Giallo is Italian for yellow, but it means something so much more. Your fearful reviewer dips his toe into the notorious slasher subgenre with Deep Red, in this season’s final entry into Friday Night Frights.
Marcus Daly: David Hemmings
Gianna Brezzi: Daria Nicolodi
Helga Ulmann: Macha Meril
Martha: Clara Calamai
Carlo: Gabriele Lavia
Superintendent Calcabrini: Eros Pagni
Giallo is one of those horror subgenres that all the hip horror hounds talk about, but I’m still a neophyte when it comes to those pulpy Italian films from the 70s and 80s. Dario Argento’s work in the genre is legendary. While I’ve burned the hell out of a few Goblin soundtracks and caught some lesser works like Phenomena, I have not seen any of his standout films, like Suspiria, Tenebre or The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Luckily, Deep Red (or in the original, better, Italian Profondo Rosso) is on streaming and I got myself a little more educated on a genre known for its stunning visuals, nonsensical plotting and overall creepiness.
“I CAN FEEL DEATH IN THIS ROOM”
Deep Red is immediate in its beginning. A jaunty children’s tune soundtracks a pretty Christmas scene. But wait! Those silhouettes evidence a struggle and a kid is screaming and bam, we get our first murder in the first five seconds. Cut to an absolutely filthy and supremely creepy Goblins theme and roll credits. Deep Red is not afraid to open like a boss. What follows is an overwhelmingly crimson drenched theater scene, featuring some psychologists doing a gobbledygook presentation about telepathy. The pretty psychic (Macha Meril) who rants about picking up the thoughts of a murderer in the room seems like she’s a lock for the protagonist role, but nah, she gets murdered right quick too. No, it’s Marcus Daly (played by David Hemmings), a jazzy pianist who witnesses the psychic getting thrown halfway out a window who we follow through the film, as he decides to get wrapped up in a strange murder investigation since it’s more fun than playing jazz piano.
Deep Red delivered what I expected to find as I delved into giallo. The plot itself is nothing special; it’s slasher fare with just a bit of a murder mystery, and a few issues with pacing. The acting ranges from mediocre to delightfully over the top, hampered by a bit of cheesy dubbing. All of those concerns are rendered entirely irrelevant by Dario Argento’s masterful staging and direction. His use of camera movement is astonishing, with creepily voyeuristic POV sequences to engaging zooms and jump cuts.The edits are quick and disorienting, and more effective at building tension than a hundred jump scares.The Goblin soundtrack is of course bonkers, somehow both of its time and still totally avant garde and startling. What is still striking about Deep Red as a whole is how it feels like a piece of art. While some scenes do drag, the entire affair breathes such carefully crafted artifice that overrides any frustration with the flaws.
BOTTOM LINE: DIVE INTO DEEP RED
With Deep Red, Dario Argento crafts a Gothic pop masterpiece that is still powerful today. You can see how a lot of horror directors since are still trying to figure out what makes it work. Deep Red marries the exploitative nature of pulp to an artistic ambition that creates something especially memorable. Makers of modern horror would do well to remember that to make something like Deep Red, you need to take chances. Dario Argento certainly did and his ambition paid off. Deep Red features a seven person body count, Knife Fu, Cleaver Fu, Window Fu, Sewing Needle Fu, Mantle Fu, Bathtub Fu, Elevator Fu, a front-runner in the Creepiest Doll Ever contest, a partial defenestration, drowning in boiling water, roughly 800 closeups on eyeballs, and some of the most bizarre comeuppance ever. Check it out.
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