Blue Underground // 1975 // 126 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // May 13th, 2011
"It's like having a madman in the house."
There has never been, nor will there ever be, another movie quite like Deep Red. It is unequivocally Dario Argento's masterpiece, a film that combines his knack for creating otherworldly, nightmarish scenes of horror with an obsessively compelling mystery. This Italian giallo is the perfect synthesis of the horror and thriller genres, making for a film that's as scary and imaginative the first time you see it as the twentieth time.
After a slight delay, Blue Underground finally gives Deep Red the Blu-ray treatment. Now, let us all bow our heads and revel in its gory glory.
One night while walking home from a Roman music conservatory, English Jazz pianist Marc Daly (David Hemmings, Blow-up) stumbles upon the murder of his downstairs neighbor, psychic Helga Ullman (Macha Meril, Anatomy of a Marriage). The killer's face is hidden by Helga's body as the madman cuts her throat on a broken window. When Daly darts into her apartment, he stumbles upon a clue that could expose the identity of the killer -- if he could only remember what it was. With the help of feminist reporter Gianna (Daria Nicolodi, Shock), Marc attempts to solve the murder with the killer hot on his trail.
All the elements of Deep Red, however bizarre, fit together absolutely perfectly, despite the fact that they can easily be perceived as a kitchen sink jumble of chaos. The film is given added texture by these seemingly random details; which include psychic characters, dialogue exchanges straight out of a romantic comedy, psychoanalytical monologues and homosexual overtones. A closer look reveals these parts not as random tangents by the filmmaker, but essential clues to solving the mystery of the film. It's important to note that the film's whodunit plot isn't its main focus, but misdirection. Dario Argento isn't concerned with solving the killer's identity. He's interested in figuring out the protagonist's identity -- his true self, however good or evil it might be.
Much like Hemmings' famous collaboration with Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow-up, Deep Red is about obsession. It's the sort of vivid, detailed obsession that only an artist (in this case a jazz pianist) can be haunted by, swallowing the protagonist's mind and motivations whole. Marc Daly succumbs to the murderous nightworld of Deep Red because it is a part of him already, something he cannot deny when he comes face to face with it in the form of Helga's murder. As he tells a friend in one scene, "I'm fascinated by this sort of thing...madmen."
Despite the fact the killer is closing in on him and all his colleagues, Marc cannot help but be consumed. The killer's identity is only a key, one that unlocks an understanding of the violence around him, and the madness within him. All this is summed up in the film's final shot: Hemmings' reflection staring back at him from a fresh pool of blood. It is the film's most iconic image, one that asks the audience to reflect on their own obsession with bloodshed, suggesting that, like Marc, a piece of madness just might be residing in our minds, too.
Every character, every scene, every act of death is an extension of Marc's pysche. Much of it plays with sexuality, as Marc, a strangely ambiguous sexual figure, creates romantic bonds with quirky femme fatale Gianna while cementing a strangely close friendship with sad, drunken gay pianist Carlo (Gabriele Lavia, Inferno). The film's death scenes bounce back and forth from having a sexual bend (particularly the first death, which has the psychic literally bent over the broken window, breast exposed) to having an eerily childlike flavor (among them a bathtub scalding that taps into bathroom fears common to early childhood). These set pieces directly link the film's violence to Marc's internal struggle with his adulthood and sexuality, making the gorgeously composed and scary as hell death scenes all the more intimate.
Much like Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan, the majority of Argento's films exist in the universe of his own head. Like True Romance's Clarence or Inception's Dom, Marc is a stand in for the director, a sensitive artist who the entire murderous world seems to revolve around because, well, he sort of created it.
For those who haven't seen Deep Red this isn't a spoiler of any sort. There is no cheap, fake-out "It's all in his head" ending. All I'm saying is that the film exists within the vacuum of Argento's (and by proxy Marc's) imagination, meaning if a cackling, knife wielding robot pops out of the shadows or a bird coincidentally impales itself on the tip of a darning needle before a murder, don't take let it ruin your sense of the film's narrative. Surreal, dream-like logic rules the day in Deep Red, and, like any good dream (or nightmare), this logic makes film all the more visceral and terrifying.
