(A.k.a. PROFONDO ROSSO; THE HATCHET MURDERS)
Marc (David Hemmings) is a British musician working in Rome. One night while returning home from a chat with drunken pal Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), he witnesses his neighbour - psychic Helga (Macha Meril) - being murdered in her apartment. Racing to her aid just as the killer leaves, could it be that Marc has witnessed a vital clue as to their identity?
He's convinced he has. But, by the time the police arrive on the scene, he's buggered if he can remember what it was.
Obviously, there's much more to DEEP RED than that. There's Helga's colleague Giordani (Glauco Mauri), who reveals more about the old crime she'd "seen" while hosting a paranormal event earlier that evening, and the nursery rhyme she "heard" which holds the key to its perpetrator's identity. There's Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), the spunky journalist who takes it upon herself to help Marc try and solve the mystery - while engaging in spiky games of gender politics with him at every opportunity. Then there's the house that Marc discovers, with tell-tale children's paintings hidden within its walls...
You know all of it very well, I'm sure.
Taking its cue from lurid pulp crime novels of the 1950s, the giallo - named after the distinctive yellow paper said books were printed on - became a stylish, taut and often hyper violent sub-genre of Italian thriller which reached its peak of popularity in the 1970s.
Their breakthrough success was in no small part thanks to the efforts of writer-director Dario Argento, whose feature debut THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE achieved mainstream critical acclaim for its tight whodunit-style construction and painstakingly orchestrated set-pieces. Despite having been preceded by several years by the likes of Mario Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, it was 1970's BIRD that effectively laid out a template for other filmmakers to follow throughout the following decade or so.
In 1982, Argento would make his fifth giallo, the wonderful TENEBRAE - a film that took a post-modernist approach to the genre, examining its common plot devices and tropes while subverting many of its rules and begging the audience to question their own lust for such violent art.
In-between, Argento made what is perhaps his best stab at giallo: DEEP RED. A film that perfected the twisting, convoluted plotting expected of the genre, while assaulting the viewer with rich visuals, a sublime score and violence that had up until that point not been witnessed within the genre.
Bringing an element of the supernatural, this along with the gore helped DEEP RED firmly cross over into horror territory. After a string of films that had failed to match the success of BIRD (THE CAT O'NINE TAILS, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, the two-part TV epic FIVE DAYS OF MILAN) Argento had another hit on his hands.
And, although it reprises some motifs from his earlier success (the black leather gloved killer [whose hands were always famously played by Argento himself]; the murderer's POV shots; the foreigner who becomes a witness/potential victim of an assassin; the bravura camerawork; the quirky array of suspects - including the obligatory homosexual), DEEP RED ups the ante in almost every way.
The confidence with which Argento dominates each scene with sweeping camera movements and sumptuous, meticulously prepared compositions is awe-inspiring. You cannot love cinema and fail to appreciate this film, if only on an aesthetic level. The score, which Argento worked on alongside progressive rock band Goblin, is a fantastic blend of funky swagger and atmospheric piano - the child's theme that accompanies each murder is beautifully haunting. The editing, particularly of the set-piece 'kill' sequences is outstanding. The screenplay, co-written by the director and Bernardino Zapponi, is tighter and more engaging as a mystery than anything else in the filmmaker's canon.
Then there are the leads. Hemmings oozed class in anything and everything that featured him. He's no different here, in a performance which essentially reprises his role from the excellent BLOW UP. Again, he's the protagonist who's witnessed something key to solving a mystery - if only he could catch his breath long enough to see the wood for the trees. The chemistry he shares on screen with Nicolodi is joyous to behold. Nicolodi was a relative newcomer at the time (1975), but of course would go on to star in several Argento flicks ... as well as co-write the seminal SUSPIRIA, become the director's long-term partner, sire a daughter - Asia Argento - to him, and suffer a very acrimonious split years later down the line. Here, she's sexy, sassy and vulnerable in all the right ways. Her and Hemmings make for a charming couple, very easy to root for.
Solid support comes from the likes of Lavia, Meril and Mauri. All characters are intelligently written, well fleshed-out and memorable. And do I even have to mention the set-pieces? The opening hatchet murder, the mechanical doll, the bathroom assault, Olga (Nicoletta Elmi) and her mistreatment of that lizard, the exploration of the old house, the climactic revelation...?
Two cuts were prepared for the film's release: the original Italian cut, and an export cut which trimmed roughly 20 minutes of plot in a bid to appease International audiences. While much of the dialogue edited for the export cut is of no consequence plot-wise, its absence does alter one of the film's themes - the aforementioned issue of sexual politics. The banter between Marc and Gianna is lessened considerably. While the pace quickens as a result, the film moves more naturally, more gracefully, in its complete form. Cannily paced in whichever version you watch it, in fact, DEEP RED is quite simply a masterpiece in every respect.
