Deep Red is known as one of, if not the, textbook giallo. Conceived, co-written and directed by gialli maestro Dario Argento, Deep Red was shot after his thoroughly unsuccessful attempt to stray from the thriller genre with his action/comedy Five Days in Milan, which to this day remain largely unseen and if not forgotten, winds up as a mere footnote in the director’s otherwise stunning career. After breaking onto the international film scene with Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tales, and less significantly Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Argento had ventured out of his thriller comfort zone in response to the slew of gialli being produced in Italy in the wake of his highly successful trio of murder-mysteries. Disheartened with the failure of Five Days in Milan, he came back to the giallo with a vengeance, creating what could be considered his masterpiece, and putting him permanently on the map as an international genre director to be reckoned with. Widely considered both “The Italian Hitchcock” and an artistic hack, Argento must’ve been doing something right to garner so much heated attention.
Deep Red starts off in slightly supernatural territory with a panel of psychics giving a lecture at a theatre hall, when one of the psychics thinks she’s discovered a murderer in the audience. Surely enough, that night, the female psychic is brutally murdered in what is the beginning of Argento’s wildly stylistic and blood-soaked murders that would run not just through the duration of this film, but for the rest of his career.
Witness to the murder is a local musician played by British actor David Hemmings. Surely it was no coincidence that he was also the star of the Brit thriller Blow Up, which served as inspiration to the likes of genre auteurs Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi, and Brian DePalma for years.
As is usual in Argento’s films, the mystery then must be solved by the amateur detective – that is, putting a non-authoritative figure in the position of the film’s lead investigator. Usually this character has some sort of artistic background (author, dancer, musician, singer, actor) and in this case it is Hemmings’ jazz pianist. This time, the lead character is joined by a partner, a female press journalist played by Daria Nicolodi. Together Hemmings and Nicolodi have some truly funny banter, in scenes that are possibly the most humorous in Argento’s repertoire, his films proceeding Deep Red are mostly serious artistic affairs. The humour continues in an extended growing of the romantic relationship between the two which can only be seen on The Director’s Cut version, included as a separate blu-ray on Arrow’s release, which runs an astonishingly twenty-two minutes longer than the original theatrical cut, even in that latter version’s fully untruncated form. Unfortunately, other than these amusing romantic interludes, the full length of the director’s cut falls flat from far too much meandering around the central mystery, and even some scenes become boring and repetitive in both their approach and dialog, and in the end, are completely unnecessary. Still, it never completely dilutes the power of Deep Red. Along with the stylishly gory murders, there are, of course, the amazing set pieces, Leone-esque widescreen framing, and visceral close-ups of both bloody mayhem and disarmingly sinister inanimate objects, a style which in itself has been copied by film directors after-the-fact.
As a side-note to the inclusion of the supernatural element (something unusual in the giallo genre, though not so unusual in Argento’s own take on it), this was likely due to the involvement of co-screenwriter Bernardo Zapponi, a writer Argento sought after seeing Fellini’s Toby Dammit segment of Spirits of the Dead, a supernatural anthology based on the works of one of Argento’s heroes, Edgar Allan Poe.
Deep Red gets an amazing hi-def release by Arrow Video on not just one, but two blu-rays in a set that is comprised of the two official cuts of the film (both hi-def) and a slew of documentaries and interviews. On top of this, I’d have to say that this is hands-down the best looking Argento transfer I’ve had the pleasure of watching from Arrow Video. Very highly recommended.