Complaining about the excesses and shortcomings of Dario Argento’s celebrated giallo thriller Deep Red serves little purpose, because the folks who dig this sort of movie expect little more than stylish violence, and the people for whom the film’s rough edges would be problematic are unlikely to ever watch Deep Red. A visually dynamic shocker with absurdly detailed gore, indulgently long suspense sequences, and a murky storyline that exists mostly as a means of stringing sensationalistic set pieces together, the film has inarguable cinematic merits. Furthermore, it’s a safe bet that Deep Red and other ’70s Argento pictures influenced the work of such American horror/thriller auteurs as John Carpenter and Brian De Palma. Nonetheless, there’s no avoiding the fact that Deep Red was designed to be unpleasant. Except during sequences that get bogged down in turgid plotting, the picture largely achieves its goal of making viewers uncomfortable, sometimes through crude means (onscreen bloodshed) and sometimes through subtler methods (the generation of legitimate suspense). And even though the script by Argento and frequent Fellini collaborator Bernardino Zapponi actually devotes quite a bit of time to character development, the value of the picture ultimately resides in its ability to provoke revulsion. Therefore, despite being made with considerable artistry, Deep Red is not high art. If anything, it’s the exact opposite of that.
Set in Turin, Italy, the meandering movie begins with atmospheric scenes culminating in the murder of a psychic. The killing, which occurs in a high window of an apartment building, is witnessed by an English musician named Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), who lives and works in Italy. Marcus soon becomes obsessed with determining the murderer’s identity. Helping him investigate are friends of the deceased psychic as well as a reporter named Gianna Brezzi (Darla Nicoldoi). The plot grows more complicated with each passing scene, eventually becoming almost incomprehensible as Argento adds in myths and rumors and whatnot, hence the picture’s bloated original running time of 126 minutes. (During its initial American release, Deep Red earned an “X” rating for its violence, only to get trimmed down for mainstream US exhibition.) As with many of Argento’s pictures, the style is ultimately more important than the substance. Argento’s probing camerawork is exciting to watch, with cameras floating and soaring through spaces whenever the director isn’t composing striking static shots. Pushing these images along is an undulating original rock score by Italian band Goblin, whose spooky grooves have a hypnotic appeal. As for leading man Hemmings, his work is chilly and intense, though in his defense, Hemmings’ character exists to drive the story, rather than the other way around.
Deep Red: FUNKY