When I heard that Mark of Three Rows Back and Tom of Digital Shortbread were hosting the Decades Blogathon, I knew I had to join in. The concept of the blogathon is to pick a film to review from the fifth year of each decade – whether it’s 1905, 1955, or 2015. I love this concept because in all of the reviews so far there’s been a brilliant and varied selection of genres, stories, and aesthetics across the years. I chose Deep Red, director Dario Argento’s classic giallo from 1975. You should definitely catch the other reviews here as well!
I love giallo films – a genre which is defined as a murder mystery style of film, generally Italian-made, which contains a lot of blood, guts, and eroticism. So when it came time for the Decades Blogathon, and I saw that Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975) would qualify for it, I knew I had to write about it. Deep Red, along with Suspiria (1977) and Tenebrae (1982), is probably one of Argento’s best known films; and for good reason, as it’s super creepy and probably one of my favourite horror films of all time.
Deep Red, also called Profondo Rosso or The Hatchet Murders, is a brutal giallo with a killer twist at the end that few could predict. Its plot is as follows:
A musician (David Hemmings) witnesses the murder of a famous psychic, and then teams up with a fiesty reporter (Daria Nicolodi) to find the killer while evading attempts on their lives by the unseen killer bent on keeping a dark secret buried. (source)
Our film begins with a stabbing murder in front of a Christmas tree, with singsong, child-like music in the background. We see a child’s shoes and knee-high socks come into view, and the faceless child picks up the knife – did the child kill this as yet unknown victim? I loved this beginning sequence as it sets the tone for the whole film. It’s such a disturbing thought, particularly as the child-like music from this initial moment is repeated throughout the film whenever a murder is about to occur. Are we watching a horror film where the murderer is a child? Argento excels at these kinds of mindgames with his viewers.
It must be said that you cannot fault the direction by Dario Argento. The direction is amazing, with some truly creepy shots where the camera pulls back to reveal a wider scene, with moving shadows that add a new layer of threat. Argento is truly the master of lingering on scenes or objects and making them feel extremely threatening as a result. There were a number of moments that stuck out for me as excellent in terms of their direction, namely, one particular shot that was focused on a single bead of sweat on our protagonist’s forehead, a slow zooming in on the protagonist as he plays the piano as if we are the killer focusing in on him, and overall the camera’s movement steadily throughout the film as if it’s a stalker looking for its victims. You can say a lot about giallo films being exploitative and cheesy (which most of them are), but Argento’s direction is truly classy; which is often at odds with the film’s gratuitous violence, creating a strange dichotomy within the film. I love it.
As per other giallo films, Argento has made use of cheap actors and then overdubbed them with professional-sounding American and British voices. The dubbing in Deep Red is not as bad as some other giallos I’ve seen and the lips generally match up with the voices, although there were a couple of bad moments. I would say that the performances by our lead actors David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi are not necessarily great. But honestly, that’s part of the fun with giallo films – the performances aren’t Oscar-worthy, but the overall story and art of the genre is what you watch the films for.
Some interesting trivia tidbits about the film – firstly, it was largely filmed in Turin, Italy, as Argento found out that there were more practicing Satanists living there than in any other European city. I love little facts like this as it shows that Argento is looking for just the right settings for his masterpieces on an ideological level rather than just a visual level. Another example of Argento’s thoughtfulness is the methods of murders in the film, if that makes sense. Argento knew that a lot of people couldn’t relate to being shot, as many victims in horror films are, but could certainly relate to being cut or being burnt by scalding hot water. It’s this layer of Argento’s understanding of and empathy with his viewers that makes Deep Red a truly effective horror film in terms of its ability to shock and scare.
Creatively, Deep Red is a huge success. The music by progressive rock band Goblin is perfect as usual, this film being their first collaboration with Argento. Argento’s favourite colour red is an ongoing motif, with curtains, furniture, and the regular splashes of blood being different shades of red. There is amazing set design throughout, as Argento seems to love showing his viewers the insides of gorgeous Italian apartments, mansions and villas. My favourite example of the top notch set design is within the psychic’s apartment – paintings of ghostlike, creepy faces line the hallway, making it feel as if the killer could pop out at any moment. We regularly see from the killer’s point of view and watch his or her gloved hand reaching out to attack their victims, adding to this creepiness.
One really great question with regards to this film is, why did I choose to watch it alone at night time? Deep Red is profoundly creepy, particularly certain scenes set in ominous-looking houses where the killer could be anywhere. I love Deep Red because it’s one of those horror films where I would bet that you won’t be able to pick who the murderer is from the beginning. The ending is a big, brutal surprise, and I love Argento’s method of dropping a plot bomb and then going straight to the credits, giving little to no closure for his viewers. Deep Red is a classic giallo that must be seen by horror film aficionados everywhere. Creatively, it is a stunner. Above all, it’s a very unsettling film, and that’s exactly why I love Argento’s work.
Watch the trailer here.