Many know Dario Argento from his other film, Suspiria but before that masterpiece, there was Deep Red (Profondo Rosso). Written by Argento and Bernardino Zapponi (Satyricon, The Clowns, Roma, Casanova, City of Women), Deep Red is a gorgeous, colourful film with a balance of genuinely terrifying, disturbing moments. Co-writer Bernardino Zapponi said the inspiration for the murder scenes came from him and Argento thinking of painful injuries to which the audience could relate, as the pain of being stabbed or shot is outside the experience of most viewers. The end of result of Deep Red, is a vivid nightmare which is like any other film you will encounter.
The film starts with a mysterious opening, we see stabbing shadows on the wall, and blood covered blade, the scene is paired with sinister sounding lullaby that makes the very hairs on the back of your neck stand up. From the get go, this is a film which plays on our perceptions of what horror is meant to be. Argento introduces telepathic Helga Ulmann (Macha Méril), who is giving a lecture on parapsychology until what began as a demonstrative parlor trick turns ugly. “Get it out,” she screams. “I feel death … a perverse mind.” Someone in the audience has killed, she declares, and will kill again. Whatever she says spooks the killer and she is soon murdered.
Her bloody and violent death is witnessed by musician Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), who is loitering on the street with drunken friend, Carlo (Gabriele Lavia). This sets Marcus off on an investigative odyssey, with steadily disclosed plot points and analytical prompts from Ulmann’s scientific associates. A book leads Marcus to a strange villa concealing hidden walls, haunting pictures, and, ultimately, a key to catching the killer.
Deep Red plays on how people remember certain events and how the human memory can be unreliable. Upon entering Ulmann’s apartment, Marcus thought he saw a painting that is now missing. Is there something in its disappearance? Deep Red also depicts how paranoid people can be. Marcus, never seems to stop examining who has been present during a murder, who is accounted for, and who is nowhere to be found. What about Carlo, for example, who never seems to be home when Marcus calls? It also turns out Carlo is gay, and has been leading a tormented private life. What other secrets might he have? What about the daughter of the villa’s caretaker? Surely, she is too young to be the killer, but in Argento’s world, there is no such thing as the truly innocent. If you can’t even trust your own memory, then how can you trust other people?
Deep Red is full of style, it may look like our world but this is a hyperreality which doesn’t belong in our realty. The audience is very aware that they are watching a movie. The use of Goblin’s music, combined with Luigi Kuveiller’s intoxicating cinematography to create surreal reality where people behave in odd ways and things occur with little to no reason.
Argento’s fluid camera movements linger surreptitiously on characters as they silently move amongst their otherwise compressed surroundings. He expertly adopts both the killer’s point of view, we see a disembodied pair of hands (actually Argento’s) as they go in for the kill which adds to the film’s sinister feeling. The camera takes on an inquisitive life of its own and providing a unique spectator awareness that amplifies the suspense of seeing what the protagonists do not.
With its odd screwball romantic comedy side plot and Scooby Doo-like ‘whodunnit’ plot twist at the end, Deep Red isn’t a horror film. The scares seem very childlike to a viewer watching in 2018, the horror is tame by today’s standards and despite the bloody, violent deaths the film never really leaves the viewer traumatized or disturbed. Once the end credits have finished rolling, you are left admiring the film for its visuals and mise-en-scene but this film won’t satisfy those seeking a good scare.
Deep Red is a must-see for all those who are a fan of Argento’s films, with Deep Red we can see how Argento perfected the ultra-violent sub-genre that would come to be known as “giallo” and we know that Argento’s best film is still yet to come, which makes for fascinating history lesson.