Arrow Films Video have released the film onto UK blu-ray previously. In fairness, that release left a lot of fans wanting. The 1080p HD presentations - of both versions of the film - were uncut and correctly framed, but struck from aged transfers which didn't represent any significant upgrade over DVD versions of the film.
But that was back in 2011. Now, in 2016, Arrow have a second crack at the title - and the results of this 3-disc set are stunning.
Consisting of two blu-ray discs and a CD of the film's original soundtrack, we were sent screener copies of the two blu-ray discs for review purposes.
Once again, both versions of the film are presented uncut (dog-fighting, lizard impalement, everything is intact) - the longer Italian cut clocks in at 127 minutes and 14 seconds; the export version is 104 minutes and 53 seconds in length - but this time they've been given the benefit of an all-new (2014) 4k restoration.
Picture quality on both versions is unsurprisingly excellent. Correctly framed at 2.35:1 and presented as nicely sized MPEG4-AVC files, the new 1080p HD transfers offer stunning amounts of detail, deep unwavering blacks and colours so bold that I felt like I was watching the film through a fresh pair of eyes.
Flesh tones are true and a fine layer of natural grain helps lend the film that required, authentic filmic feel. Just remarking on finer details and renewed clarity in darker scenes is a joy; the pristine nature of lighter sequences is, if anything, even more pleasurable.
Audio comes in choices of Italian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Italian 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio ad English/Italian hybrid 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio on disc 1, and English DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio on disc 2. The hybrid soundtrack on disc 1 is explained best by Arrow themselves: "Although DEEP RED was shot with the cast speaking English and post-synched into both English and Italian, no English audio exists for scenes removed for the shorter export cut. This full-length version can be viewed either entirely in Italian, or in a hybrid version which uses Italian audio in instances where no English audio exists".
What can I say? All mixes are fabulous. Clean and crisp, with intelligent separation of channels, each track proffers a strikingly solid, evenly balanced playback. The iconic score has never sounded better, its memorable bass lines never having had such impact before. Easily readable optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are available for both film versions.
The Italian cut is presented on disc 1; disc 2 houses the export version. Both discs open to animated main menu pages, and both have pop-up scene selection menus allowing access to each version of the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features on disc 1 begin with an engaging, thorough audio commentary track from Danish filmmaker and Argentophile Thomas Rostock. Speaking in perfect English, Rostock knows his stuff and never falters throughout. He explains what's happening on screen, explores the film's themes and hidden layers, gives insight into the making of many scenes and offers fascinating titbits of trivia throughout. Always interesting and never overly academic or patronising, this is a fantastic companion piece to the film. Of particular fascination for me were the clues that Rostock points out throughout the film: little hints here and there that Argento gave his unwitting viewer along the way...
A 23-second optional introduction to the film from Goblin's Claudio Simonetti is nice to have but, truthfully, is neither here nor there.
Michael Mackenzie is on hand to provide another visual essay along the lines of the one he provided on the recent WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? blu-ray. It's a good 33-minute proposition. Once again, Mackenzie doesn't appear onscreen but narrates fluently over clips, stills and poster artwork while taking in recurring Argento themes, differences between the two cuts, DEEP RED's continuing legacy and much more. Of course, some ground from the commentary track gets covered again, and you should know to expect spoilers (there is an introductory text warning of such, just in case), but this is another great contextual addition to the disc.
The film's original 109-second Italian trailer is a lovely piece of atmospheric, somewhat abstract art.
There follows three featurettes which originally featured on Arrow's 2011 release:
"Rosso Recollections" - a 12-minute interview with Argento in which he speaks affably about his own admiration for DEEP RED and its influence on his later cinema.
"Lady in Red" - Nicolodi speaks candidly about her involvement in the film, and Argento's career, over the course of 19 enjoyable minutes.
"Music to Murder For!" - Simonetti again, here spending 14 minutes discussing his involvement in creating the wonderful score. From meeting Argento "one hundred years ago" to revealing the thought processes behind the tunes, the keyboardist is at ease during this entertaining interview.
"Profondo Rosso: From Celluloid to Shop" takes a 14-minute tour of the Rome-based shop which is devoted to all things Argento. Our host is the ever-amiable Luigi Cozzi.
Extras on disc 2 are limited to the original theatrical trailer for the film's export version. Running at almost 3 minutes in length, it's a clean but slightly faded affair with strong English mono audio. Those who are new to the film though, beware: this trailer is highly spoilerific.
This set also comes with a rather fantastic-looking package, none of which was available to review. It includes a CD of the film's soundtrack, 6 collectors' postcards, a double-sided fold-out poster, double-sided cover artwork and a booklet containing writings by Mikel J Koven and Alan Jones.
41 years after its original release, DEEP RED remains a thrilling, visceral and challenging masterpiece. As beautiful and bold as ever, but now looking even more sublime than before, Arrow Film Video's new blu-ray presentation is by far the best way to experience it.
Review By Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|