Deep Red

Deep Red (Profondo Rosso)

Italian horror is whole different breed from the American brand. Focusing less on unstoppable monsters the like of Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, our Mediterranean friends focus more on chilling atmosphere, an unhealthy sense of mystery, and bizarre death scenes that really set the standard for just how unique and grotesque the end can be. I’ve always held Mario Bava’s giallo films as the gold standard of Italian horror. Despite my personal leanings, the acknowledged master of the giallo is Dario Argento.

Most people look to Suspiria as Argento’s greatest work. But I’ve always found Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, in Argento’s native Italian) to be his masterpiece. Lacking the hokey witchcraft angle and confusing labyrinthine plot of Suspiria, Deep Red is a much more focused work that is legitimately chilling.

Deep Red begins with two recurring motifs: a child’s song, and a ghastly murder. The film then takes us to an audience watching a renowned psychic. The woman senses a dark, disturbing force somewhere in the audience. Exhausted from the experience, she returns to her hotel, where she is creatively murdered. This murder set piece is exemplary of Argentos’ work: it’s gruesome, bloody, and distinctively twisted. Anyone who is a fan of Argento’s would automatically identify a movie of his by the deaths, even if he or she didn’t know he had directed it.

From here, David Hemdale (famous for Antonioni’s art house murder flick Blowup) gets involved in the events that shape the film. Having witnessed the murder, he and the killer play a cat and mouse game, with Hemdale always seemingly one step behind. Add in an obligatory though odd romance with a reporter played by Daria Nicolodi (Argento’s longtime girlfriend for years), and Hemdale heads toward his fateful final encounter with the killer.

Argento is not acknowledged as a master just for his trademark death scenes. The plot of Deep Red is one of the most tightly constructed I’ve ever seen in any genre of film. The way he goes about creating tension is astounding; note the recurring child song. As I was watching, I was terrified every time it chimed. And it reminded me constantly that there was something childlike though sinister about the killer. Also, look to the scene where Hemdale explores an old house, searching for clues about the killer; as night rolled in, I kept screaming at my TV for him to get out of that house. Once he finds some disturbing childhood paintings within a wall, I thought he was dead for sure. . Also, note the soundtrack. Argento’s use of Goblin’s score is as key a component as the score in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

One thing that might turn fans off from this masterpiece is the odd dubbing/subtitles. Some of the film is dubbed rather badly; other parts have subtitles. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens within scenes. I don’t understand that editorial choice at all.

What I really don’t understand is the weak special features on this disc. For something that’s supposed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a film, this lineup is weak. The main event is an 11 minute interview with Argento, producer Bernardo Zapponi, and the members of Goblin. For a brief featurette, it’s pretty informative, and enjoyable. But it is brief. And that’s about it. A few trailers and some talent bios round out the disc. Nothing else.

Dario Argento crafted a top notch thriller that ranks among the best of all time. Creative deaths and a tight plot propel this film to a whole other level, and there are some legitimately creepy scenes throughout. Though this disc lacks the special features it so rightly deserves, it’s worth a purchase, if only to get a different view of how horror movies can be, in the hands of a master.

-Phil Fasso


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