Deep Red (1975)

Posted: December 6, 2014 in Movie Review
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Deep Red (1975)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Clara Calamai, Macha Meril, Glauco Mauri, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra

In order to truly solve a mystery, one must have a proper and complete picture at hand. You’d better have all your facts straight. How else can anyone take you seriously? Otherwise, you’re just fumbling around and spouting off scatterbrained nonsense. The same is true of anyone who tracks down Dario Argento’s “Deep Red.” If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up watching the wrong version. Although the story will mostly play out the same regardless, up to a half hour’s worth of movie can be missing. Italian horror films take this kind of hit all the time when released in the US, sometimes by the director’s own hand, but it never gets any less frustrating. It’s hard to know how to talk about a movie when you’re not quite certain whether or not you’ve actually seen enough to have an informed opinion.

Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), jazz pianst, is sidetracked from his chosen profession when he gets caught up in a murder investigation. Marcus wants to find out who killed psychic medium Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril). His problem is that he can’t seem to figure out what’s become of a painting he saw among the several which hang on the walls inside Helga’s apartment. Each time he (and we, the audience, along with him) get close to figuring out whodunit, another person who might have some idea dies horribly. In spite of the danger, and with the help of reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), Marcus presses on. No matter the outcome, the investigation is sure to leave Marcus a changed man.

Watching “Deep Red” (a.k.a. “Profondo Rosso”), it was like seeing an improved version of “The Cat o’ Nine Tails.” Both are Italian gialli, centering around a plot where a man becomes curious about a murder, acquires the help of a reporter, finds it difficult to work on the investigation when all the clues and witnesses keep disappearing/dying, and winds up having to take on the thoroughly psychotic killer by himself in the end. Both also have their share of pacing, dubbing and editing issues, but that’s where the comparison ends.

Dario Argento improves upon his previous work in each of the following very crucial categories: Acting, musical score and cinematography. David Hemmings shows his familiarity with the murder mystery, having also featured in 1966’s “Blow-Up.” He’s the perfect man to play Marcus Daly. Gabriele Lavia is also quite a hoot as Carlo. The cinematography is superb. Maybe not on the level of a “Suspiria,” but there’s definitely some fine camerawork going on here. I especially enjoy the first-person POV shots of the killer, which later became a regular staple of the slasher genre. This is another one to which movies like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and others of their kind owe a great deal. By the way, when you see the killer’s gloved hands, that’s Dario Argento himself. The murders themselves are well done, although shorter cuts of the film do make unfortunate edits to many of these scenes. The dolls seen throughout the movie are effectively creepy, especially the one that was a clear inspiration for the tricycle-riding Jigsaw doll from “Saw.”

The best part of “Deep Red” for me is its soundtrack. The score by rock band Goblin, their first of many collaborations with Dario Argento, is one of their best. Interesting to note: Goblin wasn’t the director’s first choice. The original composer, Giorgio Gaslini, had produced a score which was decidedly not to Argento’s liking. He’d decided the film needed a much different sound, which explains why he wanted Pink Floyd (a band as “different” as they come). Who knows what the movie might have sounded like with them on board, but it would almost certainly have been glorious. Cosmic, even. Unable to get his preferred choice, Argento went with Goblin, who turn out to be perfectly suited for “Deep Red.” As with certain tracks from “Suspiria,” you won’t soon be able to get “Profondo Rosso” out of your head anytime soon after you’ve heard it. I am eager to find out if other Argento/Goblin team-ups are as outstanding as the two I’ve sampled up to this point.

Here’s my problem: The version I’ve seen is the US theatrical cut which is missing 20 minutes, give or take. I can’t very well grade the portions of the movie I haven’t seen, and I can’t help but wonder how they would affect my overall impression. As it is, I’m not as in love with the movie as some are. It slows down in the early-going, and I’m not crazy about the inclusion of a psychic in a story which is otherwise grounded in reality. (Fortunately, she’s dead before you know it!) All of that being said, the positives of “Deep Red” far outweigh the negatives. You are kept guessing as to the identity of the killer. I myself incorrectly thought I had it figured out twice before the final reveal. I do believe this one to be worthy of further examination at a later date, at which time I would hopefully be able to track down the 126-minute version.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I really like David Hemmings, so I probably would enjoy this Argento mystery!

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