Deep Red Review
The UK’s champion distributor of cult horror, Arrow Video, has hit pay-dirt with this release of Dario Argento’s thunderous and brutal giallo, Profundo Rosso or, as we know it better, Deep Red. The label have delivered one of the most cherished and long-awaited of genre titles on Blu-ray in a typically lavish-looking package that contains not only the familiar international cut of the film, but also the longer Italian language (with English subs) Director’s Cut, both in 1080p. Pleasingly, the 2-disc release is also region-free.
We are going to cover some ground with this one, folks. So take a deep breath. A deep red one.
After an unsuccessful venture into comedy with The Five Days Of Milan, Argento returned to the genre that had made his name, with simply jaw-dropping results for his career, and for the still largely sidelined Italian horror circuit at large. To ensure that all-important international market, Argento recruits the Englishman David Hemmings to play his lead character, celebrated pianist Marcus Daly, who is living and working in Rome (although the film was actually filmed in the more accommodating, versatile and atmospheric Turin), the unwitting amateur sleuth who becomes inexplicably linked to a series of horrific murders after he witnesses the vicious slaying of a renowned telepath. Pretty soon, we are engulfed, up to our necks, in a pool overflowing with red herrings, buffeted by paradoxical clues, and choking on a variety of potential suspects and deranged, half-glimpsed images and enigmatic flashbacks Argento even injects a crucial flashback at the midway point in the opening credits. The domain of Mario Bava was well and truly grabbed by the scruff of the neck and dragged violently through a realm of artfully shot set-pieces that rammed audio-visual overload at the viewer like a sensory battering-ram. Bava had brought the giallo into the limelight – black and white, and then gaudy neon limelight, respectively – with The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood And Black Lace but his thrillers were still realistic in terms of coherence and thematic motivation. With Deep Red, Argento would break out of such constraints and move boldly in more adventurous directions that would entwine the occult and the fabulous with the humble whodunit.
With his own involvement in these grotesque murders implicating him all the more, Marcus is determined to unravel the real culprit, even if it means putting himself in enormous physical danger. Allied with journalist, Gianna Brezza (Dario Nicolodi), and ignoring the pleas of one his few friends to just pack up and run away after his picture and name are splashed all over the papers and the TV as being the one man who has probably seen the murderer, Marcus (or Marc) turns all intrepid and mounts an investigation that is light-years ahead of the lackadaisical cops who merely mumble and muse about in the background until they finally get a chance to prove that they can't shoot either. Something he saw in the victim's apartment – a painting on the wall, perhaps – holds the key to the mystery … but Marcus can't quite remember what it was, and it is this nagging, back-of-the-mind fixation that compels him into acts of increasing peril.
After fledgling steps taken with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Four Flies On Grey Velvet and The Cat O-Nine Tails (his so-called “Animal Trilogy”) into the bravura world that he would become synonymous with, Argento now allows himself free reign to indulge in all the flourishes that made his films so highly anticipated. We have the dizzying camerawork – intense, transfixing close-ups of the killer’s eyes, similarly enlarged tracking shots, via snorkel-lens, of the motifs and effigies that spur them on to further and further atrocity, exquisite widescreen vistas that make characters appear like the figures acting out a play at either side of one of those ornate Swiss clocks – intricately constructed, taboo-shattering set-piece assassinations, and insanely catchy and mesmerising music. All things that can justifiably be regarded as being narratively hollow and merely decorative, but somehow magically linked so indelibly to the proceedings that you believe the world he is creating couldn’t function without them. Where Sergio Leone (who gave the young Argento, then a film critic, a shot at actually working on a film, when he hired him to co-write Once Upon A Time In The West) heightened realism and stretched logicality for psychological and iconic reasons, and where Fulci stumbled onto artful shots more by accident and great mis-en-scene than by actual design, Argento is fluent in the language of Cinema, and of the power of the image. He took his lessons from Mario Bava, of course, and this enabled him to create intense compositions of hyper dramatics that don’t represent or even reflect the real, the