Dario Argento, Italy’s maestro of the macabre, and his visually-arresting, visceral “Deep Red”

By on May 23, 2018

Italy’s maestro of the macabre, Dario Argento, really hit his stride as a filmmaker with his fifth film and the ultimate giallo, 1975’s Profondo Rosso — an edited version was released in the U.S. as Deep Red — a visually-arresting, visceral experience that true horror film cinéphiles will not soon forget.

Watch Deep Red — beautifully restored to its glorious original cut by our friends at Arrow Video (check out the rest of our collection!) — on Night Flight Plus!

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The plot of Deep Red follows British jazz pianist and music teacher “Marcus ‘Marc’ Daly” (David Hemmings), living in Rome, who one night looks up from the street below and witnesses a renowned local psychic, “Helga Ulmann” — played by French actress Macha Méril, star of Jean-Luc Godard’s Une femme mariée (A Married Woman) — being brutally killed in her apartment.

He rushes to the scene, and manages to catch only a fleeting glimpse of the person responsible for the savage crime… or does he?

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Afterwards, Marcus can’t remember what he saw, but he believes if he can only see his way through his foggy memory with clarity, he’ll be able to unveil the true identity of the killer to the police.

Daly ends up becoming an amateur sleuth — with the help of a feisty female newspaper reporter “Gianna” (Daria Nicolodi, who became Argento’s partner and muse thereafter, co-writer of Argento’s supernatural-tinged Suspiria), his best friend “Carlo” (Gabriele Lavia) and “Professor Giordani” (Glauco Mauri), an academic psychologist — tracking his way through a twisted trail of mind-warping clues.

Daly and his radiant heroine sidekick Gianna soon finds themselves trapped in a bizarre web of additional murders — the victims all share a connection with a mysterious abandoned Italian villa, called “the House of the Screaming Child” — and as the film’s mysteries unfold, they reveal that nothing is quite what it seems.

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Deep Red‘s shocking freeze-frame climax — not to mention its incredible throbbing, funk-goth synth-heavy score by frequent Argento collaborators Goblin (Argento had originally approached Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack music, but they’d declined) and composer Giorgio Gaslini — all contribute towards making Deep Red a hallucination-drenched fever dream that many cineastes consider Argento’s true masterpiece, or it is certainly one of his greatest films alongside Suspiria.

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Read more about Dario Argento’s Deep Red below.

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Dario Argento — born in September 1940 in Rome, Italy — spent long hours in bed as a child due to illness.

As a result he became an avid reader, and a devoted fan of Edgar Allan Poe‘s vividly morbid writing in particular, which inspired Argento’s lifelong interest in the macabre.

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After first working as a screenwriter, Argento turned to directing with his first giallos, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and giallo classic The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971).

From then on, his films were often psychological Freudian-enriched mysteries drenched in symbolic color (particularly blood red hues),  disturbing and unsettling childhood imagery, weird hallucinatory voyeuristic scenes and, of course, traumatic acts of violence.

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Argento came up with the idea for Deep Red while exiled at his father Salvatore’s old house in the Italian countryside.

The rural solace gave him restless nights of little sleep, and he was plagued by nightmares.

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After returning to Rome, he finished the screenplay for Deep Red with his co-writer Bernardino Zapponi, a longtime collaborator of Federico Fellini.

Deep Red was filmed over sixteen weeks in Turin, beginning in September of 1974 (Argento has claimed that Turin is home to the largest number of practicing Satanists living in Europe).

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Deep Red was Argento’s fourth giallo film, the sub-genre of horror (nicknamed “Spaghetti horrors”) which takes its name from the Italian word for “yellow.”

These horror films previously been associated with the pulp paperback detective stories and thrillers, popular in Italy’s post-fascist era, which had eye-dazzling bright yellow covers.

(Read more about giallo here, and watch the documentary Hanging Shadows: Perspectives on Italian Horror Cinema on Night Flight Plus).

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Argento’s Hitchcockian camerawork is particularly exceptional here, prowling towards its prey in the dark and showing us the killer’s POV instead of that of the victim.

This film forever changed the way audiences looked at crime films, making them visual participants in the killing instead of passive victim/viewers, allying them with the perpetrator — often the killers had heavy psychological issues to deal with and/or weird fetishes — and not the detective who remains on the “outside.”

Argento also liked to focus on terrifying objects like puppets, sharp knives and black leather gloves, all shot in extreme close-up (ECU) angles that were captured with a special Snorkel camera originally designed for endoscopic exploration.

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Giallo films (plural: gialli) were hugely influential on American “slasher” films in the 1980s, which merged the murder mystery with the splashier, bloodier elements of horror fiction and sexy eroticism.

Deep Red — also released as The Hatchet Murders and in Japan it’s called Suspiria 2, despite having been made before Suspiria — and Argento’s earlier gialli had a huge influence on movies like Bob Clarke’s 1974 horror classic Black Christmas, which owes a great deal of debt to Argento, with its lurid lighting, stalking camera and close-ups of eyeballs.

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Director John Carpenter has also claimed his 1978 film Halloween — considered the seminal slasher film — was a direct homage to Argento’s films, and he’s said he got the idea of having a female victim alone in a house with her killer coming into frame behind her from Deep Red.

Watch Deep Red — and Argento’s 1971 giallo classic The Cat O’ Nine Tails — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.