Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
Cast: Macha Meril, David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Giuliana Calandra, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai, Piero Mazzinghi, Glauco Mauri, Aldo Bonamano
Running Time: 126 min.
I consider myself a massive fan of Italian horror and, specifically, director Dario Argento. That said, I’ve never felt that Deep Red (released as Suspiria 2 in Japan) was the masterpiece that many claim it is. So maybe that makes me less of an Argento fanatic than those folks. On a repeat viewing, Deep Red left me strangely cold. I love Argento’s fluid camera work, David Hemmings (The Heroin Busters) in the lead role, and who doesn’t love the infamous scene with the creepy mechanical doll. But so much of the movie feels like a giallo going through the motions: the protagonist trying to piece together the clues to the mystery, piece by plodding piece, so that the filmmakers can pad out screentime. Or maybe I just prefer my Dario Argento films with a tingle of the supernatural. 1977’s Suspiria is my favorite of his, after all.
Some viewers tend to overlook the fact that Argento made a whole string of giallos before this, mostly with animals in the titles (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, etc.), but Deep Red has always been considered Argento’s first truly great film. The story follows David Hemmings as a jazz pianist and instructor staying in Italy. Late one night while wandering the streets after a gig, he witnesses the aftermath of a brutal murder. Obsessed with learning the identity of the killer, he joins with an attractive young reporter, played by Argento’s then-wife Daria Nicolodi, as more dead bodies pile up. The two of them begin a stand offish romance since Hemmings’ character is a sexist pit. There’s even a scene devoted to them armwrestling to prove the superiority of their respective genders.
The mystery is slow to unravel as Hemmings keeps risking his neck and supporting characters keep getting bumped off in increasingly violent ways. Expect more than a few red herrings in the cast. Towards the climax of the film, Hemmings has to investigate a spooky old house. This whole sequence is frequently lit by flashlight and goes by without a single word of dialogue, all set to Goblin’s Italo-disco rock soundtrack; it almost feels like something out of a horror-based video game.
Speaking of the music, Goblin’s score is excellent. It’s got a aggressive rock feel with loud drums but it’s also suitably creepy and menacing for the action that unfolds on screen. It’s the kind of soundtrack that can easily stand apart from its source material and be enjoyable to listen to on its own. Put the soundtrack on during a party and you’re guaranteed to turn a few heads too.
I watched Deep Red streaming in HD on Netflix. I believe its arrival on Netflix is timed to coincide with Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release. To my eyes, the print almost looked too bright and lacked fine detail except on the frequent close-ups of objects, like children’s toys and piano keys, that Argento favors. This might be the result of the way the movie was lit – Argento was going for “deep reds,” after all. In addition, the streaming version’s audio levels were completely uneven, with Goblin’s score overpowering the dialogue at every turn.
To add insult to injury, Netflix’s cut is only 104 minutes long, with several crucial scenes missing. The romantic subplot in particular just falls apart in the 104 cut since Daria Nicolodi’s character disappears for lengthy periods of time. If you want the full 126 minute cut, you’ve got to get this movie on disc. Considering that Blue Underground never fails to put out a quality release, this is one film that I would recommend horror fans shell out the bucks for the blu-ray in order to truly enjoy it.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10