Oct. 30: Deep Red (1975):
Earlier this month, I wrote about Suspiria, the nightmarish horror film from Italian master Dario Argento, who is also known for making several films called gialli, which mix horror with mystery. Perhaps the best of these is Deep Red, which is as stylized and horrifying as anything in Argento'92s career.
The movie opens with a deeply unsettling children'92s melody playing over the credits, and never stops running. David Hemmings, of Blow-Up fame, plays a jazz pianist working in Italy who witnesses a brutal murder. Unable to shake his preoccupation with the crime, Hemmings teams with a newspaper reporter (Argento'92s then-partner Daria Nicolodi) in an effort to solve the crime. The string of murders continues, as anyone who may know a dark secret the killer wants to stay hidden is brutally snuffed out. As Hemmings and Nicolodi close in on the killer, their find themselves in danger from the maniac as well.
The vibrant colors, dynamic camerawork and violent set pieces that one might expect from Argento are all found here in spades. But Argento is often known for movies like Suspiria, in which the plot is secondary to creating a nightmarish world for the characters to inhabit. With Deep Red, there is actually a coherent plot that pays off for the audience, though it is often as bizarre as Argento'92s more supernatural films.
The plot involves a spooky old house where something terrible happened, a child'92s drawing that contains a key secret, a creepy puppet that looks suspiciously like the one from Saw and a victim'92s dying message that only appears when a bathroom mirror is steamed up. The plot of Deep Red may make sense, comparatively, but it is as immersive and nightmarish as almost anything in Suspiria.
Argento was a master of the giallo, an Italian genre that melded thrillers and horror. Deep Red is a prime example of gialli, which are essentially mysteries about murders committed by masked killers who tend to wear gloves and wield large knives. The movies are usually centered on the murders, which are shockingly theatrical and stylized.
In Deep Red, the murders in the film are ugly and brutal, but certainly inventive. Among others, we get a woman drowned in scalding water, and a man who gets his teeth bashed in on a fireplace mantel. Like most gialli, Deep Red is really constructed around these sequences, and Argento unleashes all his considerable stylistic skill on them.
And the music must be mentioned as well. As in Suspiria, Argento here uses a terrifically creepy score from the band Goblin, which uses elements, such as driving bass and electric guitar, that aren'92t traditional for a horror score, but still freak us out.
Deep Red may be slightly more grounded in reality than some of his other films, but it is as harsh and compelling as anything Argento ever made. It'92s sure to chill you to the bone.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970): Dario Argento'92s first film as a director, this giallo is one of his very best. Backed by a terrific Ennio Morricone score, the movie tells the story of a writer (Tony Musante) who witnesses a murder and tries to help the police catch the killer, while being targeted by the murderer as well.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Tenebre (1982): Another of Argento'92s terrific gialli, this film follows another American writer in Rome who finds out that someone is killing people in ways he wrote about in his novels. Suspected of the crimes by the police, the writer tries to help solve them. By the way, the movie features a small role from the always-welcome John Saxon.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Opera (1987): This Argento movie has perhaps his most acrobatic camerawork, which is really saying something. A young opera singer takes the lead in a production of Macbeth after the star is hit by a car. She is targeted by a psycho who wants to kill her, or perhaps merely kill everyone around her and claim her for himself. Containing sequences like the one in which Betty, with pins taped to her eyes, is made to watch a brutal murder, Opera is even more demented and bizarre than most of Argento'92s other films. Which, again, is really saying something.