After witnessing the murder of a psychic, composer Marcus Daly teams up with reporter Gianna Brezzi to investigate the crimes of a serial killer.
NOTE: There is a dubbed American version of this film that seems to be the easiest one to find. DON’T WATCH THAT VERSION. I stumbled upon that one when doing a little bit more research before writing; that version cuts out over twenty-five minutes of the film.
Keep It Trashy
“Great!” Says Marcus Daly as he cuts off the jazz band that he’s been playing piano with. “Really, that’s good. Very good. Maybe a bit too good… too clean. Yes, too precise. Too… formal. It should be more trashy. See what I mean? Remember that this sort of jazz came out of the brothels.”
This is how we meet our protagonist, Marcus Daly (David Hemmings, “Blow-Up”), and how we’re introduced to the tone of this film. This film finds its roots in the giallos; Italian penny-dreadful books that usually focused on the macabre and supernatural. Brava’s “A Bay of Blood”, Powell’s “Peeping Tom”, and other early slasher/giallo films influence it heavily, but Deep Red instantly became one of my favorites (it’s far better than the incredibly overrated “Halloween”, which would come three years later). “Deep Red” doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s stylish and exhilarating. And while I wouldn’t categorize this film as a horror movie, it is a ton of fun as a pseudo-supernatural thriller. The opening monologue about making the music a little trashier is a brilliant way to introduce us to the world of “Deep Red”; it grabbed my attention immediately, and I never once felt bored in this film, despite it being nothing like I’d originally anticipated.
Let me say, most importantly that the trashiness of this film- that is- the ridiculous nature of some of the kills- is its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. There are some kills in this movie that made me laugh out loud; its not meant to be overtly scary, its meant to be atmospheric and then shock you. There are scenes that are over the top and totally implausible, but the fact that they address that issue in the first few scenes in a kind of meta-nod makes me alright with how the film plays out. Just like you can’t go into a Marvel film expecting everything to make sense, you can’t go into this film expecting the writing of Poe or Dickens; you’ve got to go in expecting some penny dreadful drivel, and you’ll walk away with more than you bargained for. This isn’t the best horror film ever made. It’s not the scariest movie ever made. But, it is a two-hour thrill ride that wont be forgotten easily. It’s a movie that I’ve already raved about on the TMM podcast, recommended to a few friends, and actually went out of my way to write this review, which is an added bonus on top of my other two reviews this week. So take it with a grain of salt that this movie is no masterwork of cinema, but as a giallo, it's a masterpiece.
Anticipation vs Actuality
I was searching for a thrilling film to watch, and found this on a number of best mystery and best horror lists, so I figured I’d give it a go. What I expected to find with “Deep Red” was some slow burn horror movie mixed with lots of atmospheric music and creepy, dimly lit apartments, and vague, pseudo-psychedelic dream sequences.
Thank God, I was wrong.
The music in this movie is far different than most horror films. Rather than build suspense through quiet, eerie music, the film lets you know immediately when the killer is near by playing loud in your face music (think Tarantino during the “Kill Bill” movies, whenever the Bride is about to get revenge). You know the kill is coming, and many times, the killer’s POV is the view the camera takes (this film heavily influenced “Halloween”).
Now, the kill scenes are the crown jewels in any slasher film. They’re the reason there were soooooooo many slashers in the mid-late seventies, eighties, and even into the nineties. People flocked to these movies in droves to see what ridiculous way people would die. It’s macabre, sure, but I mean that’s what horror films are (how many unnecessary sequels do we have for “Friday the Thirteenth”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, or “Halloween”? Can you tell yet that I'm not impressed with “Halloween”?). This film has a few of the most bizarre death sequences I’ve seen, (I’ll be vague-ish) some of which include a child-sized mechanical doll, a really long necklace, and being dragged behind a car for an inordinately long time. I was laughing and thrilled at the same time. I actually rewound one death scene because I was so shocked by it- not in a “That was terrifying” way, more of a “What the #$%^ did I just watch” kind of way.
I enjoyed this film so much that I ordered this and “Bird with The Crystal Plumage” pretty much right after watching it, and I plan on doing a review of “Bird” within the next few weeks. (Don’t hold me to that, though, we’re entering blockbuster season, and there are far too many movies that beg to be reviewed.) In the end, Dario Argento knows his audience wants to be thrilled, but he does it in a way that subverts their expectations. It’s bizarre and unique, and it’s easy to see why so many horror directors use his films as inspiration.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Originally, when I first reviewed this film, I gave it a 3.5/5. But I did so with a sort of clause, saying that I found that the ridiculous nature might be too much for most audiences, but for my personal rating I'd give it a 4.5/5. Now, having watched multiple entries in Argento's filmography, I can't possibly give this anything less than a 4.5. Argento has quickly risen to the title of my favorite horror director of all time. This film is a brilliant work of art, and one of Argento's best.
If you liked this film, check out our Dario Argento Spotlight!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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