David Hemmings - Marcus Daly
Daria Nicolodi - Gianna Brezzi
Eros Pagni - Calcabrini
Gabriele Lavia - Carlo
Clara Calamai - Martha
Macha Meril - Helga Ulmann
Giuliana Calandra - Amanda Righetti
Genre - Horror/Giallo
Running Time - 126 Minutes
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
Having reviewed many a slasher film in the past 3 years, it's surprising that I have yet to review its Italian counterpart, the giallo film. From their long murder sequences, to their stylish camerawork, to really uneven mystery narratives, and their bizarre musical scores, you'd think I would have reviewed some films from this sub-genre already. Honestly, I don't know why it's taken me so long to really talk about the giallo. Maybe it's because my tastes for European horror hasn't fully kicked in until recently, probably due to American horror being so lame these days. But I'm on an Argento high at the moment and I figured that I would ride it out and see where it takes me.
As some of you know, I'm currently taking a Horror Films course at the college that I attend, where every week details a certain sub-genre of horror in chronological order. This week was, you guessed it, giallo week and the main attraction was Dario Argento's 1975 PROFONDO ROSSO, or as many of you know it - DEEP RED. It was my first time watching it, as I've heard so many great things about the film and was always curious about it. Some even told me that it was Argento's finest feature, even more so than 1977's SUSPIRIA. So after watching it, I have to say that while DEEP RED is an interesting and bizarre ditty of a movie, it's first impression hit me a lot harder than SUSPIRIA's - meaning that DEEP RED is definitely Argento's best film that I've seen so far [and I've seen some of them]. Let's see why you should go crimson over this giallo.
In Rome, a parapsychology conference is taking place. A powerful telepathic psychic named Helga Ulman (Macha Meril) starts having really twisted thoughts coming from one of the audience members, sensing the person's thoughts of murder and promising that this person has killed before and will do it again. That very night, this audience member invades Helga's home and murders her with a hatchet and by shattering her face through her apartment window. While this occurs, an English jazz painist named Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is walking home with his drunk friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia). Both men hear Helga's screams, but only Marcus watches Helga get murdered. Marcus runs to Helga's apartment in vain, only watching the killer leave the scene.
Since Marcus lived upstairs from Helga and was the only person alive at the scene of the crime, he is considered a possible witness and suspect. A spunky [and desperate] reporter named Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) pops in to take photographs for a story, connecting with Marcus right away. Marcus tries to collect his thoughts about what he saw that night, noticing that he may have seen something in the apartment but doesn't quite remember exactly what it was. With the help of Gianna, Marcus befriends Giordani (Glauco Mauri), a psychology professor who worked with Helga, hoping he can help in figuring out the case. Soon enough, Marcus believes that a missing painting in Helga's apartment will lead to the identity of the killer. But the killer is one step ahead of him, killing those who could help solve the crime. Now Marcus and Gianna must unravel the mystery before they become the next victims of this killing spree.
I was entertained immensely by DEEP RED. It's just so bizarre in its storytelling that just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. The mystery narrative really makes no sense most of the time, the score by Goblin doesn't really seem to fit with much of the film, and the death sequences are so over the top that they're brilliant. DEEP RED was more like an experience than an actual movie and I enjoyed that. DEEP RED is a film, like SUSPIRIA, where "style over susbstance" works in its favor rather than against it.
The highlights of DEEP RED are obviously the murders that take place. They're just beautifully shot and beautifully choregraphed. They're not just your simple "stalk-stab-kill" sequences. These scenes are really long and they really build up to visuals that you won't be forgetting for a long while. Helga's death scene, for example, is a study of how beautiful gore in horror can be. She gets a hatchet slammed down into her flesh multiple times and then gets her face smashed into a window until shards of broken glass impale her jugular. Amanda Righetti's [not the hot actress from The O.C. and the remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH] death was also quite a spectacle that started with her killing a suicidal bird with a knitting needle, getting knocked loopy because of that distraction, and then drowning in a hot tub [HALLOWEEN II (1981), you aren't so original, are you?]. But my favorites have to be the last two deaths. One involves the victim getting dragged literally through the streets of Rome, having his head banged into the sidewalk, and then getting that said head run down by an on-coming car. The other involves a necklace getting caught in an elevator shaft that's moving down, leading to a really sweet decapitation scene. And what was up with that walking dummy? That's some scary shit! These gory death scenes are really what people remember the most about DEEP RED and now I understand why. Dario Argento and special effect artists Germano Natali and Carlo Rambaldi did an impressive job with these sequences.
Speaking of Argento, the direction of DEEP RED is right up there with the direction for SUSPIRIA. From subjective point of view shots, to close ups of the gory stuff and clues that belong to the identity of the killer, and just the direction of the death sequences show a man at the top of his game. Odd angles, dialogue that overlaps with each other, and focused framing and composition create some nice tension and suspense in a world that's chaotically beautiful to look at. DEEP RED is a visionary film and Argento shows his skill as an interesting and fantastic artist by making it work so damn well.
Also interesting about DEEP RED - the soundtrack by Goblin. The music for DEEP RED is really bizarre at times, and appropriate at others. During the murder sequences or investigation scenes, Goblin would play this really upbeat funky soundtrack that really doesn't go with the scenes at all. Instead of being creeped out by these scenes, I was actually tapping my feet and bouncing my head to the groove and the beat. Even with the mismatch, it still worked extremely well for me and truly made DEEP RED memorable and very cool. Of course, we have the children's song that plays as the killer's theme, which is creepy as hell and is the most effective song in the film. It's a great soundtrack that sets more of a mood and atmosphere to an already moody and atmospherically visual film.
As for the narrative of DEEP RED, there's no real point in going into much depth about it. Giallos are known for their implausible mysteries, red herrings, and dialogue that will make some eyes roll. Watching DEEP RED, I have no idea who the killer was. I had my suspects, but none of them were the culprit. The identity of the killer doesn't really make sense in context of the rest of the film, but it's an interesting twist nonetheless. I enjoy unpredictable things like this, so while it did throw me off a bit, I didn't hate the revelation. Also, the characters aren't really all that developed but we know enough to get a sense of who they are. Did I sympathize with any of them? No. But I don't think I was really supposed to. The focus was more on the mystery than on the characters investigating it anyway. And there's an actual gay sub-plot in this film - from 1975. I'm sure European audiences were more accepting of this than American audiences at the time, but that was some bold stuff to put a film 34 years ago. It honestly had nothing to really do with the rest of the film, but I found it interesting that it was even brought up. Still, DEEP RED is about the mystery and it really isn't coherent at all. But since the narrative to these films play second fiddle to the visuals and audio, it's to be expected and accepted for what it is.
The acting for DEEP RED is actually quite good. David Hemmings played the role of Marcus in a charming way. I liked the guy and he had some great scenes with the other actors in the film. Hemmings is the perfect lead for a giallo. Daria Nicolodi [who was dating Argento at the time and is the mother of Asia Argento] was probably my favorite actor in the film as Gianna. She's serious at one moment and then really kooky and desperate at the other. She had great chemistry with Hemmings, as they played off of each other very naturally. I really enjoyed watching her. Gabriele Lavia was good as the drunk Carlo. Clara Calamai had me cracking me up as Carlo's mom, Martha. What an interesting character she was. And Macha Meril was laughingly fun as Helga, the overacting psychic. Apparently subtlety is not in her future.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE PINNING THE HEADS OF LIZARDS
- Marcus believes that jazz music should be sleazy, not clean. I believe that women should be sleazy AND clean. That's not the kind of itch that needs scratching, let me tell ya!
- The killer created a voodoo doll out of yarn. Not only is that creepy, but really ghetto!
- The killer murdered a psychic pretty easier. I bet she didn't see that coming! Oh wait...
- "You know, sometimes what you actually see and what you imagine... get mixed up in your memory like a cocktail." If Tom Cruise is your bartender, the only thing that'll get mixed up is his penis in your ass while he jumps on your couch. ALLEGEDLY.
- Marcus lost an armwrestling contest to Gianna. Maybe if he wasn't in the bathroom for that long period of time doing "forearm exercises", he would have had a chance.
- Amanda Righetti got murdered in a hot tub. That's weird. It usually led to sex on Blind Date...
- Marcus found a skeleton behind a wall. I heard about skeletons in the closet, but behind walls? That's just a bit much, don't you think?
THE FINAL HOWL
This is Dario Argento at his best. PROFONDO ROSSO, or DEEP RED, is probably the finest giallo any horror fan could watch. It's beautifully gory, wonderfully directed, and is so darn bizarre that it has to be seen to be experienced and appreciated. Definitely seek out the uncut version of DEEP RED as it's the only way to go. I seem to be on an Argento kick these days. Let's see how long it will ride out.