natural, or the normal world around his characters. Lucio Fulci would argue that his brand of Italian horror was concerned with the corrupted metaphysics of a nightmare. Argento was all about mood, and how to sustain it even beyond the conventional laws of dramatic physics. There hasn’t been a director more in love with “the zone” than Argento. And whilst this sort of flamboyance is probably more intrinsic to the supernatural shenanigans of his later Suspira and Inferno, he proved that the giallo could be just as visually and thematically over-cooked, and nudged to new dream-like extremes. In fact, this was the arena that would thrive most positively from such an overtly artistic approach. In dealing with the occult, you can more readily expect that you will be presented with imagery, moods and sounds that fly off the map, but the humble thriller – no matter how convoluted its plot – becomes something entirely other when such tricks are applied. Take for instance, the grand single tracking shot that follows Marcus around the aisles of a school archive before then moving right around him to reveal to us just who has been watching him, turning a subjective shot into an objective one with astonishing fluidity. Only afterwards do you realise that you have been duped, again, by the maestro of psychological sleight of hand. Which is why it is so easy to place Deep Red into its more comfortable pigeon-hole of a horror film.
Luigi Kuveiller, who acted as the cinematographer for Deep Red, had performed similar duties for Lucio Fulci in his schizoid psychedelic romp Lizard In A Woman's Skin (1971), and would bring out all the sleaze and nastiness of the rotten Big Apple for the troll-like director in 1981's infamous The New York Ripper (see separate BD review). Curiously enough he would also add a touch of class to Paul Morrissey's outlandish double-bill of Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula. His work on Deep Red was his most stylish and inspired and, without a doubt, served as a massive influence upon John Carpenter and acclaimed DOP Dean Cundey, whose impressive gliding steadicam shots ape the visual dexterity and innovation seen here.
The pivotal setting of an old ruined mansion-house that holds many clues as to the killer’s identity and to the motivations that drive them to slaughter becomes the first of a series of Argento’s many inhuman “characters”. You only have to think of the Tanz Dance Academy in Suspiria, the warren-like apartment building in Inferno, the hall in Opera and the later one in the sadly lamentable Phantom Of The Opera, to understand the importance of architecture and geometry in the filmmaker’s grand plan. His settings and locations are works of infernal art, directing his protagonists towards nasty ends or heart-stopping revelations like rats in a maze. In many ways they even come to depict the mental labyrinths that entrap and ensnare victim and killer alike, each room or corridor unlocking further insights or shocks. The mystery house in Deep Red, identified painstakingly from an old photograph in a book, has affiliations with Edgar Allen Poe with its secret rooms, false walls and bricked-up ghosts. It serves as an eerie record of bad deeds and corrupted seeds, a tangible, physical bogeyman that holds sway over minds both haunted and inquisitive. As we watch Marcus pursue his investigations, we instinctively feel afraid and mournful. You get the distinct impression that he is not alone, and the closer Kuveiller’s prowling camera gets to Hemmings, as his hero begins to unearth secrets of a traumatic history, the more on-edge we become. In most horror films, the pay-off would come at any one of a dozen or so false moments that Argento concocts, but he refuses to play by such traditional and clichéd rules, stretching things out in a tense “keep looking behind you, Marc” sort of fashion. In this respect, Argento has always been one of the most manipulative of directors, feathering our collective unease with the uncanny perception that something is about to happen, and that someone is about to pounce from out of the darkness. It is an easy game to play, of course, but this does not hamper the distinct and absolute sense of structured dread that he suffuses such grand set-pieces with. The peeling away of the wallpaper to reveal a crucial, though largely undecipherable clue (at least for Marcus, who has not been privy to the same flashbacks that we have) is a terrific device that harkens back to the mysteries of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or even Scooby-Doo – a character in one of the final unveilings even accuses him of “meddling” in that time-honoured fashion. Indeed, Argento’s usual amateur detective is compelled to make similar leaps of deductive logic, dot some extremely unorthodox i’s and astound with nuggets of evidence dredged-up from his own subconscious memory.