Still, no matter how ingenious Deep Red is visually, no matter how dynamic its scares or memorable its characters, the film is made iconic by its cutting edge score. Provided by classically trained prog-rock band Goblin (led by Argento stalwart Claudio Simonetti) and traditional composer Giorgio Gaslini (La Notte), Deep Red has an infectiously rhythmic synth score, fusing classical jazz with hard rock and children's nursery rhyme melodies. It would go on to inspire John Carpenter's musical work on Halloween and it is easy to see why: it's creepy, bizarre, and so playful you can dance to it. It reinforces the film's atmosphere and events with the precision sharpened blade. Even better, once you see the film, you will never be able to get the music out of your head.
According an interview in the extras, Blue Underground head honcho Bill Lustig (Maniac) is old pals with Dario Argento. With Deep Red's Blu-ray release, Lustig gives his friend's film the regal treatment it deserves, creating an amazing looking transfer from the film's original camera negative. The image quality is just exquisite, retaining a huge amount of detail, right down to the grain of the film stock, without ever compromising the robust technicolor look of the film. The cliché "It was like watching it for the first time" came to mind throughout my viewing of the disc. The transfer is that good.
The sound is even better, sporting vivacious, crystal clear, bass pulsating 7.1 DTS Italian and English tracks, while offering up a solid 5.1 English/Italian hybrid (for the International version, see below). The film's original mono track is also included for purists, though I think the quality of the 7.1 DTS track might have them rethinking their preference for the film's original sound mix.
The film is presented for the first time in both the 105 minute theatrical cut and the 126 minute director's cut. The director's cut is the definitive version, containing a great deal more character work and some prolonged, extra gory death scenes. However, the sheer fact the American theatrical version of the film is even included makes this release the definitive North American Deep Red release thus far.
Depending on how you choose to view the film, it's good to know which sound selection works best with each cut. The director's cut works best with either the 7.1 DTS Italian track (with subtitles) or the 5.1 English/Italian hybrid (with subtitles). Keep in mind, most of the scenes left on the cutting room floor lack an English dub, so subtitles are a must when you go with the English/Italian hybrid track. For the shorter, theatrical cut, you can do no better than 7.1 English DTS track.
Aside from the inclusion of both cuts of the film, there isn't anything new in the extras department, just the same old features that have been recycled from the original Anchor Bay DVD. The finest among these extras is an interview with Dario Argento, co-writer Bernadino Zapponi (Fellini's Roma) and Goblin regarding the making of the film. It's an interesting feature, if all too brief. Also ported over are music videos by Goblin, performing the theme "Profondo Rosso" live in studio, and Daemonia, whose metal tribute to "Profondo Rosso" is accompanied by a high-concept narrative in which Daemonia are re-animated as corpses and murdered in styles imitating those in the film. Claudio Simonetti and Dario Argento cameo in the Daemonia video. The Italian and English trailers for the film are also included. I'm sorry to say all extras are presented in standard definition.
I can only wonder why Blue Underground didn't kick in for some newer extra features. There's a Region 2 release floating around from Arrow Video that's loaded with new content, but apparently lacking in the transfer department. One would think their American competition would have kicked in for some new content like they did with the Blu-ray of Inferno. A film critic's commentary track or a new featurette would have been ideal. Then again, we're getting both cuts of the film with image and sound quality that are massive leaps and bounds above previous releases, so I'm willing to overlook the lack of new extras.
What's nice about Deep Red is that it is a great horror film beyond the limits of the semi (okay, very) pretentious analysis most of you probably just skimmed through. This is as cutthroat gory, jump-in-your-seat-scary, and weird-as-hell a gialli slasher film as you're likely to find. It keeps you guessing, keeps you on the edge, keeps you utterly absorbed.
Film critic and Argento scholar Maitland McDonagh has been quoted as saying it "helped perfect the formula" of the entire subgenre, and she is not overstating it. The film is a bona fide, absolute classic of the horror genre that deserves its status rubbing elbows with Psycho, Halloween, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, etc, etc.
Within Argento's canon, it is an utterly complete horror epic that balances experimental and traditional sensibilities like a veteran tightrope walker. It lends itself to the Blu-ray format spectacularly. If you're a fan of the man or horror films in general, this disc is a must own.
Profondo not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS 7.1 Surround (English)
* DTS 7.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English, Italian)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* English Version
* Music Videos
* 10K Bullets Review
* Dark Dreams Fan Site