I, like John, have not had all that much exposure to noted Italian horror director Dario Argento. In fact, the only other exposure I had to Argento before sitting down to watch his 1975 film Deep Red was catching up with his “masterpiece” Suspiria a few days earlier. And considering John alluded to his mixed feelings toward Suspiria while praising Argento’s debut film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, I think I came to the same conclusion as him while watching Deep Red. And it’s that I’m not really sure why Suspiria is basically the only Argento movie anyone knows when it’s really not that great, and Argento actually made other, better films that are just as skillfully made, but far less incomprehensible.
Deep Red (or Profondo Rosso as it was originally titled) begins with a lecture being given by a well-known mindreader who feels that one of the people in the audience has killed, and will kill again. She then proves that she is in fact very good at her job, as she’s murdered later that night by an unknown assailant, while an English pianist named Marcus (David Hemmings) witnesses the murder. Marcus then finds himself becoming further entwined in finding the identity of this murderer, as more and more of the people that surround him are unexpectedly killed in grizzly manners.
As you can probably tell from that synopsis, it’s a pretty basic plot. And as you can probably tell from the film’s North American poster above, Deep Red owes a lot to Hitchcock and Psycho in particular. And it’s quite obvious that Argento had learned quite a bit about staging and editing from Hitchcock, since there are only a handful of murders that we see in this movie, but they’re all incredibly effective in a way that’s always gruesome but never over-the-top. That said, there did seem to be some weird editing in some of the more dialogue driven, less murder-y scenes, which gives the film the odd distinction of making the editing one of the film’s greatest attributes as well as one of its more distracting elements.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Deep Red from a stylistic standpoint is its score, which was the first film score done by Italian prog-rockers Goblin. This was the first of several times in which Argento would use Goblin’s music for one of his films (they’d also eventually contribute to 1978’s Dawn Of The Dead), and it’s certainly not your typical kind of horror movie score. Namely, it rocks a lot more than you’d expect a tightly wound murder mystery to rock, but I think it’s actually more unnerving to hear these more upbeat, frenetic songs serve as the background music to these unsettling images. I also recall a scene where David Hemming’s character is chiseling away a layer of drywall to reveal this crucial piece of the movie’s puzzle as Goblin really starts layin’ down the tasty jams, and it’s hard to imagine how a typical orchestral score could’ve made the scene nearly as effective.
So anyways, this movie’s well worth checking out, though I do not recommend watching it on YouTube as I did, since the version I watched seemed to have been transferred from someone’s worn out VHS copy. But I don’t have much else to say, since I’m pretty tired and already wrote a long thing about Young Frankenstein yesterday. So I will instead bid adieu and leave you with the frightfully funky sounds of Goblin: