Dario Argento’s giallo masterpiece Deep Red, besides being the best of that particular genre, was the inspiration for almost every 1980s American slasher film. It’s that influential. Watching Arrow Video’s new 4K restoration was like discovering the treasure trove that all the filmmakers from my misspent youth plundered to make their own scary scary pictures.
Marcus follows some possible leads alone. He visits his friend, alcoholic fellow pianist Carlo (Gabriele Lava) and his lover Massimo (Geraldine Hooper, playing a man). Marcus also meets Carlo’s eccentric mother, ex-actress Marta (Clara Calamai). A series of clues lead Marcus to a mysterious book and a mysterious mansion. Can Marcus and Gianna discover the killer’s identity before the killer commits another murder?
Friday the 13th explicitly sells the film as compendium of thirteen bizarre and bloody murders.
Deep Red features frequent sequences of first person “Killer POV,” a subjective camera, and long forward tracking shots, all used by the filmmakers to hide the murderer’s real identity. Carpenter later perfected this trope with his groundbreaking use of the Steadicam in Halloween. One of the many pleasures of Deep Red is its intriguing, convoluted “who-dunnit” structure, which many 1980s slasher films later adopted as well. (Combine these two tropes for the most archetypal shot of ’80s horror: long subjective camera tracks over to JOHN. JOHN looks up and exclaims, “Oh, hi! What are YOU doing here? I never expected to see YOU out here!” STABBING NOISE, STABBING NOISE, AND SCREAMING) Trying to guess the killer is a fun game that teenage viewers played between bloody, explicit murder scenes. The revelation of the killer’s identity in the original Friday the 13th seems particularly indebted to Deep Red.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, he introduces us to Mario Adorf as crazy, cat-eating painter Berto Consalvi; Cat O’ Nine Tails features a character named GiGi the Loser (Ugo Fangareggi) who is specific, endearing, and funny. In Deep Red, the eccentric weirdo chores fall to Clara Calamai as Marta, a once-famous actress in the mold of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. One of the minor pleasures of Argento’s films is to see what rich inner lives many of his secondary characters seem to have. In Deep Red, Argento even finds a way of making this eccentricity integral to the plot.
In his insightful video essay included on the new Arrow disc, Michael Mackenzie suggests that giallo horror films and classic movie musicals are very similar. Their core audiences are not so much interested in plot, but rather in the elaborately staged set pieces for which the plot is only a pretext. This insight might make it easier for the casual viewer to weather the tedious plot contrivances and padding of the average giallo; it really made me look at these films in a different way. Mackenzie also discusses Argento’s magnificent use of shot composition, camera movement, and locations to craft his films, as well as Argento’s then progressive take on sexual attitudes and gender roles. Giallo’s archetypal “impotent male” protagonist is on full display in Deep Red; by the film’s end, we are left wondering how David Hemmings can even tie his own shoes without assistance.
OFFICIAL DEEP RED THRILL-O-METER READING: 100%
(Argento does a masterful job of keeping Marcus in harm’s way for the entire film. Deep Red is the secret blueprint for most American horror films made between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street.)
(All the shots of kiddie toys and crayon drawings are beyond creepy. Just look at that drawing on the wall!)
(Ingenious and explicit murders, served with a side order of loud prog-rock.)