‘Deep Red’ (aka Profondo Rosso) is one of those films whose reputation proceeds it, and time and time again the 1975 Argento classic is not only hailed as one of the best films of an era, but a triumphant crescendo of the eras Giallo/thriller movement.
Does it still live up to the hype? Yes, very much so.
After three previous efforts, effectively closing the loop on his aptly dubbed ‘animal trilogy’, Argento goes all in on ‘Deep Red’, clearly reflecting on what worked, and more specifically on what didn’t in those films. While each of those films were decent in their own way, for every home run he hit, be it with story or cinematography etc, there seemed to be a compromise in another aspect.
Not so with ‘Deep Red’.
This film is lauded in every aspect, and in terms of Giallo, a sub-genre of horror/thriller which Argento could arguably be cited as starting (at least from a commercial standpoint), this really is a pinnacle movie for a number of reasons.
Starting with the plot. This film follows David, a pianist who witnesses the murder of a German psychic. He rushes up to the scene of the crime only to find the leather coat (and of course gloved) killer making their escape across the dimly lit piazza. Once questioned by the police, there isn’t a lot to tell them, but deep down, he knows he knows more, he just can’t put his finger on what it is (ala Bird with the Crystal Plumage). Teaming up with a flirtatious reporter named Gianna, David and Gianna begin an investigation of their own which sees them follow a breadcrumb trail of clues on a journey involving creepy nursery rhymes, reportedly haunted mansions and through many many of Italy’s naturally striking lavish architectural interiors; all the while hounded by a killer who likes to taunt and torment its victims as part of its cruel game.
There are two strengths prominent from the get-go and that’s the characters which are by far the strongest of the films of Argento thus far, and the cinematography. Perhaps only beaten by his future hit ‘Susperia’ this film looks amazing; and in an honest way to. I didn’t feel that the shots are overly stylised, but more so, just oozing with style. The use of lighting, open spaces with looming ominous shadows give the conflicting feelings of both exposed vulnerability mixed with claustrophobia, building an atmosphere which isn’t quite ‘horror’ like, but tense and urgent never the less. The characters too, they are far from horror characters, and as I described with the cinematography, there’s an honesty to them.
I watched the full cut from Anchor Bay, which includes all of the interactions between David and Gianna, which were largely all cut for the American release of the film under the title ‘Hatchet’ to give it more of a horror theme, and I definitely feel that this film is all the better for having them there as it is a necessary reminder that this is a thriller, a murder mystery, two ordinary people plunged into the maddening world of a psychopath, and never lambs to the slaughter. These two are the stars of the show, not the sinister killer; despite the theatrics!
That’s not to say that there aren’t some well crafted proto-slasher elements woven into the film’s tenser moments. Argento’s previous movie ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ contained a couple of some really standout scenes where clever use of camera angles, lighting, pulsing score and visceral death scenes culminated in some breath taking set pieces. In ‘Deep Red’ almost all of the murders are treated with the same attention to detail, but rather than feeling standout amongst other more mediocre element (as was the case in ‘Flies’), here the murder sequences slot seamlessly into the films pitch, tones and aesthetics; even the more blood-thirsty kills don’t feel forced or gratuitous, as there are a number of other creepy and horror-esk elements which allow the film to flirt with genre boundaries, grounded of course by the ‘normality’ of the main characters.
Tying all of the above together is a plot, which, admittedly has some big leaps forwards in expositions/locations at times, is well crafted and the frequent changes in mood, location and exposition really keeps the giallo train steaming towards its final and inevitable destination. As a murder mystery ‘Deep Red’ doesn’t so much focus on the ‘who’ part to maintain its mystery, more so the ‘why’ (which of course eventually leads to who), and as such this time round (with his attempts in his previous three films having varying levels of success), the big reveal has a little more continuity with the films overarching plotline. As a bonus, perfected from the innovative ‘you already know who the murder is’ concept taken forwards from ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ is even more clever here, and certainly will have you wanting to re-watch the film to see if you’ve been duped or not!
Overall, there’s not much more for me to add in a critique of a film whose reputation has seen it endure and maintain its status almost half a century since its original release. It’s a stunner, no two ways about it, and a film which ultimately ended up offering itself up as both a benchmark and definition for the genre. I’ve often wondered as to the reason for the distinct change in style for ‘Susperia’, Argento’s following film, but upon this recent re-watch, I got it: ‘Deep Red’ was just never going to be beaten.