Deep Red (1975)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #384

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Also known as Profondo Rosso, The Hatchet Murders, The Shivers of Angst
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: 7 March 1975 (Italy)
Sub-Genre: Giallo
Country of Origin: Italy
Box Office: ₤3,709,723,000 (Italy), $629,903 (US)
Running Time: 126 minutes
Director: Dario Argento
Producers: Claudio Argento, Salvatore Argento
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
Special Effects: Germano Natali, Carlo Rambaldi
Cinematography: Luigi Kuveiller
Score: Goblin, Giorgio Gaslini
Editing: Franco Fraticelli
Studios: Rizzoli Film, Seda Spettacoli
Distributors: Howard Mahler Films, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Blue Underground
Stars: Macha Meril, David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Giuliana Calandra, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai, Piero Mazzinghi, Aldo Bonamano, Liana Del Balzo, Geraldine Hooper

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Suggested Audio Candy

Goblin “Soundtrack Suite”

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Selecting your favorite Dario Argento movie is akin to working out which one of The Pointer Sisters to bed first; a laborious affair with no clear-cut answer. So dominant was wizard Argento through the seventies and early eighties that picking an outright winner isn’t easy. Personally, I’m all about Suspiria and Inferno, and believe these two entries into his Three Mothers Trilogy came at the height of his creative flourish. However, if you asked me to name his best film, it would be particularly troublesome discounting Deep Red from the equation. Argento’s work, particularly by the turn of the decade, was often wildly incoherent, whereas this 1975 Giallo gave a masterclass in tight plot and conventional narrative.

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He had proved already with The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The Cat’o’Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet that Giallo was his specialty and Deep Red, or Profondo Rosso to use his native tongue, was by far his most accomplished entry into the increasingly popular sub-genre yet. It also showcased his visual virtuosity and featured long-lasting imagery which endorsed sleepless nights effortlessly. This marked the coming together of elements for Argento and also his willingness to push boundaries with the first true signs of his artistic approach to gruesome splatter. Deep Red was heavily cut upon its US release but not, as believed, by the censors. Instead, Dario himself removed over twenty minutes of footage from the American print and this included many of the film’s infamous gore scenes.

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Now fully reinstated, the full 126-minute version is an absolute joy to behold, not only for its grue, but also because of additional interaction between leads David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi. Argento’s work isn’t necessarily known for its on-screen pairings but here the chemistry on exhibit is nigh-on off the chart. Hemmings displays all the naïvety of Thomas from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, while Nicolodi acts as the perfect foil in a truly wondrous performance.

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At one point they take a break from trying to deduce the killer by engaging in an arm wrestle and many of the film’s lighter moments come courtesy of their duck soup synergy.

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The plot itself is conventional Giallo all the way and focuses on jazz pianist Marcus Daly (Hemmings) as he scrutinizes a spate of vicious killings after witnessing one such murder whilst strolling home. Along with investigative reporter Gianna Brezzi (Nicolodi) he attempts to complete a puzzle the pieces for which Argento leaves tantalizingly scattered across the 126 minute duration with the usual red herrings and blind alleys halting his progression. All the while, our killer is making themselves known, while he keeps us guessing with a whodunnit theme which is implemented brilliantly.

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What truly sets this film apart from the numerous pretenders to its Giallo crown is the prodigious atmosphere which he evokes through the usual gloriously Argento staples which later became synonymous with the brand. For a film bearing the title Deep Red, there is indeed a profusion of rouge, not restricted to the splatter either. Argento utilizes wondrous POV and tracking shots as he ensures we remain up-close-and-personal every single time he turns the screw. Aside from an abundance of his trademark visual style, the soundtrack by Goblin is easily one of their finest compositions and they throw everything inclusive of kitchen sink into the mix supplying everything from growling base guitar riffs, pipe organs, pulsating drum rhythms, and the all important synthesizer of course. These factors combine to showcase Argento’s command of the macabre and it was during Deep Red that the stars truly aligned for the first time.

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Despite the fact that this is far more conventionally Giallo than the likes of Suspiria and Inferno, he still manages to apply an additional layer of the surreal to proceedings. Certain scenes are nightmarish, notably one painfully protracted scene where Marcus is stalked and taunted by the killer while sitting down to compose a little gentle jazz on his piano. What begins fairly innocuously ends most sinister and demonstrates Dario’s desire to toy with his addressee brilliantly. Moments such as these are liberally sprinkled throughout the running time and stick with us long after Deep Red has unspooled.

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In summarizing, irrespective of whether or not Deep Red represents the director’s finest work, he is undoubtedly at the very top of his game and there can be no denying how influential this film has proved in the forty years since its original release. Discomforting in its suspense and bolstered by enigmatic turns from both Hemmings and Nicolodi, this remains just as starkly brilliant now as it was way back when. Argento is arguably the closest we have in horror to a true artist and it was Deep Red where he perfected the application of such cruel brushstrokes. Magnifico; lavoro eccellente signore Dario.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Given that we were still in 1975, and film-makers were still timidly testing the waters with regards to what one ordinarily assumes plays out after the cameras cease rolling, Argento really pushed the envelope with some particularly vicious dispatches. There is no simple pillow suffocation here; a cleaver is the preferred weapon of choice and Argento does everything in his power to share with us every single slice. Had this film been made ten years later then he may well have been provided more freedom to operate but, to his eternal credit, he affords us first-hand experience of the bloodletting with some particularly spiteful kills, none less so than the instance where a man’s face is slammed repeatedly into a fireplace mantle until his teeth shatter.

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Read Tenebrae Appraisal

Read Suspiria Appraisal

Read Inferno Appraisal

Read Jenifer Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. Reblogged this on Scarlet Genesis and commented:
    Keeper waxes on Argento’s Deep Red…

    “Selecting your favorite Dario Argento movie is akin to working out which one of The Pointer Sisters to bed first; a laborious affair with no clear-cut answer. So dominant was wizard Argento through the seventies and early eighties that picking an outright winner isn’t easy. Personally I’m all about Suspiria and Inferno, and believe these two entries into his Three Mothers Trilogy came at the height of his creative flourish.”

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