DEEP RED (1975)
Helga is a telepathic visiting Italy who feels the frightening presence of a disturbed mind when she is at a lecture. That night, while trying to focus on that mind, she is brutally killed by a hatchet-wielding maniac. Her death is seen by Marc, a jazz pianist who lives in the same building as her. While trying to save her, Marc thinks he sees something as he races through her apartment. It is this sliver of memory, that he can't recall if he imagined or if he truly saw something, that propels him through the city streets, trying to piece together the puzzle. His path leads him into constant contact with a local reporter, Gianna, who is trying to make a name for herself. But as each piece comes into play, or as a person comes too close to a vital clue, the black-gloved assailant returns from the shadows to murder again. Marc is certain that he is closing in on the truth, but the final discovery could also spell the end of his life!
Director and co-writer Dario Argento once again returns to a familiar world of unknown killers in this genre defining mystery, which was also written by Italian screenplay master Bernardino Zapponi. Together, the two create a film that would shape the crucial ingredients for the 70's giallo - shocking gore, a dizzying storyline, characters that evolve so that any of them could be the killer, and a pounding soundtrack. But though these would be the standard ingredients, it is Argento's eye aided by Luigi Kuveiller's cinematography that keeps DEEP RED a unique film experience that brings fans new and old to the movie again and again.
The story, which revolves around Marc Dely (David Hemmings), is a swirling mystery that keeps the viewers guessing throughout, offering red herrings and subplots to keep things interesting throughout the two hour plus running time. Like most of the gialli that precede DEEP RED and like the hallucinating Argento films to follow, the story often plays second fiddle to the atmosphere and style of the set designs where the scenes take place, but it is never compromised to allow such scenes to exist. The script also allows room for some sex equality banter between Marc and Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), as they vie against one another to be the more important amateur detective.
Argento literally goes for the throat in his quest to shock the audience with his brutal assault on the body. The film's title indeed delivers, as the deep red stuff pours several times throughout, and each one out does the other. Helga's murder, which we all know is coming but is still startling when it does happen, sets the bar high early on. Her attacker cleaves her several times with a hatchet, and each time we see the blade sink in. It is a horrific murder, and Macha Meril's screams resonate in the air. Argento keeps the shocks coming, as a woman's head is scalded, a knife pins a victim's head to a table through the neck, another head is crushed, and the finale death that must seen to be believed. In the ironically titled alternate version THE HATCHET MURDERS, almost all of the gore is cut out, so it is best to avoid that one.
Beyond the atmospheric sets and the always-thinking storyline, is Kuveiller's stunning work with a camera. Early on in the film, the camera pans across a series of small objects, leading up to an extended switchblade. Each item is larger than life, crisp and in focus, and the fluid of the camera as it pans so close is just breathtaking. The camera repeats these extreme close ups of objects throughout, each time with the same precision, bringing our eye so close that we are unable to see the importance to object represents. Argento's framing of scenes, accompanied by the elaborate crane shots, wild zooms, and dollying through windows continues to be as smooth and fluid as a quiet stream. The camera merely hovers and floats around the characters trying to keep up with the subtle important clues.
Also hovering around the characters is the incredible thumping and booming of prog-rockers Goblin. DEEP RED marks the first of several collaborations between Goblin and Argento, and their work here turns the concept of music to create mood head over heels. Often times, when one would normally expect a soft violin or small horn section drawing out single notes to build suspense, Goblin cranks up the deep driving bass, lets the guitars rip, the keyboard eerily chime, and the tom-toms rattle and roll. The result is almost a music video, with a band playing over the scene, instead of being part of it, and slams out much louder than any of the conversations and ambient background. Goblin would go on to much wider acclaim with their soundtrack work on the Italian cut of DAWN OF THE DEAD, but here is where they got their start and created an unequivocal sound in the world of horror.
Over thirty years later and even looming in the shadow of Argento's greatest triumph, SUSPIRIA, DEEP RED remains an important part of both his filmography and the horror community at large. The professionalism of all involved, as well as the daring use of music, keeps this movie at the head of the list of Italian giallos. In a distant past where gore was an asset and accompaniment to the story instead of merely a distraction, Dario Argento was one of the greats.