Deep Red [aka Profundo Rosso] (1975)
So I finally saw Deep Red. I’ve counted myself among Dario Argento’s fans for years, ever since a friend turned me on to Suspiria and Opera and while I’ve seen those movies countless times, I’ve delved very little into the rest of Il Maestro’s filmography, with a few exceptions (I’ve seen Tenebrae several times and it remains one of my favorites of his; I’ve also had the unfortunate pleasure of seeing The Phantom of the Opera… the less said about that one, the better).
For a while, I’ve had several of Argento’s movies sitting on my shelf, unwatched. There’s his early giallo, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; his first full-length American production, Trauma; and his George Romero collaboration, Two Evil Eyes. They all stare at me, begging me to watch them. But there was another sitting there that I’m ashamed to have never seen*, as it’s pretty much considered by most of Argento’s fans as one of his best. Hell, the DVD packaging even calls it “Argento’s Masterpiece!” They wouldn’t lie just to sell a product would they?
If you haven’t figured it out, the film in question is Deep Red. And today, since I had the day off work and little to do, I decided to delve into some Argento. I’ve read several reviews of his films over the last few days, since there’s a new DVD box set that was released today (cleverly titled 5 Films by Dario Argento), so I was itching to get into something of his that I’d never seen.
And Deep Red did the trick. Regardless of what Anchor Bay wanted me to think, however, it’s not Argento’s masterpiece (out of the ones I’ve seen so far, Opera is my favorite). The movie is too deeply flawed to really be considered a masterpiece of any kind, but it still manages to be a pretty great film watching experience. Like a lot of Argento’s work, the plot is pretty incoherent and, if someone were to explain it to you, it probably would make little sense anyway. It concerns an English jazz pianist who’s working in Rome and witnesses a sort of famous psychic get murdered with a combination of meat cleaver to the back and glass shards to the neck. Not the most pleasant way to go.
So the guy does what any rational person would do and runs up to the woman’s apartment and cradles her dead body before the police even arrive. The po-pos finally show up and question him and then let him go on his merry way. But something’s bothering him (cue suspenseful music). Something that he saw in the woman’s apartment just doesn’t sit right with him. And it’s with this gut feeling that he saw something that he’s since forgotten that drives the plot — what there is of it, at least — for the remainder of the film.
Said guy (who’s name is Marcus, by the way and he’s played by Blowup‘s David Hemmings) begrudgingly befriends a tabloid reporter who’s covering the murder and who rewards his friendship by publishing his photo in the paper for everyone — including the killer, who’s still on the loose — to see. When he sarcastically “thanks” her for this, she responds with “Oh, it’s okay” as if they don’t have sarcasm in Italy and she thought he was really, truly thanking her.
Anyways, from this point on, things get weird and Argento just starts throwing scenes into the movie for awesomeness sake. There’s killing via scalding water drowning, there are creepy dolls hung from ceilings (Why? I don’t know. It’s never explained), a creepy children’s song, a black-gloved killer, a beheading via necklace (luckily the victim was apparently neckbone-less) and, in the most baffling scene in the movie, a mechanical robot ventriloquist dummy which doesn’t even kill; it just runs out into the room, all weird and creepy like and distracts someone so that the killer can sneak up behind them with a knife. It seems like a pretty elaborate way to distract someone and it’s never explained why there was a dummy there in the first place or why the killer would even use such a device. And the dummy doesn’t appear anywhere before or after this scene, which makes it even that much more of a mystery. I’d like to think that Argento just saw some creepy looking doll in a store one day and decided that he’d throw it in a movie. Regardless, it manages to be the creepiest scene in the movie, all the while making no fucking sense at all. (Note: This scene can be seen almost in its entirety in the spoiler-y trailer below.)
Another one of the more effective scenes in the movie is the aforementioned scalding water drowning scene. What makes the entire scene so great is that the victim has a house full of birds (I’m no expert but I think they were of the Black-with-orange-beaks genus) and while the killer is stalking her, the birds caw in a way that’s really unsettling and adds a lot to the tension of the scene.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the score. The score, by Goblin, is one of the aspect of the film that’s always praised by reviewers, and I normally love Goblin’s work (I own the Suspiria soundtrack and absolutely adore it) and while their work in this film isn’t bad, it doesn’t fit in with the scene in the movie, something I blame on the director, not the musicians themselves. I admire Argento for going after something other than the traditional horror movie score, but playing a synth-filled jazz crescendo during what could be a very suspenseful scene kind of kills the tension.
The DVD that I watched was the “unrated, uncut” version that was never released in the US until Anchor Bay’s DVD. Unfortunately, many of the scenes were either never recorded in English or the English soundtracks have been lost, so those scenes are in Italian. Now, I’ve got no problem with subtitles, but the problem is that the actors who dubbed the English and those that dubbed the Italian lines (all of the dialogue in Italian films of this era were recorded in ADR) don’t sound ANYTHING ALIKE. One minute: high pitched, goofy sounding voice in English. The next: Soft, low line reading in Italian (using this film as a basis, I have to say that Italians are the sexiest talkers ever). I know it’s of no fault of the filmmakers but it’s pretty distracting at times.
Bottom Line: If there’s one thing that can be said about Argento it’s that he’s definitely a style-over-substance kind of guy. If a movie were to be released today, the director would be railroaded for such a thing, but then again, when you’ve got style like Argento’s got style, the lack of logic in the script is almost forgivable. So forget the film’s problems and relish in the fact that it’s one of the most visually stylistic films — horror or otherwise — that you’ll ever see.
Viewed on DVD (Personal Collection).
*I’m also embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen Inferno. For shame, I know, but I hope to remedy that and see it sometime before The Mother of Tears opens in July.