Director Dario Argento divides the horror crowd; some love him, some hate him. Most would say that he fell off in the latter part of his career, no matter what their opinions may be. Another division regards rating his works. Which movie is Argento's Masterpiece? Is it Suspiria or Deep Red? While I love the look and feel of the former, it seems obvious to me that Deep Red finds Argento firing on all cylinders. This exquisitely painterly homage to Hitchcock, and suspense movies in general, delivers suspense, a few delicious shocks, gorgeous photography, some splashy gore, and great performances and writing. Whether this Blu-ray release is the best ever, or isn't, the movie itself can't help but be Highly Recommended.
Marc (David Hemmings) is a jazz pianist who has settled in Rome to ply his trade, conducting a combo that's too precise, in a cleverly-framed opening scene. Tossing back a few one night with his piano-playing buddy Carlo (Gabriel Lavia) one evening, the two almost witness a gory murder, setting in motion a simple plot in which Marc is both investigator and investigated. Along the way, he forms a relationship with reporter Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), while more murders occur. Will Marc find the killer before the killer finds him? Is Marc the killer? Does the mayhem even matter? As viewers who aren't familiar with the work will find, Argento is much more interested in the journey than the destination, and this, possibly his most painterly journey, is full of enough humanity and spot-on performances, that any movie fan will be happy to take the ride.
When we first meet Marc's louche buddy Carlo, slobbering on his piano in a drunken frenzy at a local bar, Argento lays all his cards on the table: if movies really are 'moving pictures' the director chooses to name-check Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks at the Diner' and de Chirico's entire body of work in one shot. It's a tasty one-two-punch, and Argento continues to deliver throughout, even while engaging in more-base horror pleasures such as boiling faces and slashing throats.
Splashy blood aside, the movie's cold palette threatens to alienate, while the screenplay and performances anchor proceedings with healthy doses of humor and humanism. Marc and Gianna form an entirely believable, 'modern' partnership, made real by the good graces of Hemmings' and Nicolodi's acting chops. Meanwhile a slight air of menace (Is Marc the killer?) creates another layer of subtle depth in their relationship. Argento even provides some comic relief in the form of Gianna's car, a device that would seem too broad in the hands of another, less assured director, but here looks entirely like the garden-variety BS that we all must deal with in life. Ultimately, the pair rushes to a suitably sanguine, frightening conclusion.
Dario Argento's brilliant Deep Red (or Profondo Rosso which just sounds even more cool) represents the horror maestro's masterpiece. Gorgeously shot and suitably creepy, the movie simply has it all. Leads David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi deliver excellent performances, as do the even more theatrical secondary players, while the screenplay has enough mystery, humor, and horror to satisfy almost all movie fans. Arrow Video's Blu-ray delivers a lovely presentation and enough extras to make this release Highly Recommended.