In this respect, Deep Red has one of the most daring conceits. Most of you reading this will already know the wonderful visual sleight of hand that Dario Argento pulls with his killer-reveal. It is something that he would dabble with, time and again. The words shouted by a soon-to-be-decimated girl amidst a thunderstorm that Suzy Banyon struggles to recall. The clever use of a severed head in Trauma to throw witnesses off the scent. All very Hitchcockian, as those critics who love to fling the portly Englishman and the skeletal, cadaverous Italian together as masters of twisted suspense, are wont to insist. But for Argento, these are profound cerebral itches that he likes his lead characters to scratch at in pathological frustration. And, by extension, his audience too. Here, though, it is an extremely daring tactic, but one that just has to work. If we are honest, Marcus would never be able to fathom out who the killer was from that nagging half-memory of something that he may, or may not have seen during that ferocious first murder. But this isn't the point. This is a director who is challenging his viewers to second-guess him. I've already shown you all something that is vital and damning, he is telling us, so now it is down to you, too, to solve the mystery.
One of the main drawbacks to the film is Daria Nicolodi, who is simply terrible. A major creative force in Argento’s majestic early canon of supernatural work, the star that so appealed to the filmmaker after her nude appearance in 1973's Property Is No Longer Theft, would go on to become his wife in a curtailed and acrimonious marriage that would spawn Asia Argento on to the world. Here, though, she is dreadful. Every scene in which she appears – and in the Director’s Cut, unsurprisingly, there are lot more of them – wrenches the film from its suspenseful and engrossing mantle and dumps it into the skip labelled Woeful Eurotrash Comedy. She would appear in Inferno, Tenebrae, Phenomena and Opera as well, but she is definitely at her worst here in Deep Red. There is zero chemistry between her and Hemmings, and her character, who we are supposed to regard as “spunky”, is like a millstone around his neck. Slapstick comedy involving her diminutive car only irritates, and the diversionary banter that she brings actually seems to wrong-foot Hemmings for real, which, I’ll concede, can add to his character's uncertainty and makes the moments when his train of thought becomes derailed only seem all the more convincing. But do we need any of this? No. Quite emphatically. We don’t. Argento often isn't very good with his supporting cast - and his unhelpful nepotism clearly plays a part in the casting process – but he is probably intending to use such diversionary characters as plot-linking props, or as set decoration, though sometimes his firm grasp on mood and set-up and atmosphere comes adrift when he feels the need to supply some light relief. Quite frankly, he just isn't up to it. His shortcomings as a writer become self-evident with such characters as Gianna. In creating them in the first place, he boxes himself into a corner because he then has to find things for them to do, and situations to put them in. Once again, this is regularly hailed as being another of his Hitchcock references and here, at least, we have to concede that the original Master Of Suspense had the upper hand, by far. You can't condemn any of the female co-stars he installed as foils for his heroes as mere “props”. I will say, though, that Gianna arouses our suspicions at a couple of junctures, but I don't believe that anyone, even first-timers, will be taken in by any of this. One reasonable suggestion is that Argento uses these extended scenes as a way of showing how inept and child-like Marcus is. Belittled and made fun of by the confidence and directness of this gabby woman and humiliated by the very matchbox Fiat that she drives around in, it could well be true that Argento wanted to continually usurp his hero's masculinity, an act that would inevitably make us more concerned for his safety when he goes off on those lone investigations inside creepy old mansions that have witnessed evil. Well, perhaps. It would have helped if Nicolodi wasn't so aggravating, though.
But then this is Hemmings' film.
