A few years ago, I reviewed the first film in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy – Suspiria. This time I’m looking at the first film he worked on with Goblin – Deep Red. As this is an over 30-year-old-movie, there will be some spoilers below the cut.
Deep Red is a much more conventional Giallo, a mystery film with minimal (though not nonexistent) supernatural elements, with the lead trying to stop a mysterious killer, who the audience occasionally sees commit their murders. In the grand Giallo tradition, we see the killer almost exclusively in the first person, with their hands masked by black gloves. The film only switches to the third person for the kills, with camera work masking their identity.
Our protagonist here is Marcus Daly, a musician and music teacher from the UK, currently living in Rome, and who is good friends with a local nightclub pianist, Carlo. One evening, Marcus and Carlo, glancing up at Marcus’ apartment building, see Marcus’ upstairs neighbor, psychic medium Helga Ulmann, get brutally murdered through her window. If you’re asking yourself, “Was she brutally murdered through her window, or did they see through her window that she was brutally murdered?” – this is a Giallo, the answer is “yes“. In his attempt to find out what happened, Marcus ends up teaming up with reporter Gianna and Helga’s friend Dr. Giordani to get to the bottom of the murders. However, in the grand Giallo tradition, none of the three are safe.
I very much appreciated that this is a giallo film that didn’t feel like it cheats. If you pay close attention, you could figure out who the killer is before the main character does, and it doesn’t feel like a cheap introduction out of left field. With some Giallo films, the killer reveal feels something like the reveal of the killer from the first Friday the Thirteenth movie – we know Mrs. Vorhees is the killer because she’s literally dropped into the film out of nowhere so the odds are pretty good that she’s the killer. With Deep Red, while we don’t necessarily have an array of suspects to build from, by the end of the film, we have solid evidence to point in the killer’s direction, and the reveal of their identity makes complete and total sense.
Interestingly, unlike some of the other Giallo films I’ve seen, while Deep Red is violent and brutal, it feels less misogynistic. While, in total, the murder victims tend more female than male, the manners of their deaths feel less sexual as they can turn out to be in many other works in the genre. That said, some of this is not helped by the film having the killer dispatched through, arguably, a symbol of their femininity – and the killer being something of a psycho-biddy character as well (you rarely get psycho-old-guys in horror).
Also, I’m rather surprised to say that the depiction of a transgender character in the film is sympathetic, and is depicted normally. I’ll say upfront – the transgender character in the film isn’t the killer. Also, they aren’t murdered. They’re in the film and allowed to exist, and the film doesn’t pass judgment on them and their existence. This feels remarkably progressive for an Italian film in the 1970s.
Dario Argento’s cinematographer on this is Luigi Kuvellier, and the two have some tremendous shots in this film, including some very engaging close shots on various pieces of paraphernalia that help foreshadow the identity of the killer, combined with the camera work on the various investigative sequences of the film itself. All of this is accompanied by an excellent score by Goblin that is very atmospheric, and helps both build a sense of dread for the scenes with the killer, and build mood during the investigative parts of the film.
I do like Suspiria a little more than this, but I do definitely get why Deep Red was a lot of people’s gateway to Dario Argento’s work, and if you want an Argento film that’s a little less overtly supernatural, this is certainly worth picking up.
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