Deep Red Review

The Film

The particular Italian variant of the the thriller, the giallo, could be easily relegated to the margins by presenting it as cultish. Lurid titles, extreme methods of murder, and outlandish direction can be used to convince many that these thrillers are not for them. For people brought up on the TV civility of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, why would they want to take on the straight Jim Beam of the giallo when they're happier sipping the sweet genteel sherry of the drawing room mystery?imageWell, this can't be helped even if the distance between the sleepy English drawing room mystery and hot blooded Italian thriller is not so pronounced as many might claim. Some people will never get the joy of a genre which basks in the depravity it reveals whilst offering film-makers the opportunity to show off royally. And much of that showing off is down to emulation of one man, and that man is Dario Argento.

Dario's way with a swooping camera, a perverse cut and glorious excess had already been clearly demonstrated with his animal trilogy by the time he completed Deep Red. Other directors and writers were already working extra hard to cash in on the template these three films had created, and he himself had started to look elsewhere with the poorly received Five Days in Milan.

Returning to the genre that had made him, Dario enlisted the help of the great Bernardino Zappano to write the last word in gialli. The two men hit upon the idea of making the violence relevant to the audience and a more supernatural tone was introduced as well. Gone were the gunfights and procedural emphasis of his début to be replaced by scaldings, stabbings and a sense of mystical mystery.

Also gone was the work of Ennio Morricone - replaced initially by composer Giorgio Gaslini who in turn found his work reinvented and replaced by prog rockers Goblin. The result was tense, baroque and daring - a compliment to the plot but often a surprising contrast to the action.imageCasting the star of Antonioni's Blow Up, David Hemmings, and deliberately flipping that film's anti-mystery, Deep Red is a story of what was seen and not understood. Clues, revelations and characters come and go on but the solution to the mystery is up on screen from the very beginning. That this conjuring trick is so effective is down to a design that loves art and drenches the action in composition and elaborations that both emphasise this point whilst obscuring the mechanics.

Beginning in a lecture given by a medium where an audience member's murderous feelings are revealed, we are brought back to Earth by her summary dispatch. This is witnessed by British jazz pianist, Marc Daly, who rushes to her aid only to discover the killer's handiwork and a sense of something else. Exposed as an eyewitness by a flirty journalist, Daly and his competitive partner are soon chasing a murderer who is also chasing them.

There is a delicious looseness about Deep Red which nods to its musical opening where precision and formality are decried. Some of the action fits easily within conventional thriller dynamics and expectations, but whole sections are much more elaborate and outlandish. Dark spirits and evil inhabit objects courtesy of the soundtrack, and the progression of the murders, along with their surprising ferocity, is one long misdirect.

Another spirit fills the film as well. Deep Red contains the director's only truly successful romantic relationship. The mannish Gianna Brezi first overpowers the macho weed of Marc Daly, before he insinuates his masculine control into her life. Her initial romantic pitch is that she is in between boyfriends and that she can cure his anxiety, but the professional go-getter and strong heroine eventually feminises to become anything other than the casual girlfriend.

The interplay between Nicolodi and Hemmings, as Brezi and Daly, is as enjoyable to me as the carnage and the thriller mechanics. One of my interests in Argento's work is his exploration of identity - specifically through gender and sexuality. Here Marc is implicitly examined through his relationship with fellow pianist Carlo and the competition with mannish Gianna. The macho man is revealed as often weak, his peacock status parodied and his definite sense of sexual identity severely undermined.imageSo this may seem like I am reading a lot into a film once titled "The Hatchet Murders". And that is what is rather wonderful about the director's achievement - the fact that all of this style and extra content is there within a basic thriller. He made more tightly plotted films, his début for instance, and made much more obviously serious works(The Stendhal Syndrome), but Deep Red is in love with art and humanity and for all its cleverness that's what I love about it.

There isn't a better giallo, there isn't a better script with the director's name on it, and I don't believe he has created a more credible relationship than Gianna and Marc's in his whole career. In addition, Deep Red is audacious, dangerous, and a tremendous piece of intelligent entertainment. If you haven't seen it you should, and if you have seen it you should see it again.

Deep Red is the best film in Argento's career.

Technical Specs

After Inferno, Arrow seem to have backtracked on the DNR with both of the transfers presented here. There is a lot of grain and where it is especially plentiful, detail is obscured so that both transfers look film-like but not especially revelatory in terms of extra information. It's a matter of taste if this is preferable to the level of DNR found on their previous Argento release but this can't be claimed as the greatest transfer you will ever see.

The underlying print doesn't seem to be in the best of condition but it does seem to be uncut. There is some bleaching, greens are slightly off and contrast not always perfect. There is a lack of filtering and edge enhancement and whilst this can be bettered, it is a welcome improvement from the standard definition versions out there.image
Three sound options are offered on the director's cut with the English dub including subtitled Italian scenes where English language elements were not supplied. The sole lossless track is an Italian DTS HD master audio option which has the great advantage of presenting the excellent score as clearly as it has ever been heard on home video. The surround elements are respectable in terms of coverage but not very challenging in terms of directionality. There is plenty of background noise and hum on both lossy and lossless tracks.

Special Features

This is a two blu-ray disc release with the longer director's cut on disc one and the shorter export cut on the other disc. The latter has clearly been sourced from the former so visual quality is similar on both transfers. As extras on the discs, we get interviews with Dario and Daria in Italian, pieces with Luigi Cozzi and Claudio Simonetti, two trailers and a commentary.

The commentary is by Danish film-maker/writer Thomas Rostock and is very well researched and written but delivered in Rostock's second language of English which leads to a far from natural or engaging delivery. Rostock is clearly passionate about his subject but I didn't enjoy this track.

Daria lays into her former partner's personality whilst praising his achievements. Dario is "egocentric" and "narcissistic"! She talks interestingly about Hemmings being heartbroken and being pushed hard by the director. Dario, himself, does little to dissuade you of Daria's perspective when he begins his interview with a long list of his films that he admires. He talks a little about his shock at the butchered export cut and the process of putting his own version back together.

Simonetti speaks in English about meeting Dario and their collaborations since. He explains how Dario suggested they should score the film and how methods of writing scores have changed over the years.

Cozzi introduces us to the store and museum in Rome that he and Dario have developed. The museum shows waxworks of characters from Phenomena and Demons, along with props from works like Fellini's And the Ship Sails on and other Argento films.

The set is presented in the usual slipcase with the choice of four covers on the disc box. Inside is a fold-out double sided poster and a short booklet. Alan Jones contributes a history of the film and its importance in the Argento canon to the booklet which will be appreciated by those new to the work.


A very decent package with contributions from the main collaborators. The transfer may be bettered by the forthcoming Blue Underground release but it is a welcome improvement on previous standard definition transfers.

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