Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Dario Argento, 1975
Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril, Clara Calamai

A psychic, Helga Ulmann, senses that someone in the audience of her lecture is mentally disturbed, has murdered long ago, and will kill again. Soon after, she is killed in her apartment and her neighbor, jazz musician Marcus Daly, witnesses her murder and is convinced he has seen an important clue. Reporter Gianna Brezzi decides to help him against his wishes when he realizes that he's the killer’s next target. Their only viable clue is a child’s lullaby and the tale of an old haunted house…

Profondo rosso (1975) aka Deep Red aka The Hatchet Murders is notable for, among other things, being Italian horror maestro Dario Argento’s first collaboration with the band Goblin, who would go on to score several of his later films. Deep Red also marks a turning point Argento’s career. After establishing himself with the “Animal Trilogy” – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet – Argento kicked off a series of popular masterpieces, including Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, and Tenebre. Deep Red marked a new level of directorial confidence that allowed Argento to explore a more extravagant visual style and more poetic, dreamlike narrative structures. 

Despite its graphic death scenes and hints of the uncanny and the supernatural, Deep Red is one of Argento’s most accessible films and is a great introduction to giallo films in general. There are elements lifted directly from Mario Bava’s seminal giallo films The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace, such as the protagonist being a foreigner in Italy, the killer wearing a raincoat and black gloves, a vibrantly colored set, and so on. Deep Red also includes many of Argento’s trademarks, including POV shots, close ups of objects, and a number of characters with creative careers (two musicians, a journalist, an author, and an actress). Argento cleverly borrowed from mystery and romantic comedies with the presence of a plucky reporter responsible for comic relief in the form of Giada. She is played by the actress Daria Nicolodi, who would go on to become one of Argento’s major collaborators and the mother of his daughter Asia.

In addition to fine performances from Nicolodi, English star David Hemmings is enjoyable as the pleasant but anxious Marcus Daly. He played a similar role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) and was in a number of horror and suspense films, such as the similarly themed Fragment of Fear (1970) and British pagan horror Eye of the Devil (1966). Gabriele Lavia (Inferno, Beyond the Door) gives what is probably the best performance of Deep Red as the sympathetic and interesting Carlo. Macha Méril (Night Train Murders) and classical Italian actress Clara Calamai (Visconti’s Ossessione) round out the female-centric cast. Despite suggestions that Argento was misogynistic, he often gave his most interesting roles to women and Deep Red is a fine example of that.

The film also benefits from some excellent cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller (New York Ripper). The anxiously roving camera captures bold colors and eye-catching sets, as well as a more heightened level of graphic violence (compared to Argento’s earlier work). The incredibly creative death scenes rely on every day, household objects as instruments of death – the corner of a mantel, hot water, a window – bolstered by some great special effects from Academy Award-winning Carlo Rambaldi (E.T.). These seemingly mundane moments of violence are countered by strange, surreal elements, including an unexpected attack by marionette, disturbing children’s drawings of murder, a dying lizard squirming on a pin, and close ups of children’s toys.

Though he hinted on it with his earlier films, sound is of key importance in Deep Red – where The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a synthesis of art and violence, Deep Red combines the latter with music. Always a fan of using diegetic (occurring within the narrative of the film) and non-diegetic (the soundtrack) music, both are used artfully here and there is a tense relationship between the score and sound effects that relates directly to the violence unfolding – such as the killer’s insistence on playing a tape recording of a disturbing child’s song before committing murder.

This was Italian band Goblin’s first score for Argento and signaled the beginning of a successful collaborative relationship that would last throughout some of his most beloved films. Composer Giorgio Gaslini was originally hired to compose for Deep Red, but Argento was allegedly unhappy with his work. Some of these jazzy themes remain, but Goblin wrote most of the proggy, harpsichord-heavy score that Argento fans know and love. Originally known as the Cherry Five, Goblin’s early lineup included Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante, and Walter Martino. Their score for Deep Red is mostly a prog rock affair, no doubt inspired by bands like King Crimson, but includes both pop and jazz elements and is as menacing as it is catchy. In addition to keyboards and the harpsichord, Goblin uses acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, and has some very bass heavy songs on tracks like “Death Dies,” “Profondo Rosso,” and “Mad Puppet.” This is certainly one of their finest scores for Argento and the complete score can fortunately be found on CD

Deep Red comes highly recommended, as does the Goblin score, though I am somewhat biased because it was my first favorite Argento film and the first I had the pleasure to see. Over the years there have been a number of Deep Red releases, including a restored DVD from Anchor Bay, a Blue Underground Blu-ray, and a two-disc special edition Arrow Blu-ray. It remains one of Argento’s most loved films for a good reason and is a fine example of post-Hitchcockian cinema that straddled the line between horror film and psychosexual thriller.

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