The last time I had the pleasure of watching Deep Red was just under a year ago at The Barbican with Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin providing a live soundtrack to the film http://tinyurl.com/mvja6zc You are never going to quite create an experience like that at home. However you are not going to ever get to see it better than you will via Arrow’s spanking new 4K transfer either. If you want the blood to literally run off the screen in all its vivid glory this is the version to get. Perhaps I should say 2 versions as it is presented here in its original 127 minute cut as well as a shorter export version running at 105. We have had various releases here over the years stemming right back to its 1st appearance via Fletcher Video in 1982 through to my first fondly acquired tape via Redemption. Of course Arrow have released it themselves in the past but I was glad I had not bought it previously and was quick off the mark to grab one of these new 3 disc limited editions. Naturally they sold out and were effectively out of print prior to the release date. Predictably there were 50 or so copies doing brisk trade at inflated prices via scalpers on a well-known auction site within a day of my set arriving.
Dario Argento had a big hit on his hands with debut feature The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) his Hitchcockian flavoured murder mystery putting his name well and truly on the map. This was to be the first of a trilogy of films with ‘animal’ titles and paved the way for a massive boom of giallo films based on the lurid yellow coloured crime books sold in Italy that they took their name from. Many would consider Deep Red as his first true masterpiece though. Made in 1975 and also known in Italy as ‘Profondo Rosso’ and in America where they seem to need things spelt out to them ‘The Hatchet Murders’it is a twisty turning movie that really is a delirious viewing experience. We are thrown into a seminar by a clairvoyant who senses the scent of death from one of her audience members. The setting of red curtained stage immediately and luridly jumps off the screen at you and is one of many marvellous uses of colour in line with the film’s title. The on stage lighting stops her seeing who the killer is but they are taking no chances and gruesomely kill her in a remarkable set-piece once she returns to her fantastical arty apartment. Catching sight of her grizzly demise from the town square below is musician Marcus Daly (characteristic English actor David Hemmings). The police are called in and Hemmings photographed by reporter Gianni Brezzi (the future Mrs Argento Daria Nicolodi) and making front page news, sets himself up as in a cat and mouse game of survival with the killer. Then the bodies mount up and the blood really starts to flow.
There are a huge amount of things that really help to capture the imagination and drive the narrative and atmospheres of the film along. The first is the somewhat comedic interplay between the two main characters who feed off each other like a long married couple, naturally falling for each other along the way as they sleuth it out. The path they take leads them through all sorts of settings and sinister situations. They explore strange houses, crumbling old edifices and are beset along the way by images of hanging dolls, macabre nursery rhymes and childhood terror. There are hidden rooms to be discovered, black clad PVC trench-coat wearing killers flexing hatchets, mad puppets, sadistic children, mysterious animals and plenty of horrifying murders. The soundtrack is integral and really adds to the action with some central themes, a plodding synth and bass heavy number as our detectives are stalked through dark corridors, jagged frenetic psychedelic attacks, some jazz parts, jarring slashes and a killer nursery (c)rhyme that once heard will never be forgotten, all spurring on the action and heightening the tension. There are in effect only really 7 main themes musically but these were expanded into an overall 28 track CD release and the good news is that this makes up the 3rd disc of Arrow’s excellent package. No matter how many times I have seen Deep Red and it has been a lot over the years it really stands up to repeated viewings, you have little chance of taking it all in on first sitting and will notice new things every time. It really is a fantastic film in every sense of the word and has aged remarkably well.
Extra time kicks off with a visual appreciation essay on the film courtesy of Michael Mackenzie. Putting things in context with the Argento oeuvre which is something that Mackenzie is obviously well versed in he has much praise for this ‘giallo of gialli’ and gives an in depth analysis of the film. Certain things I had not considered before make it all the more intriguing and clever such as the homage to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting, one look at which will more than illustrate just how crafty the director was at his craft. I do totally agree with the fact that Argento at his prime delivered a cinematic experience like no other and this helps explain why these films have such longevity (Deep Red has just surpassed its 40th anniversary) and why they stand up to be watched again and again. There’s heavy analytical discussion on gender and sexuality, main motifs of Argento’s films. These are themes many have spoken and written about in the past and it’s always interesting to have the director put under a psychiatric spotlight. Another thing I had never considered is that in full form Deep Red is the longest of all the gialli but thinking about it, most don’t stretch beyond an hour and ¾ running time on the whole. I certainly can’t see myself ever bothering to view the shorter export version of the film and if as I am sure I did in the past it is only due to having had no choice but to do so.
A rather glum looking Argento has an interview segment next and it certainly strikes that answering a question about which of his films he admires nothing past The Stendhal Syndrome is mentioned. The inspiration and where exactly he was coming from thematically with Deep Red is laid bare but that’s not something to be discussed here spoiler wise. It was a little odd seeing clips of the film here in English after being much more used to watching them in Italian. The Brassy Miss Brezzi, Daria Nicolodi is next in the quizzing chair and describes the film as ‘wonderful and mercurial.’ It’s not surprising that she likes it more than later films as her relationship with the director was just starting out and not fragmenting and she had a strong and natural characterisation here. It sounds like she added some cultural touches and artistry to the look of the picture too and we get a bit of an insight into actor Hemmings and what was going on with him at the time of the filming She has a few eye opening things to say about her former husband (although nothing too surprising), perhaps there was a reason he was looking a bit glum in his part. Third in the hot seat is Claudio Simonetti discussing the fantastic score. Dario had already completed the film and looking for a heavy rock band was introduced to Goblin and heard them in the studio stemming the way to a very long lasting collaboration. I doubt anyone will disagree with his choice either and it was a fortuitous meeting of minds which synchronised his visual image with their strong atmospheric audio approach. The Profondo Rosso soundtrack sold a million copies in its first month so it certainly paved the way for their career and again is still doing so today. I still can’t really get my head around the idea of Profondo Rosso The Musical though, I guess seeing it is the only way for that to make sense. All 3 of the interviewees are quizzed about a possible 3D remake of the film, obviously an idea going around at the time. Dario says he knows nothing about it, the others are obviously hesitant of the whole idea and apparently it is one that has not progressed; something I suspect we can all breathe a sigh of relief about.
If you have been to Rome no doubt you are aware that Argento and Luigi Cozzi have a shop there called Profondo Rosso. For those of us that have not visited we get a guided tour hosted by Cozzi as the last segment here. It looks like a real treasure trove of fandom and any collector going there is no doubt going to come out in debt with the bank! We are taken down some foreboding stairs to a lair housing a museum too with props from films such as Demons and Phenomena. As a tourist I’m not sure if this would be first on the list of visits before the Colosseum even! Apart from everything already mentioned this special box set comes with commentary track, Italian trailer, 6 art cards, a large double sided poster and a booklet with new and archive writing on the film. But I am teasing a bit as if you haven’t got it already or are not prepared to pay a premium you are out of luck and will have to keep fingers crossed that Arrow at least release the 4K films as a stand alone product without all the trimmings. Final word has to go to the new cover art, although I’m a bit of a stickler for original images true to the film it certainly is striking and adds a great new vision to the lurid excesses of the movie.