The trendy young Brit is a fish out of water, although Argento doesn’t necessarily paint him as being an outsider, or a stranger in a strange land. As he did with Suzy Kendal in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Michael Brandon in Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Jessica Harper in Suspiria and even Karl Malden in The Cat O’ Nine Tails or Anthony Franciosa in Tenebrae, he merely places them within the setting and the scenario as a puppet to dance to his grisly tune. They fit right in with these cosmopolitan cities, their past and their social identity rarely even referred to. Simple fairytale evocation, that's all it is. Marcus is an esteemed jazz musician who teaches students, yet we only ever see him conduct a class at the very start, and even this is only seen in the Director’s Cut, and then this profession is summarily forgotten about. Even a little nocturnal piano jamming with Carlo in the club is used to highlight their somewhat frail friendship – and this is only to be found in the longer version, as well. He could have been an astronaut for all the importance this has on the narrative. Now, of course, you could say this about any lead character in a genre film – that once the story kicks-in, the normality of their life is eradicated for the duration of the plot – but this seems something that is peculiarly more acute in Italian horror movies, and especially Argento's. Almost as though he has just plucked a job for them by pulling it out of a hat. Rather knowingly, he even pokes fun at this when his friend's mother, the decidedly eccentric Marta (Clara Calamai) keeps insisting on referring to him as an engineer. It all seems so random and abstract, yet his staunchest defenders will always insist that nothing he does is without a purpose, no matter how obscure or hidden it may be.
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that we know such international actors are there to help sell the picture to foreign markets. This doesn’t enter into it once the semi-surreal series of gothic murders that he longs to present us with gets under way.
Gabriele Lavia is actually great in the role of Marcus’ buddy, Carlo. Drunk practically every time that we meet him, this fellow musician (he holds a tenuous position as a pianist in a club) is one of those linchpins who may hold more answers than any of us could reasonably suspect him to, but his inebriated wisdoms and philosophies work surprisingly well. Anyone well-versed in the architecture of the grand old murder-mystery, and especially its continental offspring, will have no trouble threading together the various connective tissues of deceit and suspicion. To a lot of people, even coming fresh to this film, large deep-red neon signs will appear over the heads of various characters, pointing out whether you should view them as a victim or as a potential killer. Lavia would also appear in Argento’s Inferno, as a good Samaritan who winds up on the receiving end of a wicked blade for his troubles, and he would also crop up in the later Non ho sonno (aka Sleepless) in 2001, when we all thought that Argento just might be returning to form. He wasn't though, and to date … he still hasn't.
Glauco Mauri is good fun as Professor Giordani, another of Marcus' contacts who will come to have more involvement with the case than he may like. A regular genre face, with appearances in television crime series, Mauri is like a cuddly bear, with his beard and luxuriant locks, but nowadays it is hard not to mistake him for TV presenter and comic Justin Lee Collins, which will either enhance your pleasure at a later sequence, or make it all the more disturbing, depending upon how much can abide Collins, that is. His interplay with the housemaid in the aftermath of another murder is just plain loopy … and all that hot steam would have played havoc with his hair! And then there is Giuliana Calandra as Amanda Righetti, the author of the weird folklore tales that help spur on Marcus' investigations and the object of Giordani's enquiries that I just mentioned, who was also culled from television and more socially aware dramas. You have to wonder how some of these stars, many of whom had been quite renowned on the Italian stage, directors even, in the case of Gabriele Lavia, came to allow themselves to be so battered and demolished at Argento's hands – and I do mean Argento's hands, since it is those belonging to the filmmaker that we see in the murderer's black gloves, or wielding the knives that do so much damage in his movies. Now that's a hands-on approach.
