Monday, April 27, 2009

Deep Red (1975)

Hey, remember when Jason Bateman talked about Dario Argento before turning into a total scheezoid lamewad in Juno? He was talking about this guy! It's 1975's own Deep Red (aka Deep Red Hatchet Murders)!

Maybe you've heard of Argento, who made Suspiria and Phenemona, and is sometimes called a "master of Giallo." At the time, Giallo was a big deal in Italy, combining elements of psychological horror and grotesque ultra-violence. The name comes from the yellow covers Italian booksellers would put on pulp novels. If you want to see a bunch of Psycho-like psychological thrillers with bad Italian dubs, watch Giallo!

David Hemmings: Man's Man

David Hemmings (Barbarella's own Dildano) makes his grand return to YSM, this time as a jazz pianist and music teacher named Marcus Daly. He witnesses the murder of a psychic living in his building, and like any intrepid foreigner, proceeds to enter the psychic's apartment to look around for clues and stuff, not bothering to wait for the killer to leave the scene. Daly witnesses the killer making their escape, which leads to a meeting with the police and the incredibly annoying Gianna Brezzi, a 1970s style feminist reporter played by Daria Nicolodi, the director's longtime girlfriend and collaborator. The reporter prints a full-headshot of Hemmings in the morning paper along with a headline that reads like "Jazz Pianist witnesses murder! He lives alone! Here is his picture and address!"

Since his life is already endangered, Daly decides to investigate this mystery, tracking down a mysterious house with a sinister reputation. Unfortunately, one of his primary leads goes cold (get it?) when the writer of the book he checked out gets murdered in an incredibly gruesome way just before he shows up. Technically she gets red hot as she's scalded in a bathtub. Daly enters the house, and makes sure to put his prints everywhere before finding the body, and smartly doesn't call the cops.

Finally he finds the house he's been looking for, an incredibly creepy turn of the century style art nouveau manor house. The plot thickens, lives are endangered, a walled up room inside the house is revealed, a crazy twist occurs and somebody loses their head before having it splattered by a garbage truck. Then, just when you're ready to relax and go back to your homes and places of business, Argento pulls off the rare "double twist," and remarkably, it makes sense! Hemmings goes back to the psychic's apartment to discover the real killer, they fight, and the killer's jewelry gets caught on an old-timey elevator that somehow slices open their neck. Why don't people in horror films have spines? Daly looks down at the pool of blood, thinking "Man, that is a DEEP RED."

This early shot makes zero sense until almost the very end.

In the tradition of Barbarella, Deep Red is actually a great movie that happens to be incredibly campy. Argento has a great eye, and combined with his occasional incompetence at storytelling, is basically the creepy Italian Brian de Palma. The individual murder scenes are over-the-top and theatrical, but also genuinely scary, thanks in no small part to the music. Deep Red was Argento's first team-up with Goblin, a progressive rock band that would go on to work on Suspiria and Tenebre.

Goblin's music rocks, and the main theme from Deep Red was almost completely stolen by John Carpenter's Halloween a year later. The use of children's music, plus progressive Italian horror rock is ten kinds of awesome. Occasionally the synth rock does get annoying, particularly in a suspenseful scene where Hemmings hangs off a building while the synthesizer rocks out on auto-pilot. Other than a couple of scenes of baffling composition, the suspense is spot on. Argento shows you several key clues early in the film that are easy to miss, and then spends much of the rest of the movie making sense of what we've seen. In Deep Red, Daly obsesses over a picture that appears to have disappeared after the murder, but did he really see what he thinks he saw?

This is a major spoiler. It'll only make sense if you watch it.

For those coming for camp (and blood), there's plenty of both. A psychiatrist straight out of Psycho shows up to explain the children's music and talks about psychic energy (obviously something Argento cares about, considering Phenemona featured Jennifer Connelly using psychic energy to talk to bugs), and he's a total boor. Nicolodi is an incredibly annoying actress, and her bluster is incredibly grating, especially since she's supposed to be the love interest. I like when she challenges the pasty, sad-eyed Hemmings to an arm-wrestling match.

The special effects are really obviously done, featuring gore aplenty: blood, boneless victims, painful scalding, and all that other stuff you love from cheap horror shows up here. My favorite is the close-up to the knife, cut to the knife slicing through something incredibly thin, then back to a puppet with a sliced throat. Movie magic! Argento also loves to have incredibly bizarre, nonsensical imagery. Birds get stabbed! Puppets appear with zero explanation! Two dogs fighting is used as a transition, and is never explained or mentioned again!

I got nothin'.

Also worth noting is that it's apparently impossible to get a good English translation. The film was butchered in editing, so on the DVD, the language will go from people speaking English to people speaking Italian dubbed into English to people speaking Italian with English subtitles. It's inconsistent and initially annoying, but the story is seriously good enough that it takes you a moment to realize the change.

What to Drink:


Arbitrary Ranking System:

5 gruesome murders out of 5

Memorable Quotes:

Gianna: Come on, Tarzan. Why don't you try me?
Marc: What's that?
Gianna: Indian wrestling.

Carlo: Look, maybe you've seen something so important you can't realize it.
Marc: But... I'm just trying to understand, because...
Carlo: You know, sometimes what you actually see and what you imagine... get mixed up in your memory like a cocktail... from which you can no longer distinguish one flavor from another.
Marc: But I'm telling you the truth!
Carlo: No Marc. You think you're telling the truth, but in fact... you're telling only your version of the truth. It happens to me all the time.

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