Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Deep Red

Deep Red

It’s probably a cliché to say it but Dario Argento is an acquired taste. The first two films I watched of his (Tenebrae and Pheonomena) I couldn’t stand. They were too slow paced for my tastes and the dubbing was bad. But  Suspiria changed my mind with its over the top story, artful compositions and vibrant colors. There are few films that have such a feeling of being painted onto the screen and few, if any, horror directors whose work feels so beautifully staged.

Deep Red isn’t quite so colorful or over the top but it’s still a masterpiece, an engrossing homage to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s too bad that its beautiful face is blemished by a glaring bit of homophobia.

Sometimes, what you actually see and what you imagine, it gets mixed up in your memory like a cocktail from which you can no longer distinguish one flavor from another… You think you’re telling the truth, but in fact you’re telling only your version of the truth.

At a parapsychology demonstration, a psychic medium (Macha Meril) senses the presence of a murderer in the audience. It affects her strongly and she goes home to take notes about what she’s experienced. She is killed that night and music teacher Marcus Daly (David Hemmings, who probably would have placed as one of the runner ups in a Paul McCartney lookalike contest) witnesses her murder from outside her window. Sure that he was the only witness to an important clue at the crime scene that may have quickly disappeared, he begins his own investigation into the death. As more people involved are killed off, Marcus realizes his own life is in danger and he’d better solve the crime in order to save himself.

Before starting it I feared that I would be bored by the film but this was not the case. Its color, composition, and camera movement, though not quite as striking as Suspiria, are fascinating to watch. Many long dialogue scenes that would usually stop most other films dead are invigorated with these elements as well as the skill of the actors. There are a couple of discussions that play out with the extras in the background standing rooted to their spot. I’ve never seen anything like that.

Deep Red

I wouldn’t say that Deep Red is scary but it builds tension with its pacing, silence and camera movement. There are a couple of instances where a whisper is used for an eerie effect. The death scenes are disturbing yet artful, with unusual touches– the appearance of a doll or a bird escaped from its cage flying onto the point of a knitting needle.

There are elements that take some getting used to, mostly relating to the period in which it was filmed. You know, the seventies clothes, the seventies hairstyles, the seventies homophobia. The film’s music is dated and can elicit some unintentional laughter when you first hear it. The soundtrack is performed by the band Goblin, who are famous for their work on this film, Suspiria, and Dawn of the Dead. Their music is one of those hurdles towards acquiring a taste in Dario’s work, but once acquired you realize what an integral part of the unique tone the music plays in these films.

Also confusing is the dialogue track. Some parts of the film were dubbed in Italian even though it seemed that the actors were speaking in English; I thought I could match the movement of their lips to some of the subtitles on the screen. It’s a jarring experience. Apparently there is a reason for this. Parts of the English soundtrack are missing and needed to be replaced by the dubbing and subtitles when the film was restored.

Oh, and what’s with the police in this film? Apparently there aren’t any detectives in town to investigate the crimes. This job is left to Marcus and his new found journalist cutie, played by Daria Nicolodi.

These are small things that, if you’re ready for them, won’t affect the overall experience. Well, except for the homophobic crap. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find them in a film released in 1975. I really wish they weren’t there. But I’d still highly recommend Deep Red. In fact, I might have to give Tenebrae and Phenomena second chances.

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