Review: Deep Red (Blu-ray)

2012/03/19 15:27:33 +00:00 | Derek Botelho

Poor David Hemmings. First, Michelangelo Antonioni puts him through the wringer in the ultra stylish giallo, Blow Up (1966), and then Dario Argento gets the idea to cast him in a reworking of Blow Up in 1975, with Deep Red. This guy can’t go anywhere without being thrown into a murder mystery, and thus risking his life at every turn.

In Deep Red, Hemmings plays Marcus Daily, a British pianist working in Italy. One night he witnesses the murder of his neighbor Helga (Macha Meril), a renowned psychic, in their apartment building. While being interrogated by the police he meets Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), a plucky journalist who quickly ropes Marcus into investigating the murder with her.

Daria Nicolodi and David Hemmings’ relationship is reminiscent of a 1940’s comedy starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. In a memorable sequence where the two are in Gianna’s car, she is driving, while the passenger seat falls down under his weight, and the visor falls down. If that weren’t enough, she berates him for locking the door because it’s broken and now they will have to climb out the sunroof. And in another scene they have an arm wrestling match in a battle of the sexes, which he loses and accuses her of cheating. And well, so what if she did? He just has to win! Because God knows he can’t lose at something so “male” to a woman. These scenes really help develop the budding romance between the two with a tenderness that isn’t common to this type of film.

The duo of detectives has several truly strange characters to help tell the story. Marcus’ best friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), a fellow musician, is there when Helga is murdered. Carlos’ oddball mother Marta (Carla Calamai) lends some comedic relief to the proceedings with her insistence that Marcus is an “engineer/pianist”. My favorite supporting character is a creepy little girl (Nicoletta Elmi), who takes Marcus to a pivotal location in the mystery.

Hemmings and Nicolodi have wonderful chemistry together and their performances really shine because of the visible onscreen camaraderie. Argento has often been accused of not caring about his actors’ performances, but if that were true, these performances would not be in the film. Gabriele Lavia, known mainly for his stage work, also gives a very strong performance as Marcus’ long suffering best friend.

Argento’s ever-roving camera floats around his characters, and in and out of rooms to create a swirling vacuum of tension that brings the audience into the world he has created. His design goes far beyond the visual, as what the audience hears is just as important as what they are watching. The score by Italian rock band Goblin and Giorgio Gaslini revolutionized the way films are scored. Taking cues from Morricone’s modern jazz and experimental film music, the progressive rock group create a sensational experience with their uniquely enervating soundscape that puts the audience in a fragile state. Often the music clashes harshly with the visual, but that is one of its strengths.

As the duo puts the clues together to track down the killer, naturally many victims will fall by the way. Part of Argento’s genius is his ability to film a murder in a way that keeps you watching in anticipation of what strange, beautiful thing will happen. Argento straddles the thriller and horror genres gracefully and laid down a lot of groundwork for filmmakers to come. John Carpenter and Brian DePalma both owe a debt to Argento’s work. As with any great artist, it’s not what you do, but how you do it that matters.

Blue Underground has done a fantastic job of presenting Deep Red on Blu-ray. Visually, this is a very strong film, and the natural, film-like image does justice to Argento and his cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller’s powerful compositions. The detail level is shocking compared to the DVD Anchor Bay released a decade ago now. The disc handles the shadows and colors well, which is nice for a cult title of this vintage. The disc offers the longer Italian print of the film that runs 126 minutes as well as the shorter “international” cut, which runs 105 minutes. The Italian version can be watched dubbed into English with portions that were never dubbed into English reverting to the Italian track with English subtitles. Or if you prefer the shorter cut, that can be watched in either language in its entirety.

The audio in either language is clear, with Goblin and Giorgio Gaslini’s score pounding away so turn it up! The English and Italian post dubbed vocal tracks are a little thin, but this is most likely due to the limitations of the original recordings more than anything BU has or hasn’t done. The disc offers DTS 7.1, Dolby Digital Surround EX, and the original mono tracks in both languages. Spanish subtitles are also included.

I was hoping Blue Underground would have hooked up with Red Shirt Pictures or another outfit of equal reputation to produce some kind of retrospective documentary, but sadly that is not the case. There are however a few nice things here. Interviews with Dario Argento, co-writer Bernardo Zapponi and the rock group Goblin give a nice bit of background on the project. There are two music videos for the main theme of the film. One is performed by Goblin, and the other with Claudio Simonetti’s newer band Daemonia. They are both fairly cheesy, but fun. Lastly, a few trailers for the film wrap up the package.

Possibly the greatest giallo to ever come out of Italy, Dario Argento’s 1975 masterpiece Profondo Rosso/Deep Red is a spellbinding film that constantly challenges the audience to play detective right alongside Hemmings and Nicolodi. There is great fun to be had in trying to solve the mystery. The film is a treat for lovers of Italian horror, murder mysteries, or those looking for their first Argento film. A solid recommendation!

Film Score: 4.5/5 Disc Score: 4/5