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Murder as art; mystery as romance. Deep Red is the pinnacle of Dario Argento's directing career.

  • Jul 26, 2012
**** out of ****

This is the quintessential Dario Argento thriller. Examine the director's entire career - down to every last film he's ever made before and after this - and you'll see that each one contains just a hint of "Deep Red" in its DNA. Argento has been around (in cinematic terms) for a while, since his debut feature in 1970, and if you know his name and have seen a few of his movies; then you're already partially familiar with the name he's made for himself. It's a tie between this and the phantasmagoric "Suspiria" for most widely acclaimed and recognized Argento film, but if I had to take a pick - and that's no easy thing to do when you adore the early works of the director - a personal favorite, this would be it. "Deep Red" explodes right from the screen and assaults the senses with a cleaver, a knife, a hatchet, and just about anything else Argento can find at his disposal. It is a beautiful, poetic horror film that reveals the Italians as the defining artists of their era in the medium of horror cinema.

A British pianist named Marc (David Hemmings) who is currently living in Italy witnesses the brutal murder of psychic Helga Ulman (Macha Meril) in her apartment from the streets. What he sees from where he's standing is her body smash through the apartment window; and what he sees once he's up there picking up the mess is a shady figure in a fedora and raincoat leaving the scene. What we saw earlier was an unidentified person - quite possibly the perpetrator of the crime - watching Mrs. Ulman as she performed her routine in front of an audience. Afterwards, the figure went to the bathroom of the theater where she was performing and put on some suave leather gloves. But of course, Marc didn't see all this. He didn't know that whoever killed Mrs. Ulman was stalking her that very night. All the same, he's now a part of a police investigation.

Marc is joined by spunky female journalist Gianna (Daria Nicollodi), who hasn't found the big break she's been hoping for all her life quite yet, although this might just be it. Together, they seek to solve the puzzle; find the killer, try to understand his/her pattern and who is on the list next if there is a list at all, and put an end to this madness. As they sleuth about, the two forge a very strong romantic bond; the two identify with one another, although at the same time they realize that the killer is still out and about, ready to strike, and that they must act fast if they are to save any more lives.

This is one of those movies where the police are of no help to the heroes whatsoever. A common story element in Argento's films is characters having to find their own ways out of the labyrinth that they've gotten themselves lost in from the beginning all the way to the end; and "Deep Red" has quite the labyrinth indeed. There are a few side characters of note: such as Marc's drunkard friend (who is later revealed to be gay) named Carlo, his eccentric mother who keeps confusing Marc for an engineer, and even Gianna's car (which is a piece of shit that is in need of some serious repairs), which has defunct doors. The killer, leather-clad, has his/her peculiarities; such as a tape recording of a children's nursery rhyme that plays whenever he/she is near. When you hear this song, you know shit's about to go down. Eventually you start to get familiar with the tune, and it becomes as important as say the "Jaws" theme. Too bad it's not nearly as world-renown.

But...who cares whether today's movie-going public isn't down with Argento or Italian horror cinema as a whole? Who cares about popularity? That didn't matter to Argento when he made this film and it doesn't matter to him now. There are plenty of people who appreciate this brilliant and thoroughly engaging film; including myself. In fact, I'd go as far as calling it one of my personal favorites. Yes, that's right. If I said there are few films that give me such satisfaction - such great pleasure - as this one, I would not be exaggerating. "Deep Red" is a flawless marriage of sound and sight; a mad concoction of elaborate murder set pieces (a gruesome bathroom death sequence is worthy a shout out), a screeching prog rock score, and impeccable cinematography. This is probably the best shot horror movie I've seen, considering that there isn't a dull frame in sight and the colors really get a chance to stand out. Argento's lighting techniques are as innovative as his loopy, if not imperfect storytelling.

However, this is not a film about storytelling or characters. Both of these things are indeed present, but they are put on the backburner to make way for things of more importance to Argento and fans of Italian horror dream logic: such as grisly but creatively over-the-top violence, quirky humor, and top notch suspense (Hitchcock, a few years before his death, praised Argento as the possible heir to his throne). Argento, in his early years, was a poetic of the macabre who by abandoning conventional storytelling brought to life nightmarish cinematic visions, and this is one of the great ones. Here, the images and sound tell the story. Music, I think, has the most impact on "Deep Red" and its overall quality. Goblin's original music score is absolutely unreal; and I love these guys, I really do, because they make music for horror movies that wouldn't typically be found in horror movies at all. And the music commands every scene that it appears in. Accompanied by the stunning imagery - such as the killer's grotesque drawings that are revealed in the walls of old buildings and baby dolls hung from a rope noose - the score is simply flawless. It's one of my favorite film scores ever.

I fear I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm giving this film - which I love to death and always will - my highest recommendation possible, gushing over the darn thing and showering it with praise that can seldom be matched. I might as well stop here. But I believe an element of the story sums up the film in a nutshell. In the beginning, when Marc was rushing to the dead body of the psychic, he briefly saw a painting hanging on the wall of the hallway that lead to her room that looked suspicious. Until the end, he questions whether what he saw was something authentic or something imagined. It looked like a face in the picture; a human face, but he can't be too sure. That's how I feel whenever I watch this film. It's a work of art that is just far too sublime to take in upon a single viewing. Every time I watch it, I find that I need to watch it once more just to absorb the essential details. You watch it and then you look within yourself for some rational explanation to it all. What I do now is stop thinking so hard and accept that the surrealistic artistry of Argento is - or at least used to be - his ability to manipulate our minds in such ways that we are overwhelmed and ever-so-vulnerable.

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More Deep Red reviews
review by . July 11, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
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Dario Argento has been called many things, among of which is the “Hitchcock” of Italian cinema. The man has been responsible for many ‘trippy’ journeys to the macabre and the supernatural. His finest works have arguably been “Tenebre”, “Suspiria“, and “Inferno”. DEEP RED (1975) is one of Argento’s finest work, the film is methodical, relies on restrained suspense and it even pushes the envelope in blood and gore during this period …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
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It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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