Deep Red


Writer/director Dario Argento has been hailed as one of the true masters of film horror. His unique, highly-stylized works have explored both the supernatural and the non-supernatural sides of the genre with equal effectiveness. His first three directorial efforts--The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O'Nine Tails (1971), and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972) (known collectively as the Animal Trilogy)--earned him the nickname of "The Italian Hitchcock." These movies featured innovative camerawork, eccentric human behavior, nerve-jangling scores by Ennio Morricone, and just enough outlandishness to keep viewers off balance without throwing them completely out of the realm of reality. 1976's Suspiria and 1980's Inferno took the plunge into ferocious, gory, haunted-house horror, showcasing terrors that could never be dealt with in human terms--but sacrificing none of Argento's visual inventiveness in the process. And somewhere between these two worlds of horror lies 1975's Deep Red (Italian title: Profondo Rosso), which many believe to be the director's finest work ever.

The city of Rome plays host to a conference on parapsychology, where guest of honor Helga Ulman (Macha Meril) conducts an impressive demonstration of mental telepathy. However, the mood is quickly shattered when, after a violent seizure, Helga announces that someone in the room is a murderer and will soon kill again. That very evening, her prediction comes true as she herself falls victim to a vicious, cleaver-wielding assassin.

Marcus (David Hemmings) discovers a clue -- a child's drawing -- in Deep Red.
British jazz musician Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses the killing from the street. His efforts to save Helga and catch her assailant fail, but he subsequently finds himself caught up in the investigation... and plagued by a detail that he struggles to recall. When eager journalist Gianna (Daria Nicolodi) causes Daly's photograph to appear in a newspaper article identifying him as the key witness, there's no turning back. With the assistance of Gianna, fellow musician Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), and Helga's friend Giordani (Glauco Mauri), Marcus searches for the killer before the killer finds him.

While this story could have been told in the style of a straightforward murder mystery, Argento displays it as an artist's nightmare. Though the supernatural is never directly invoked (parapsychology notwithstanding), the characters live not in the recognizable world of the viewer, but in a world that seems to exist only by dictates of the creative arts. Drawing and painting are particularly dominant. Marcus and Carlo, in fact, become part of a life-size rendition of the famous Edward Hopper painting "Nighthawks" in a particularly memorable example early in the film. The disturbing drawings of a troubled child provide information, and the final clue lies within the art archives of a local school. Another major theme concerns literature: the published works of a folklore expert tie in with the aforementioned drawings. In addition, she provides a handwritten clue... for those who know how to read it. Even the craft of puppetry comes into play at a most disturbing, unexpected moment.

Marcus (David Hemmings) finds a murder victim in Deep Red.
Music ties all these artistic threads together. Jazz is a passion for Marcus (but it is just a job for Carlo); a music box repeatedly plays a children's song; and rock group Goblin provides the loud, driving score (which is far removed from Morricone and forces the viewer/listener to discard any preconceived notions about Argento's previous thrillers). All three forms of music come together in one of the film's most suspenseful passages, as Marcus, rehearsing at his piano, senses the killer closing in...

The ultimate art on display is the filmmaker's. Argento's world dominates, and the characters only live in it. Only the viewers of the film see the unusual camera angles or the extreme closeups of certain peculiar objects. Only the viewers experience the specific ways in which Argento stages his murder sequences (with Argento's own hands in closeup committing the on-screen murders!). In Deep Red, Marcus brushes off attempts to psychoanalyze his work. He simply likes music. So, too, does Argento enjoy employing his creativity: the viewer may make of it what he will... once he recovers!

A flashback sequence reveals a child finding a knife in Deep Red.
Deep Red was once available on American video as Deep Red--Hatchet Murders. If you've seen this version, you've barely had a taste of the film. Not only was it heavily cut, but the look of the film was heavily compromised by visual cropping (which also destroyed Argento's most outrageous conceit--that of actually putting the killer's face on screen early in the film).

Anchor Bay's DVD contains the full-length director's cut in its 2:35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Combine that with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and the difference is nothing short of breathtaking. Hemmings' affectionate, ego-deflating relationship with Gianna is given far more attention, helpful details clarify the story throughout, and the cringe-inducing violence (equally distributed between men and women victims) is fully intact. The English-language version contains several subtitled sequences (as some scenes were never recorded in English), while the complete Italian soundtrack is available as an option (the subtitles reveal several liberties taken with the English translation). While the print looks and sounds fine, some viewers will be annoyed with an editorial decision imposed on the film during the end titles: rather than run the credits in Italian, the distributors have chosen to run English-language substitutes over a freeze-frame of the final shot, the motion of which was intended to continue for a significant time. To some, this is a minor consideration: to others, this is an unwelcome alteration that deserves to be mentioned. English and Italian trailers are included, as is a short "25th Anniversary" documentary featuring commentary from Argento, co-writer Bernardino Zapponi (who passed away shortly after completing his work on this featurette), and the members of Goblin (whose brief piano rendition of the main title of Deep Red brings an unmistakable association with John Carpenter's Halloween theme out of hiding).

All in all, this is one of Argento's finest films, and--save for the previously mentioned annoyance--one of Anchor Bay's finest DVDs.


Deep Red is available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment in a director's cut version (running time: 126 minutes), created with the cooperation of Dario Argento. The DVD contains a featurette, "25th Anniversay," that includes interviews with Argento, co-writer Bernardino Zapponi, and members of Goblin. In addition, DVD contains the Italian and U.S. theatrical trailers and talent bios. The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and the DVD has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Suggested retail price: $29.95.