What I still adore, though, is the score from prop-rock horror-anthemists, Goblin, led by the redoubtable keyboardist/composer Claudio Simonetti. These guys forged a tremendous and ultra stylish bond with Argento, supplying incredible scores for this, the awesome Suspiria, Tenebrae, Phenomena and Non ho sonno, as well as bludgeoning aside the library tracks that festooned Dawn Of The Dead with some pounding rock-based action cues, and enhancing the anarchic weirdness of Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination and Joel M. Reed's awful Night Of The Zombies, as well as the more accommodating The Church from Michele Soavi. Their score here, which actually augments the wonderfully skin-prickling music and effects created by composer Giorgio Gaslini, is insanely catchy and melodic, with the film’s main theme rising from a gently repetitive piano motive to a piercing and spine-tingling high note of paralysing suspense, and the use of a creepy children’s lullaby as a forerunner to depravity is a classic subversion of innocence that they have revisited in later compositions. There is a baroque sound to their music that is devoutly European, possibly an eerie blend of the medieval and the folkloric with the insistent beat of their more contemporary leanings, influenced, in part, by the funky beat of the thriller scores from Lalo Schifrin, most notably his theme for the psychotic Scorpio, from Dirty Harry, which is recalled during the “kill scenes” in Deep Red, and by the likes of Emerson, Lake And Palmer and, most overtly, Mike Oldfield. Repetition is their key ingredient, a furious salvo of colossally in-yer-face dynamics their stock-in-trade. Without a doubt, their involvement with Argento during his golden phase is one of the reasons that the films he made during this period have become so cult-cherished and have remained popular with fans and critics alike. Just as the visuals are a marriage of cinematic finesse and pulverising violence, their music is both lilting and hypnotic, fierce and relentless. These avant-garde creators – filmmaker and rock band – were a partnership forged in Hell.
The film is also all about prophecies. Even though the German psychic confesses to be unable to tell the future, Argento's script is all about precognition and presentments of doom, albeit in a rather playful wink-wink sort of way. Marcus jokingly says that a psychiatrist would infer that his passion for playing the piano was born out of a subconscious desire to “bash his own father's teeth out”. The psychiatrist in the film, of course, meets his end after just such a gasp-inducing treatment at the gloved hands of the killer. The old lady talking to the author of the book on folklore tales says of the woman's chattering exotic birds, who can mimic voices, that it would be like “having a madman in the house”. There is indeed a lunatic hiding in there. Our hero getting blasted by hot steam in the busy café as he makes a phone-call heralds the scalding demise of the very person he is seeking information about. The image of a noose around a doll's neck is also an ominous premonition of some poetic just desserts. Marcus' belief that the important clue he is struggling to remember seeing on the night of Helga's murder revolves around a painting foreshadows his discovery of the disturbing imagery daubed on the wall of the spook-house. The whole “missing window” motif is also a cunning play on not being able to see things clearly … or not picking up on images that have passed by. The false wall and the secret room may as well be describing the blank spot in Marcus' memory.
The cinematography and direction are lavish, baroque and elaborate. Argento was showing off, and his efforts were spellbinding. We all know how he could make a slow tracking shot or an inactive composition and make it so spectacular, even if nothing important actually happens within it. Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae and Opera proved this utterly and bewitchingly, but this stylish aesthetic, already in-place with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, was cemented with Deep Red. His sense of architecture is always linked emotionally and stylistically to the events that unfold. You can argue that he could have Kuveiller’s camera point in any direction at random and he would still end up with a powerfully compelling image of a world trapped between the gothique and the fantastique, such is the potent and often decadent location work. But Argento can make even the humblest of apartments seem like otherworldly portals into some scintillating and miasmic wonderland of magic and murder.
