April 12, 2008
Profondo Rosso (1975)
In the early 70s, Italian director Dario Argento took the world by surprise with the release of his first three movies, three excellent entries in the "Giallo" genre that had been growing in popularity across the 60s. In only two years, the success of "L' Uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo" ("The Bird with the Crystal Plumage"), "Il Gatto a Nove Code" ("The Cat o' Nine Tails") and "4 Mosche Di Velluto Grigio" ("Four Flies on Grey Velvet) turned Argento into the new rising star of horror, and his "animal trilogy" into classics of the Italian thriller. However, after this huge success he decided to move away from the Giallo for a while, and in order to explore something different, he made two TV dramas and a comedy named "Le Cinque Giornate" ("Five Days in Milan"). While this offered him the chance to try something new, it also allowed him to prepare his return to horror with what would be known as one of the best Giallo thrillers ever made: "Profondo Rosso", known in English as "Deep Red".
The film is the story of Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), a British piano player who is spending some time in Italy as a music teacher. One night after work, as he walks towards his apartment, he watches through the building's window of the upper floor and notices his neighbor Helga (Macha Méril) struggling with an unknown man. Helga, a psychic, gets brutally killed almost in front of Daly's eyes, who runs towards the apartment in a futile attempt to save her. After being interrogated by the police, Daly notices that he could have seen the killer's face on a mirror, among a group of portraits on the wall, but he can't remember the face, not even truly figure out what's missing. This thought slowly becomes a terrible obsession for him, so Daly decides to investigate the murder on his own account with the help of the inquisitive reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), however, his obsession becomes dangerous to both of them (and to those who try to help them) as Marcus becomes the killer's next target.
Written by Bernardino Zapponi and Dario Argento himself, the film's plot revolves around the solving of the mystery while putting special attention to Marcus' obsession with the missing clue he may have caught the night of the murder (In fact, it almost could be said that the whole murder mystery is a device to explore the obsession theme). While Argento is famous for preferring surrealism to logic when writing his screenplays, the story in "Profondo Rosso" is carefully constructed and takes advantage of every element of the Giallo genre to tell it's mystery. And mystery is the key of the film, as the secret of the killer's identity is exploited to the max in order to create wonderful set pieces of suspense and horror. The care taken to develop the characters is another of the things that make "Profondo Rosso" to stand out among similar films, as not only Daly's obsessions are explored, but his relation with Gianna becomes an interesting source of romance, quirky sparks of comedy, and as expected, lots of suspense.
By the time he directed "Profondo Rosso", Dario Argento was already an specialist on the genre, a master of his craft with a defined style, and the whole look of the film demonstrates it. With his excellent visual composition and inventive use of the camera (with great work by cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller), Argento shows that he knows how to build up suspense and tension in the audience; and together with the excellent make-up by Giuliano Laurenti and Giovanni Morosi, Argento creates some of the most inventive murder scenes ever put to film. It's all about style, as Giallo films are famous for making an art of the the composition of murder scenes, and in "Profondo Rosso", Argento takes that idea to the next level. It all has a quite surreal atmosphere, akin to having a beautiful looking nightmare. The extremely effective score by Giorgio Gaslini and the band "Goblin" is the icing on the cake, as it completes the unnatural haunting atmosphere that the whole film has.
Leading the cast is David Hemmings as Marcus Daly, in what seems to be almost a reprisal of his role in Antonioni's 1966 film, "Blowup" (which was most definitely another of Argento's inspirations). Hemmings is excellent in his role, and effectively portrays Daly's own descent into darkness as he gets more involved with the killings. Argento's regular collaborator Daria Nicolodi stars as Gianna Brezzi (in her first work with Argento), an interesting role because the character demands her to downplay her beauty in favor of the awkwardness and quirkiness of the role. Nicolodi is charming, and very natural, making hard to not fall in love with her character, the typical wisecracking reporter of mystery films. The rest of the cast includes many interesting characters (everyone is a suspect here), and the supporting actors do a very good job. Gabriele Lavie is specially great as Carlo, a tortured alcoholic pianist who is probably the most likable character of the film.
While definitely one of the best Giallo films ever made, "Profondo Rosso" is not exempt of flaws, at least in my humble opinion. The most noticeable I found was the fact that at times the plot kind of drags, wasting too much time in details that do not advance the plot. This makes the long runtime feel even longer than it should, and due to this some audiences may feel the film is boring (in fact, I would even say that the American cut, often titled "The Hatchet Murders", has a better flow, despite being censored). Fortunately, this doesn't happen too often and it's more a minor quibble than an actual flaw. Another detail that bothered me was the bad dubbing the film has, and I don't mean the English dubbing, the original Italian work of audio is really bad, and diminishes the value of many of the performances due to bad synchronization between audio and voice work. However, this was pretty much the standard of Italian productions of those years, as having a multicultural cast forced them to use dubbing most of the times.
As one of the modern masters of horror, Dario Argento's career is one of enormous value for horror fans, and among his many works, "Profondo Rosso" is an essential one. A remarkable work of style and technique, "Deep Red" is a movie that simply grabs you and doesn't let you go until it ends, making an excellent experience and a good companion piece to Argento's follow-up, the masterpiece "Suspiria". The Italian Giallo style of horror thrillers is certainly an acquired taste, but I'd say that if one has to see a Giallo film, it definitely must be this one. What master Mario Bava started with "La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo" (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) in 1963 is taken here to perfection by Argento. Without a doubt "Profondo Rosso" is one of the best murder-mystery films ever made. A true jewel.
Buy "Profondo Rosso" (1975)
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