Deep Red director Dario Argento had almost single-handedly reinvented the gaillo genre with his Animal Trilogy (a trilogy related only in name, having no real thematic or story connection at all) in the late sixties and early seventies. As with most successful film types, countless gaillo imitators sprung up in Italy and glutted the market for several years after the release of his original classics. Argento felt that audiences were growing tired of gaillos, so his next film after Four Flies on Grey Velvet (the final film of the Animal Trilogy) was a comedy called La Cinque Giornate (or Five Days of Milan). Despite the fact that the film did contain violence mixed in with its comedy, the film was a flop. Argento decided to return to the genre he had been so instrumental in designing, but when he returned he wanted it to be different. From this desire came the impetus for the film Deep Red (or Profondo Rosso as it is known in Italy).
Marc Daly (David Hemmings) is an English jazz pianist living in Italy. On his way home from rehearsal one night, he stops to chat with a drunken friend and witnesses a murder occurring in the window of the apartment under his. He rushes to investigate it and finds the dead body of Helga (Macha Meril), a psychic who had just come from a parapsychology conference where she had mentally discovered an unidentified murderer in the audience. Marc calls the police and they show up with a feisty reporter, Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), who runs a story in the paper the next day saying that Marc had actually seen the killer, making him the killer's next target. Haunted by something he thought he saw when he initially entered the apartment (but was nowhere to be found later on), Marc takes it upon himself to do a little amateur detective work and find the murderer before they find him.
Instead of being a more straight-forward mystery like his previous films (which really can't be considered that straight-forward either), Argento designed a more elaborate mystery. Although the plot is somewhat reminiscent of his film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Argento has added disconcerting layers to the film and also upped the level of violence. The best example of this is that the film opens with a fragment of violence, a fragment that remains unmentioned and unresolved until the end of the film. Peppered throughout the rest of the film are images that lend an unsettling quality to the narrative.
Argento has always been known for his intricately designed death sequences, and Deep Red certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard (with even the title of the film suggesting violent deaths). Murders ranging all the way from being hacked up by a hatchet to being scalded in boiling water to being decapitated by one's own necklace bear the trademark of Argento's hyper-stylized reality. In one of the most chilling deaths, a man is distracted by a frightening mechanical doll while the murderer sets up for the kill behind him. The murderer clubs the man in the back of the head and proceeds to slam his mouth into every sharp corner he can find in the room, before plunging a knife into the back of the man's neck (pinning him to a desk). It's a nasty death and one that is sure to have viewers clutching at their own mouths in sympathetic pain.
The performances in Deep Red are all fantastic, particularly from the leads, David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi. Hemmings had appeared in several films over the years, but his most memorable role was in a similarly themed film, Antonioni's Blow Up (itself the inspiration for De Palma's Blow Out). His most recent role was in the blockbuster film Gladiator. Acting isn't his only profession though, as he also founded Hemdale (the company responsible for the release of The Terminator) with his business manager and directed episodes of such popular TV series as "The A-Team", "Magnum P.I.", and "Quantum Leap". Daria Nicolodi has a history with Argento, not only as a cast member and co-author of several of his films, but also as the mother of his two daughters. The relationship between the characters these two actors play is a strangely realistic one and they play off of each other to great comedic effect (particularly where Gianna's car comes into play).
NOTE: Apparently, the sequence between Marc and Gianna towards the end of the film, where Gianna discovers a picture of Marc's old girlfriend and throws it away, has a bit of significance. It seems that the photo is of an old girlfriend of Argento's, in particular the one that he was seeing just prior to Daria Nicolodi. It's an interesting bit of trivia, but one that serves no real bearing on the plot.
When Deep Red was released in the US it was cut of almost 22 minutes. Known as Deep Red: Hatchet Murders here, the film is not only missing scenes of graphic violence, but also a good deal of the relationship between Marc and Gianna. Although most of this stuff is really inconsequential to the plot, it does establish interesting characterization and deserves to remain in the film.
The original uncut, uncensored version of Deep Red has been released in an excellent special edition DVD through Anchor Bay Entertainment (as part of their Dario Argento collection). The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks like it were made more recently than 25 years ago. Unfortunately, since the English language tracks were apparently lost for the deleted scenes, it is recommended that the film be viewed entirely in Italian with the English subtitles on. This is due to the fact that the deleted scenes re-inserted back into the film revert to Italian without notice and are subtitled anyway. It becomes very annoying to watch a scene jump back and forth from English to Italian, sometimes occurring in the middle of extended dialogue scenes. Although it occurs less towards the end of the film, it still would benefit from being seen in its original Italian language anyway.
Included on the special edition are talent bios of the cast and crew, an Italian trailer for the film (with and without subtitles), a US trailer for the film, and a decent ten minute documentary on the 25th anniversary of the film, featuring interviews with Dario Argento, the late Bernardino Zapponi (who also wrote Fellini's Roma and Satyricon), and uber-composers Goblin. The documentary is fascinating, if not for just hearing about production stories, but for also seeing the defunct Goblin reformed (if only for the documentary). It's been years since the band has been together (even though they have split off into odd parings to record music for other films) and it is a treat to see them back together again. For anyone interested in actually seeing them perform live for the first time in years, a convention (Cult Con) will be held in New York in November featuring just that. It's a one time event that Argento fans shouldn't miss.
Film/DVD Review Courtesy of Pockets of Sanity