As a gore-hungry kid, I always celebrated the succession of elaborate demises chronicled in Deep Red that the renowned Carlo Rambaldi fashioned. The cleaver-hackings and teeth bashings are gloriously nasty. The drowning in a bath of boiling water is, by far and away, more disturbing than a similar scene found in Halloween II, and made all the worse because of the lingering, crimson-boiled gasps of life left in the victim as the killer leaves them, partially boiled, to die on the bathroom floor. Argento has a liking for spittle with this movie, too. Two of those who are about to die issue foaming rivulets of drool from their mouths which, at the time, were unusual and can be likened to that bizarre shot of a zombie taking cheesy-white chunks of non-bloodied flesh from a biker in Dawn Of The Dead which, of course, was partly overseen by Argento alongside George Romero. An early moment has Helga, the psychic, quickly gulping from a glass of water to help calm herself down, but the impressions she is gleaning from the killer's mind make her regurgitate the water back again. I'm not certain what this is supposed to mean, but Argento has clearly designed this mouth-exodus deliberately. There is a sicko, demented determination in these protracted acts of annihilation that was certainly something new to the genre. So much time was normally spent in the suspenseful build up to a slaying that the actual murder was inevitably an anti-climax. Well, you can’t say that about the bodycount that we get in Deep Red, in which the actual killings possibly last even longer than the pre-ordeal stalking. But, this said, I have been forced to reverse my opinion about one death which, in particular, seems overly sensationalist, contrived and utterly preposterous. It was one thing to have a victim pushed in front of an approaching train coming into the station, his head smashed in slow-motion against it and his body then spun crazily along the platform as it gets horribly trapped beneath it. But to have someone blunder into the path of dumper-truck, get their legs caught up with its trailing hook and then be dragged along behind it, their head crunching against the curb when the vehicle goes around corners and then being driven over by another car is, quite frankly, ridiculous and more overblown than necessary. Way back when I was dragging friends round from school to watch the gory highlights of Suspiria, The Evil Dead and Zombie Flesheaters (all uncut versions, I should add), this was also one of the oft-requested death-scenes. Now, the irony is that the set-piece, itself, just seems childish. Also, it lets Argento off the hook, so to speak, with the convenience of such a narrative rescue at this particular time to allow for that belter of a finale.
I applaud the way that Argento allows his victims a chance not only of defence, albeit largely ineffectual, but even an element of resignation – once they’ve taken a hammering, they inevitably accept the fact of their own extinction – and, better yet, in one glorious moment of mortal finger-pointing, even attempt to incriminate the killer. For a director often labelled as misogynistic and luridly exploitative, this is a neat little device that separates his victims, at least in Deep Red, from the knife-fodder seen in Suspiria or elsewhere. But then this is a murder-mystery that requires more than the cathartic splendour of graphic mutilation just for the sake of it. Having said this, I like the fact that when Macha Meril's telepathic harbinger of doom is painfully eradicated during the inaugural murder, her left breast is casually allowed to slip out as Marcus attempts to rescue her, for no other reason than to supply some titillation within the blood. The other barnstorming fixation that Argento has is his determination to taunt his victims. We have had ample knife-teasing antics in the genre before, of course, with blades toying with innocent doors, and killers whispering to their prey from the shadows – but Deep Red adds that tape-recorded lullaby, escaped exotic birds, dolls hanging by their necks and, most extravagantly of all, a clockwork dummy, armed with a maniacal sense of humour of its own, unleashed from a French window upon a victim who is expecting anything but a dummy to intrude. He references this scene in Suspiria when Suzy's dead friend is reanimated by Elena Markos and suddenly charges at her with a knife – her demonic cackling replacing the clockwork whirring of the dummy. All are fiendish weapons of distraction and mockery. Compare this etiquette of game-playing cruelty to the simple stalk ‘n’ slash of Jason Vorhees, or any of his legion of obsessively single-minded butchers. Only the original Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger had similar penchants for twisted tomfoolery during their campaigns of terror.
