Dario Argento, also known as the Italian Hitchcock. Not because he is a white, overweight, sexual deviant harassing his stars, but because he understands what makes a horror/thriller really good: suspense. The man really knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat (or in my case, a cheap, broken futon) and when it builds up until it can’t build up anymore, it knocks the breath out of you and kicks you back, but you come back for more. It’s a rush. Furthermore, both Hitchcock and Argento’s stories focus on a protagonist who is trying to solve a murder on their own. There’s something people don’t do anymore. Nowadays people just call the police. Boring.
I thought it would be appropriate if we took a look at the film that put Dario Argento on the radar, Profondo Rosso a.k.a. Deep Red or The Hatchet Murders (yeah, Italian films usually had at least eight or nine different titles). The movie starts off heartwarmingly terrifying enough with a struggle between two characters we can’t see, until one of them is stabbed to death and we hear a child scream, over a creepy child’s tune. It’s a familiar set up, but it’s Dario Argento’s execution throughout the film that makes this shocking and unique.
That was just the title credits, by the way. The film follows pianist (tee hee) Marcus, who one day heading home after visiting his friend Carlo, who has some rather odd jokes about rape and is involved with a transvestite (because, why not?), witnesses the death of a medium, Helga Ulmann. Earlier that day, Helga was using her sweet Professor X type powers (ok, they weren’t that cool) and begins to hear that child’s tune we heard at the beginning. Upon reading into this, she fingers a dark and twisted mind in the audience and then in a very stylish (and later to become Argento’s trademark) POV shot, that person gets up and leaves the lecture to kill Helga for being ousted. Or maybe they really had to pee.
Anyway, Marcus fails to save the medium and remembers a painting of several faces missing from the apartment, which will come into play later. But for now, we are introduced to what is probably the Italian film industry’s favorite occupation, reporter. This reporter, Gianna, is played by Daria Nicolodi, who will go on to collaborate with Dario Argento in many other films. She’s one of those no nonsense, women’s lib kinda girl (by the way, we here at The Lost Highway are down with the whole Women’s Lib thing…). Marcus can’t let go of this mystery. He searches for Carlo to ask him what he remembers from the night of the murder and we meet Carlo’s mother, who makes Angela’s Aunt from Sleepaway Camp look subtle and sane. Later, Marcus hears that same tune, only he is able to save his own skin. He and Gianna decide to look into this tune with the help of psychiatrist Dr. Giordani, who was an associate of Helga’s. This brings them to writer Amanda Righetti, who is murdered before Marcus can talk to her, but she leaves a very clever message written on her bathroom wall that is uncovered when Girodani later visits the crime scene and steams up the room (I just read how bad that sounds…)!
This turns out to be unfortunate for him, however. He basically put a giant bullseye on his back and partakes in what is one of the creepiest scenes to involve a doll. Perhaps influencing the Billy puppet from Saw, a two-foot-something puppet runs out from behind a curtain scaring the poop out of him! His reaction is that he is quite startled, but I think I would have screamed and ran around setting fire to the room. Meanwhile, Marcus and Gianna continue their end of the investigation in a deserted house, with plenty of close calls and thrills, tying all the previous clues together, bringing them to more clues. Only this time, the clues seem to point at Carlo as the culprit, who stabs Gianna and holds Marcus at gunpoint… but he couldn’t have been the killer, could he? Marcus was talking to him when Helga was killed. Hmm, further and further down the rabbit hole… It’s now in the final act that Marcus remembers what was in that painting he saw: The face of the killer! But who could it be? So many odd, colorful characters that it could be.
The movie concludes nicely, tying up all loose ends while making it look good, all in a grisly, gory, good old fashioned death scene with plenty of blood and gore. Deep Red doesn’t skip in that department, so all you sickos can get your fix here.
All of this stretches out over a two hour run time, which does seem a bit long for this. Being one of Dario Argento’s earlier works, as good as the suspense and tension is, it can feel drawn out. Deep Red definitely takes it time getting from one point to another, which can turn off some viewers (although they certainly would be missing an excellent movie). And if you are watching the Director’s Cut that Blue Underground put out back in 2007, the dialogue goes from English dubbed to Italian dubbed with English subtitles, since a fully dubbed Director’s Cut does not exist, it can be distracting to those who don’t want to read their movie during certain scenes.
Deep Red is intense, shocking and violent. It’s a mystery that will keep you guessing and you’ll get excited with each clue toward to reveal of the killer. No matter how many times I see this, sometimes I forget who the killer is and it’s like I’m watching it for the very first time. So, turn off the lights and lock the doors, and watch one of the more suspenseful movies from the 70’s. But, get the hell out of there if you start to hear any creepy children’s music.
Watch the entire movie here.