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Deep Red

Year: 1975

DIR: DARIO ARGENTO

GEN: ITALIAN GIALLO

In 1975, Dario Argento followed up his voyeuristic nightmare, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, with what is often regarded as his most significant release, Profondo Rosso, or Deep Red, which would reinvigorate a genre Argento helped popularise. Written by Argento, who complete isolated himself in the countryside of Rome, Deep Red is a deeply disturbing film that builds engrossing levels of suspicion through relentless uncertainty delivered through numerous red herrings . Argento blends elements of thriller and horror together in a manner similar to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, to create a grisly murder mystery focusing upon isolation, ambiguity, and a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Deep Red’s plot was born from a brief conversation Dario Argento had with Federico Fellini collaborator Bernardino Zapponi about a séance where the psychic leading the event would uncover a killer in the audience and become a target in doing so. Through this fatal mistake leading to the psychic’s grotesque murder which the film’s lead Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses, Deep Red begins its sordid journey into moral degradation on the streets of Rome. Marcus is the archetypal m. gialli protagonist: a loner jazz musician from England stuck in an alien locale, who must draw upon a hazy memory to prove his innocence and solve a vicious crime plaguing his mind. However, Deep Red provides a twist on the formula with the presence of Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), an investigative reporter who shows up at the murder scene and attaches herself to Marcus in an effort to prompt his memory and gain an exclusive scoop for her newspaper. The inclusion of Gianna’s character, as an empowered woman who didn’t fall into the cheap classification of Femme Fatale, represents a diversification that would grow within the Giallo movement. There are a few red herrings to point the viewer towards the assumption of Gianna being the murderer, but what Argento and Zapponi wrote was a far more satisfying relationship delivering fairly progressive discussion on sexual politics. Gianna and Marcus’ friendship is diverse in nature. They goad each other on their respective outlooks, with Marcus decrying Gianna’s coldness and Gianna in turn querying his sensitivity and his inherent sexism. There is a romantic element in the film, but it is used to further the inversion of stereotypes for the era as Gianna initiates it and uses it as a platform to challenge Marcus’ outdated worldview. In the original US cut of the film, the entire romantic subplot was cut entirely, alongside the numerous moments of comedy and stronger instances of violence, resulting in a final product, retitled as The Hatchet Murders, more in tune with previous Gialli, earning Argento the title of  “director of incomparable incompetence” from New York Times critic Vincent Canby.

The violence in Deep Red is a far more grounded representation than seen before. Zapponi stated how he restrained Argento’s desire to push for frequent violence, choosing to use it sparingly and within more believable confines. This meant that even compared to Mario Bava’s kill crazed body count movies (Blood and Black Lace, A Bay of Blood i.e.), Lucio Fulci’s nihilistic brutality seen in Don’t Torture a Duckling, or even Argento’s previous efforts like Cat O’ Nine Tails or Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Deep Red delivers violence provoking a primal fear unseen in Giallo previously. The killings are not elaborate trappings, but desperate attempts to overcome prey relying on everyday fears and savagery. Thankfully, these scenes don’t fall into gratuity, largely due to the involvement of Mario Bava collaborator Ulbardo Terzano, who uses a range of camera techniques including POV and extreme close ups to match Argento’s frantic pacing of the film and, in the words of Troy Howarth, to present “murder as performance art”.

Whilst the pairing with Terzano indicated Argento was using old Giallo icons in a new take, Deep Red also saw the beginning of what would become a long-held relationship with Italian prog rockers Goblin. They would feature heavily over his next career phase, scoring Suspiria and Phenomena, as well as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (on which Dario Argento worked as producer). Deep Red creates an unbelievable air of anxious terror through use of persistent rhythm, a motif to signify when things are going to go wrong; adding layered aural terror to an already meticulously crafted film and offering the viewer no respite in the process. Yet, Goblin were not Argento’s first choice of musicians to score the film as Alan Jones notes in his book, Dario Argento: The Man, the Myths, and the Magic. He had in fact been looking to work with Pink Floyd after a disastrous first score from composer Giorgio Gaslini, but they were unfortunately uninterested. Having already worked with Ennio Morricone on his animal trilogy, Argento was keen to depart from traditional film scores and create what Zapponi described as “evil discomfort”, while Argento’s move into prog rock also fits neatly with Giallo’s replication of modern anxieties and social changes.

Deep Red will be many horror fans answer to the ultimate Gialli, marking a turning point to a more mature form of Gialli. A rethinking on the framing and effect of violence, an experimental score, and a non-sympathetic protagonist push the film into arthouse territory that previous Gialli had hinted towards. However, Argento’s frenzied pacing and Terzano’s eccentric camera work never allow the film to wallow in pretension, instead helping the picture walk a difficult line and appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Even for those without an lust for horror, Deep Red presents an absorbing mystery uncovered with true style by the genre’s maestro.

Where to watch

Podcast Discussion

Further Reading

So Deadly, So Perverse, Vol. 1 by Troy Howarth

Dario Argento. The Man, The Myths & The Magic by Alan Jones

Deep Red by Alexia Kannas

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patrick Dalziel

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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ABOUT NEON EYE

Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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