Argento is also using the hint of magic in the proforma, his interest in the occult, or at least in the possibility of powers that exist outside of the everyday – in this case, telepathy – scratching its way to the foreground just before exploding with nerve-jangling vigour in Suspira and Inferno. It is very clear, right from the outset, that the psychic Ulmann actually does have second sight, in that she is pointedly able to tune-in to the killer's thoughts, thereby setting herself up for sadistic fall. And we also have the possibility of one Italy's ugly kids – if you watch Italian genre movies enough, you will garner the notion that anybody under the age of fourteen is genetically unattractive – may even be a bonafide witch. It is interesting the way that a terrified shriek interrupts Marcus and Carlo as they talk in the piazza. Everyone assumes that this is coming from Helga, who is busy being sliced-up in her apartment overlooking them, but the scream does not come from her direction and, confirming this, when Marcus finally looks up and sees her imploring him from her window as the killing blow is dealt, we can hardly hear her genuine scream from behind the glass. Indeed, it is Carlo's line about the scream probably coming from someone being raped – and then toasting her virginal deflowering(!) - that is the more accurate, actually adding to the mythical sense of surrounding danger and alienation that the big and anonymous city seems to provoke. This, too, is a valid moment of magic in the film, the stark and empty vastness of grey concrete, stone and statuary suddenly taking on the air of silent accomplice in depravity.
I’ve always liked David Hemmings. From Charge Of The Light Brigade, Blow-Up, Murder By Decree and Harlequin to Last Order, Gladiator, Gangs Of New York and even Mean Machine, he has always been able to offer something new, and a fresh and slightly offbeat spin on a role. He is not the macho type and could never act as though he was – which means that we can easily identify with him even if the circumstances are warped out of all proportion, Italian style. For a number of years, he drifted out of acting and moved into directing films and TV shows like The A-Team and Airwolf, amazingly enough, and was only really coaxed back in front of the camera, sporting those lavish eyebrows that were a hallmark of his passion for acting as a children's entertainer, by the likes of Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese, who both appreciated his eccentricities. His death in 2003 marked the end of an eclectic career that has always seemed remarkably unsung. I doubt he would ever have made the A list of leading men, even if he had been given more golden opportunities, because of his slightly effeminate mannerisms, unusual look and generally quite fragile demeanour, but seeing his name in the credits of a film always guaranteed something to look forward to. Although not the original actor slated for the part, Argento clearly saw an ideal chance to make his stamp on the art versus illusion versus reality game that Michelangelo Antonioni delivered with his landmark 1966 thriller Blow-Up which, of course, made a star out of Hemmings in the first place and secured for the actor those distinctive sensibilities that enabled him to flit so assuredly between films made in the UK, in Hollywood and in Europe.
It is worth mentioning that although the Director’s Cut runs a considerable twenty-two minutes longer than the usual version, it doesn’t add any more violence or gore, and no further plotting. Nor does it add anything that actually enhances or improves the film in any rewarding way, other than smoothing out a few rather puzzling and somewhat clumsy edits that, until we got a chance to see the full version, fans had always put down to that unique “Italian style”. It is slower-paced and infused with far too much of that woeful interaction between Hemmings and Nicolodi. When you move from one to the other, these edits do seem all the more glaring and disjointed, but it is understandable why they were made. Thus, it can be said that neither version of the film is fully satisfying and concessions must be made whichever one you opt to view. But, if anything, this even adds to the film's thought-provoking mystique.
Argento was entering his most powerful phase with Deep Red, and a series of films that commenced with it have since become classics of their kind. Suddenly he seemed nigh-on unstoppable in his vibrant and delightfully illogical charge of art-house bloodbaths. Highly regarded as the best of his gialli – although I think I may actually prefer Tenebrae, myself – Deep Red, or Profundo Rosso, has sequences of dazzling ingenuity and brilliance. The “big clue” is one of the best in the business, and a truly audacious piece of narrative devilry. David Hemmings plays nothing more than a typical audience-cypher, but he is so likeable that we can even tolerate his interplay with the atrocious Nicolodi. Well, his part in such interplay. And, essentially, the music and the violence still rock!
Argento's output on Blu-ray is beginning to come along, with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Suspiria, Inferno and the poor Stendahl Syndrome having already made the leap to hi-def besides Deep Red. Tenebrae is up next, I think … and that should be a treat in 1080p, if treated with the appropriate love and respect.
Dario once ruled. Deep Red shows us why.