Directed by Dario Argento in 1975, Deep Red was the director's fifth feature and remains one of his most popular films. The story begins at a 'parapsychology' conference in Rome, Italy where a psychic named Helga Ulman (Macha Meri) detects that someone in the audience is intending to commit murder. When Helga goes home for the night, she's attacked by an unseen assailant with a hatchet, her screams coming to the attention of a pianist named Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) who lives in the same apartment building and happens to be walking home with his friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia) as the murder is occurring. He runs to her apartment hoping to stop the murder before it's too late, but he doesn't make it in time.
The cops show up and talk to Marcus, as does a reporter named Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi). After a talk they go their separate ways but meet again at Helga's funeral where they decide to talk to Giordani (Glauco Mauri), an associate of Helga's who was at the conference where she psychically figured out who the killer was - he didn't get a good look at the person she was accusing, however. When Marcus starts to remember a painting that stood out to him the night of the murder, he starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together in his head and with some help from Gianna, he sets out to figure out who really killed Helga and why, but the closer he gets to uncovering the truth the more the people around him seem to be dropping dead.
Directed with loads of style and featuring all the amazing cinematography and color combinations that Argento's early work is known for, Deep Red is a well executed exercise in suspense that still holds up well today. The movie always looks fantastic and it is obvious that Argento put a lot of careful planning into nailing a lot of details in terms of the visual side of the storytelling employed here. His fascination with architecture, common in his movies, shows up a lot as does his penchant for filming grisly murder scenes. Here the murder set pieces are shot with a very flamboyant style, ensuring that the audience can't turn away even if they want to. Taking more than a few pages out of Hitchcock's playbook, the script (which Argento co-wrote with Bernardino Zapponi) does a good job of keeping us guessing who the killer is right up until the reveal. There are some clever red herrings used throughout the film to keep you guessing and the film, with its intense opening murder scene, really hits the ground running in that regard. Argento sets things up so early in the film that we're instantly hooked.
As far as the performances go, Hemmings and Nicolodi fare quite well here, showing good chemistry on screen and handling the odd dramatic and comedic interludes as well as the more serious and tension ridden scenes. Hemmings has a natural charisma, such likeability to him in this role (and many others) that you can't help but hope he'll figure it all out before the hatchet is turned on him. He has more to do here than Nicolodi does, but she too is fine in the part. Throw in a great score by Goblin, one of many collaborations they'd enter into with the director, and you can see how all the stars align for this one.
Blue Underground's Blu-ray release contains both the uncut Italian version of the film and the shorter US release of the film (trimmed of about twenty minutes) on the same disc by way of seamless branching. While most seem to prefer the longer version of the film, it's nice to have both cuts and there is something to be said for the tighter pacing of the shorter version of the movie (which was released in some territories under the alternate title of The Hatchet Murders). Most of what has been taken out of the shorter version amounts to characterization bits and snippets of dialogue, the plot and storyline remain more or less the same though this does tend to eliminate most of the more romantic aspects between Hemmings' and Nicoladi's respective characters.
It should also be noted that while previous DVD releases of this film from Anchor Bay and later Blue Underground featured truncated end credits, this new release fixes that problem and contains the full end credits sequence.
Deep Red looks excellent in this 2.35.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer from Blue Underground. Detail is vastly improved over the standard definition versions going around and texture is as well. Colors are reproduced very nicely, with primary hues really popping for a film of this age but never reaching the point of oversaturation where they might bleed. Black levels are strong throughout, nice and deep and devoid of any nasty compression artifacts, while the image stays consistently clean from start to finish though not by way of DNR, given that some natural film grain is readily apparent. There aren't any issues with serious print damage to note and overall, we're left with a very impressive image from start to finish.
There are a wealth of different audio options supplied here - the Italian cut of the movie gets a lossless Italian language DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix, an Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, an Italian language Dolby Digital Mono mix and an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, while the theatrical cut of the film gets an English language DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and a Dolby Digital Mono mix. Optional subtitles are supplied for both version of the film in English, French and Spanish.
While purists may opt for the mono tracks, the newly created lossless tracks on this disc sound pretty damn good. Rear channels are used very effectively to spread out the score and add a whole lot of depth and dimensionality to the movie and deliver strong, powerful bass throughout the film. Dialogue remains clearly audible from start to finish and the levels are properly balanced throughout as well. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and overall, regardless of which lossless option you go for, you'll wind up with a very well constructed mix with some well placed directional effects that help set the mood.
There aren't any new extras here, but Blue Underground has carried over all the goodies from the previous DVD starting with the ten minute featurette which includes interviews with Argento, the four members of Goblin, and Bernardino Zapponi. Here the various participants discuss making the film, scoring the picture, Daria Nicoladi's involvement in the movie, working with Hemmings and more. Anyone familiar with past U.S. releases of the film will have already seen this as it was on the original Anchor Bay DVD too, but it's worth checking out regardless. Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original Italian trailer, the original U.S. trailer, and a music video, Profondo Rosso, by Goblin and another music video for Profondo Rosso by Daemonia directed by Sergio Stivaletti. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included.
While more extra features certainly would have been very welcome, this new Blu-ray release from Blue Underground is absolutely worth the upgrade for fans on the film based solely on the quality of the transfer itself, not to mention the improvements in the audio department. As to the film itself, it holds up as one of Argento's finest moments, a taut and suspenseful thriller shot with style and class and featuring some stand out set pieces, amazing camera work, and a few strong performances. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.