Film Reviews:

Deep Red

(Dario Argento, Italy, 1975)

Despite the fact that Dario Argento probably has more fans now than ever before, it's sad to reflect that 'The Italian Hitchcock' hasn't made a totally satisfying film since 1982's Tenebrae. While later efforts such as Phenomena, Opera and even The Stendahl Syndrome have flashes of brilliance, (and all have some truly inventive scenes) none of his recent films has come close to the unrelenting succession of terrifying scenes and nightmare images that distinguish his very best work. Recently re-released by Redemption video, Deep Red dates from 1975. Many fans of the director regard it as his best ever, and few would argue that it is classic Argento, ranking alongside 1976's Suspiria, 1980's Inferno and the aforementioned Tenebrae as his best work to date.

David Hemmings is excellent as the Englishman Marcus Daly. While in Italy, he witnesses a violent murder. Passing by a lit window, he sees a woman being attacked. The window is shattered, and the killer forces the victim's throat onto a jagged shard sticking up from the window frame. Daly rushes to help the woman, but to no avail. He tells the police what he saw, and also undertakes his own investigation of the crime, aided by a vivacious young girl reporter named Gianna Brazzi, who is played by Argento's wife at the time, Daria Nicolodi. There are some pleasing comedy scenes amidst the ever-increasing tension, as the pair discover more and more clues to the killer's identity. The plot twists become wilder and wilder, implicating first one character, then another. Meanwhile, the murderer strikes several more times, attempting to erase anyone who could tell Daly anything of value. The murderer's attacks become increasingly surreal.

The device of having an innocent passer-by witness a killing through a pane of glass also appears in Argento's début, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. In both films there is a tension between what the witness (and the audience) think they have seen, and what is really happening. Framing a murder in a window also calls attention to the voyeuristic nature of cinema going. Argento's direction for Deep Red ranks amongst the finest in all of horror cinema. Despite its age, the film is still innovative, and looks more modern that most recently released movies. The opening sequence is excitingly bold, with the camera sneaking past heavy curtains, to intrude upon a talk by a medium. Argento goes beyond the usual trick of simply making the camera the killer's eyes, and the scene is one of the best uses of 'point of view' camerawork since Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This scene is followed by a symbolic introduction to the killer, which comes in the form of the camera crawling over the surface of a table top at extreme close range. The objects of the murderer's obsession are displayed: a toy doll, a rope; before the camera finds itself travelling along the blade of a flick knife, while the seething electronic music of Goblin reaches crescendo.

Deep Red is far more than simply a 'whodunit' or a 'stalk and slash' movie. In her book Broken Mirrors Broken Minds, Maitland McDonagh points out that surrealistic and Freudian images appear throughout the film. When the medium asks for water, she drinks from the glass, then immediately lets it gush back out onto her chin, while Argento frames her lips in extreme close up. A woman is murdered in a darkened house only after a bizarre attack by her pet myna bird, which impales itself on the knife she is holding. A man has his teeth smashed out against the edge of a fireplace. Redemption's print of Deep Red is in the Italian language, with English subtitles. The film was made in the usual Italian way of letting actors of different nationalities speak in their own language, then dubbing them over, making different versions for different countries. As Hemmings is the most compelling presence in the film, it is sad that his performance has been spoilt by the dubbing. The video has also suffered a single cut: the removal of a shot of a lizard, with a pin stuck in it, thrashing around on the ground. The loss of this is highly regrettable, and makes a nonsense of the scene where it originally appeared. Nevertheless, its loss does not spoil the flavour of the film particularly, and it is still possible to be thrilled by the film, in a version that is almost as it should be seen. A highly influential picture, Deep Red is still inspiring filmmakers today, and is a 'must-have' title for any self-respecting horror video collector.

Adrian Horrocks