nearly as bloody as some of Argento’s others (particularly 1982’s Tenebre, one of the goriest gialli ever). Still, gorehounds should be pleased by the various knifing, cleavering, tub scalding, teeth bashing, head banging and decapitation sequences that the film dishes out, although animal rights activists might be appalled by the violence, real and simulated, done to dogs, lizards (lizards, strangely, also figured in two other Argento films that I recently watched, Opera and 1980’s Inferno) and ravens (skewered ravens would be a major plot point in Opera, too). Assorted bits of weirdness in the film include a shot of the killer’s unblinking eyeball, deep in the recesses of a dark closet (an homage, perhaps, to the similar shot in the classic 1946 thriller The Spiral Staircase?); that odd little girl, Olga; the creepy children’s lullaby that the maniac plays before slaying (you’ll be humming it for days afterward); and, most especially, that hideous walking doll. Hemming and Nicolodi are wonderful in their leading roles, and their bickering romance provides the film with what little humor it has to offer. As detectives, though, they are mediocre at best; though hot on the correct trail, they never DO figure out the killer’s identity … and, I have a feeling, neither will you.
Unlike many other gialli that I have seen over the years, Deep Red hangs together logically and makes coherent sense … especially after a repeat viewing. Still, some questions remain: Why was the killer at that parapsychology conference in the first place, and how did the killer get on the trail of the writer living in the country? Still, these are quibbles. Deep Red really could be one of the finest, classiest and stylishly constructed gialli ever made, although this viewer might still prefer Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1970) and Emilio Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) (but this might have something to do with the exquisite presences of Edwige Fenech in the first and Barbara Bouchet in the second!).
The DVD that I just watched, incidentally, from Westlake, features the full-length, 126-minute print and looks terrific, but with nary an extra to be had, other than a skimpy photo gallery. From what I hear, the DVDs from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground would be better options. But seeing the film is a must, as it turns out, for all fans of Italian thrillers and even horror in general. Gulp down some deep-red Chianti and prepare to be stunned!