In the early 1970s, young Italian filmmaker and soon to be auteur Dario Argento popularized the decade’s giallo craze with THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, THE CAT ‘O NINE TAILS and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. After this highly successful “Animal Trilogy” of stylized violent thrillers, Argento threw his audience for a loop with the satirical THE FIVE DAYS OF MILAN, and around the same time (1973), hosted, wrote for, and directed episodes for an Italian anthology fright series (known to us as “Dario Argento’s Door Into Darkness”). If 1975 was a banner year for Argento, it’s because of his awaited return to the giallo with the triumphant DEEP RED (“Profondo Rosso”), probably the best film he ever made and without a doubt one of the finest European genre efforts of the 1970s. Blue Underground continues their line of quality cult titles on Blu-ray by offering Argento’s masterwork in both the shorter English version and the much lengthier Italian director’s cut.
Marc Daly (David Hemmings) is an English Jazz piano player living in Rome. One night he hears screams from outside his apartment building, only to look up and witness the assault of a German telepathist (Macha Méril, THE NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS). Unable to get up to her flat in time, Marc finds her mutilated corpse, and it's soon learned that she was murdered for holding some dark secret. Marc then finds himself heavily involved with trying to solve the crime, as he teams up with feisty young journalist Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, SHOCK!), who is totally smitten with him, as well as another psychic (Glauco Mauri), who happens to be the late woman’s lover. Marc also befriends a homosexual, alcoholic young mama's boy named Carlo (Gabriele Lavia, INFERNO), who happened to be with him outside the building on the night of the murder. But Marc will need all the friends he can get as he’s now being stalked by the still unidentified murderer, who we know wears zippered leather gloves and has a penchant for black eyeliner.
With the flowing camera movements, unusual camera angles, jagged editing, meticulous lighting, modern gothic setpieces, and recurring themes of broken glass and mirrors, DEEP RED is director Argento at his peak, and it’s a giallo which sets the bar for all others before and after it (although their wasn’t much life left in it after 1975), and it’s brilliantly weaved together. A good number of similar Italian thrillers of the time, while entertaining in their own right, introduce way too many characters, center on the various inspectors and police characters more than need be, and inject all-around confusion into the plot. DEEP RED, even in its extended form, presents a non-convoluted Argento-co-scribed screenplay with strong central characters, an intriguing if somewhat conventional murder motif and carefully set-up brutality which is well-distributed throughout the running time.
When DEEP RED played in the United States, it sometimes had the secondary title “The Hatchet Murders”, as it was perfect grindhouse fodder in 1976, even as sophisticated as it is. The film’s first murder does in fact use a hatchet, but the carnage here is unique since rather morbid manifestations of various children's toys (the most chilling being a mechanical dummy which jets across a room) appear beforehand. If DEEP RED helped issue in the splatter era rather than rejuvenate the giallo, it’s totally justified with the explicit depictions of murder (it was the first of the director’s films to be given an R rating in this country), which under Argento’s stylized camera, almost look like art, even though it’s still hard not to cringe while witnessing them. Although Argento was still one film away from tackling the supernatural, DEEP RED certainly has a high level of the macabre. The disturbing child’s drawings (which figure greatly into the plot), the deserted villa which seals something hideous inside its sealed up walls, and a hauntingly melodic nursery rhyme which you could almost picture Curly Howard humming all factor into this.
In his first three giallos, Argento cast American actors as the leads: Tony Musante, James Franciscus and Michael Brandon, in that order. Here, he casts respected English thespian David Hemmings as Marc Daly, largely because of his role in Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP nine years earlier. Hemmings is the best of Argento’s early leading men, a down-to-earth kind of independent visitor in a foreign land, showing a boyish stubborn side when challenged by liberated love interest Gianna (Nicolodi and Hemmings have nice chemistry together) as well as a vulnerable side when his would-be murderer is hiding in his apartment. Hemmings also adds a believable determination to Marc, in terms of his search for well-hidden clues, and this is especially evident when he’s scraping or pounding holes in the wall of an abandoned old house to uncover a number of horrors, constituting for some of the actor’s best scenes, as he shares the screen with no one else. It’s also interesting to note how Marc is usually seen wearing a bland black dress shirt, almost as if Argento had the sense of staying away from loud clothing or current fashions, as to not date the film, and he’s pretty much succeeded. Aside from a few hairdos (Carlo’s Euro fro for example), DEEP RED almost looks nondescript in when it takes place, with the picturesque streets and buildings of Rome, the ordinary throwback fashions and the always popular genre of Jazz music giving it all a rather timeless quality.
If ever a film was properly scored, it’s DEEP RED, and the pulsating prog rock soundtrack by the Italian group Goblin fully enhances the experience. Claudio Simonetti’s keyboard sounds like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman possessed by the Phantom of the Opera, while bass, percussion and guitar all merge together intensely, with each instrument remaining remarkably distinct. The various music interludes are not overused during the course of the film, so when the score does kick in, you know something’s gonna happen, and Goblin are able to blast your hearing senses through the visuals like no one else. Goblin of course would go on to brilliantly compose the music for Argento’s next film (SUSPIRIA), which lead to their work on George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, which they scored the entire Italian cut of.
Hot off the heals of their terrific Blu-ray disc of Argento’s INFERNO, Blue Underground is now premiering DEEP RED on the format with two different versions on one disc: the uncensored English 105-minute version and the longer Italian 126-minute version (each version has different beginning and end credits, in their appropriate language). The Italian version features more character involvement, including Marc’s introductory scene rehearsing with his band, a lot of comic moments between Marc and Gianna, more banter between Marc and the police, etc. Apparently, these scenes were never dubbed into English and not present in the “uncensored” English version which retains all the violence and is still much longer than the U.S. theatrical cut. Needless to say, the 1080P HD transfer looks stunning, presenting the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, mastered from the original camera negative. Fleshtones are natural, human eyes glisten and as good as DEEP RED now appears, you still won’t forget you’re watching something shot on 35mm, with just enough grain to prove it (though the film doesn’t look its age in the least). A variety of audio tracks for both versions are included, all excellently mixed: 7.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX, and original mono for both the Italian and the English versions, and the Italian version also includes a 5.1 track in both English and Italian, with English subtitles appearing for the scenes never dubbed into our language. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, French, Spanish and English for the Italian version.
A “making of” featurette (10:47) contains interviews with Argento, co-writer Bernardino Zapponi and Goblin (Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante, Fabio Pignatelli, Agostino Marangolo). It was originally made for the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD (and the film’s then 25th anniversary), but it’s a great short-but-sweet piece well worth revisiting. “Profondo Rosso” (4:47) is a new music video, produced in HD and recorded in Rome in 2010 with the current line-up of Goblin (Claudio Simonetti and Maurizio Guarini on keyboards, Massimo Morante on guitar, Bruno Previtali on bass and Titta Tani on drums) It has them performing DEEP RED’s main theme, and sounding terrific. The "Daemonia Music Video" (8:32) is another musical take on the “Profondo Rosso”. Directed by Sergio Stivaletti, the video nicely recreates scenes from the movie and features rotted corpses transforming into the performing musicians. Argento himself makes an appearance at the very end. The original Italian trailer, as well as the American theatrical one (narrated by none other than Adolph Caesar) round out the extras for another excellent Blue Underground Blu-ray. (George R. Reis)
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