Deep Red might the most beautifully
shot horror film ever made. The whole movie floats amid an array of
rich color, sweeping camera movements, and lovingly designed sets that
recall scenes from the devil's version of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Deep Red is hardly the only film by Dario Argento to share these
qualities, but it might be the most confident and seamlessly executed.
For all his visual gifts, Argento's films often suffer from uncomfortable
editorial quirks and overly-jarring musical stings - things that take
us out of an otherwise hermetic environment that only a visual perfectionist
could have created. But Deep Red captivates from frame one, and
I was never jostled out of the film's world by technical imperfections.
The mood is consistently engaging, and although as a horror film it's
not a terribly horrifying one, Argento's standard obsessions - innocent
heroes, faceless sources of terror, washes of light, and, of course,
flesh being stabbed and slashed by sharp things - are on full display.
A woman who claims to have extrasensory
abilities is murdered in her apartment in Rome, while her neighbor,
pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), witnesses the attack from the
street below. He proceeds to investigate the murder with the help of
his gay friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia) and a reporter named Gianna (Daria
Nicolodi). Clues pile up - a creepy children's song, a missing painting
from the dead psychic's apartment - leading Marcus to an old mansion
that holds the key to the killer's identity and motive.
Hemmings is a brilliant casting choice.
The heartless photographer turned tenacious detective from Blow-Up
is re-cast here as an over-his-head musician with no aptitude for the
supernatural - or for the rigors of a dangerous investigation, for
that matter. Hemmings has the blank-faced intensity of the single-minded
and, although he was famously accused by the Monty Python gang of being
"a block of wood," his performance here is appropriately unflashy.
But Marcus is driven - obsessed, even, by some of the same ideas with
which Argento himself is preoccupied.
A telling - and very funny -
scene in which Marcus angrily challenges Gianna to an arm-wrestling
match tweaks the nose of the very English interest in following sets
of pre-established rules at the same time that it reveals something
about Argento's view of women and perhaps something about his proclivity
for stories with female protagonists. Another regular Argento theme
that runs through Deep Red is the notion of children and adolescents
who witness something horrific at an impressionable age and the damage
that it does to them over time - an idea present in Suspiria
and others, but which relates directly to Deep Red's climax.
Argento's penchant for irregular
pacing is not as evident in Deep Red, with the story unfolding
at a relatively consistent rate, with set pieces spaced evenly - and,
importantly, with enough exposition in between so that the plot feels
cohesive. That is to say, Deep Red is more conventional in form
than some of Argento's other films - for better or worse, it lacks
that dream-state sensation that Argento excels at. The movie is generally
rooted to its story. We never feel like we are floating away from
it into a netherrealm only to learn that the story really never mattered
in the first place. As such, Deep Red might make a good introduction
to those who are new to the director's work.
Whatever one's assessment of the
plot, which by itself is not particularly unique, Deep Red succeeds
because of its visual accomplishments. Argento creates an alternate
Rome where everyone speaks English - well, it's not Rome at all,
really, but a bizarre Anglo-pean hybrid movieworld where things work
as they do because Argento wants them to. But we see beyond the contrivances
because Argento's vision is so unique and his imagery so memorable
Image and Sound
Blue Underground's DVD is sourced from a new HD transfer, and
it looks fantastic. Color - all-important in any Argento project -
is bright and bold. Contrast is outstanding. The transfer is generally
flawless, with this 35-year-old film looking brand-new and without any
noticeable evidence of compression. The soundtrack is likewise
presented in top form. Available in a 6.1 DTS version, I listened to
the 5.1 surround track, which had terrific ambiance. The rock score
by regular Argento collaborators Goblin came off particularly well.
There are a couple of so-so Goblin music videos here, as well as
eleven minutes of interviews with the creative team. It's too brief
for a film like this one, but still welcome.
Not quite the fever dream that other
Argento films are, Deep Red is still a totally arresting dive
into the creative psyche of one of horror's true masters. In fact,
it may be Argento's masterpiece. The movie's flawless visual scheme
and concise editing make it a commanding experience regardless of genre
considerations. Highly recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.