Dario Argento's 'Deep Red' owes a great deal to Alfred Hitchcock. In truth, the Italian thriller plays much like any number in the influential director's films, yet works wonderfully as something wholly original.
A stranger incidentally stumbles onto a murder mystery which endangers his life, but he feels compelled to solve nonetheless. Major characters — those serving as possible suspects — are introduced early. This includes one beautiful woman which we soon question as the likely killer. Whether she has any connection to the murder is part of the fun, and like a Hitchcock classic, the main protagonist never suspects her. But we can most definitely build the case as the story unfolds.
In fact, the relationship that develops between these two charms with the sort of spat and romantic tête à tête we'd expect from a film decades earlier. Not something we normally see in an Argento picture — a fun, comical script, I mean. Our amateur super sleuth is a British jazz musician living in Italy, named Marcus Daly (David Hemmings of Michelangelo Antonioni's 'Blowup'). He witnesses the murder of a well-known medium (Macha Meril) while talking to his friend, Carlo (Gabriele Lavia). After being questioned by a hot-tempered, always-hungry police investigator (Eros Pagni), Daly meets local reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, mother of Asia Argento and co-writer of 'Suspiria'). And thus begins a lively little affair that adds humor to an otherwise standard giallo flick.
It may seem like I'm going off on a tangent, here, but really, I'm not. Part of the film's value comes from watching a happenstance fling which feels reminiscent of a classic noir blossom amid a grisly murder. The mystery is engaging enough and intriguing, offering plenty of good chills. But outside the shocking final reveal — one of the movie's hairier moments — the plot is a run-of-the-mill whodunit plot. Thanks to the cheerful performances of Hemmings and Nicolodi, the off-the-wall chemistry of the two characters keeps the story from sounding its own death knell. He can be a short-sighted twit about women, but her spitfire demeanor will soon change his ideas. The film proudly — and subtly — displays its classic influences in elegant style without being overt or blatant.
What makes 'Deep Red' stand out as more than a simple Hitchcockian celebration — or a typical bloody giallo — is Dario Argento's direction. Obviously. He gives the film an elegant and refined style while also brandishing his usual graphic acts of violence. There's a kind of artistry to his technique and the way he builds tension by letting the camera take its time and linger, allowing audiences to sit in an air of silence and gaze at the lovely production design. The scene with Daly and Carlo in the square shows a bar stylized after Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and a little later, Daly walks down a long hallway filled with creepy paintings of dead faces. It's all part of a sluggish, apprehensive pace, accentuated by the unorthodox sounds of the experimental rock group Goblin.
'Deep Red' is, and will be, remembered for being one of Dario Argento's best efforts — a masterwork, in fact, of suspense and mystery which can stand proudly as a primer of the giallo subgenre. Furnished with an elaborate, hypnotic style and an amusing chemistry between the two leads, this taut, beautifully-crafted thriller is a subtle celebration of the filmmaker's influences. Of course, to really enjoy the finer aspects of this classic horror film, one must watch the full-length, uncensored Italian version. The U.S. release sadly removes over twenty minutes of footage, from a few bits of graphic violence to the romantic banter of Marcus Daly and Gianna Brezzi which seems essential to the movie's enjoyment. It's a must-watch for fans of the genre — a terrific precursor to the genius of 'Suspiria.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Blue Underground brings Dario Argento's 'Deep Red' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside the normal blue keepcase. Both English and Italian versions (a 22 minute difference of graphic violence and plot development) are included on the same disc via seamless branch. At start-up, viewers are asked which version they prefer before being greeted by the standard menu option.
Previous DVD releases of Argento's 'Deep Red' were fairly good, but nothing of real high caliber. This new 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1), on the other hand, is a vast improvement, easily surpassing prior efforts.
Fine object detailing is a clear upgrade with sharply defined lines in the unusual architecture and distinct, visible textures in clothing, hair and faces during close-ups. Primaries are vivid and richly saturated, especially reds, while the other softer hues are rendered colorfully, maintaining the movie's cool 70s feel. Contrast is comfortably bright and crisp, and blacks are often inky deep and intense without overwhelming shadow details. The image also comes with a very thin layer of film grain that's consistent and even from beginning to end.
The only notable issues are a few instances of minor crush during scenes with poor lighting, but it's not a terrible distraction. Still, the high-def transfer is quite attractive and a great upgrade for Argento devotees.
Blue Underground has been kind enough to include several audio options in both English and Italian. Although the original mono track has been included, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was selected for the bulk of this review.
Thankfully, the engineers have done a tremendous job with the film's design elements. Goblin's dark but groovy music, in particular, offers an immersive experience that's enthralling and utterly captivating as it spreads nicely into the rears. Dynamic range during these moments maintains amazing clarity and definition, especially when the bass guitar plays a prominent role. The low end commands a dramatic and authoritative presence, providing the score with a great deal of weight and power. The rest of the soundstage displays good channel separation with fluid movement and excellent, precise dialogue in the center of the screen.
This is a terrific lossless mix made from a monaural audio track.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Deep Red,' Blue Underground repeats many of the same supplements found on previous DVD releases.
Considered a masterpiece of the giallo subgenre, 'Deep Red' is a beautifully-crafted and stylized suspense thriller. With a pair of amusing leads who are reminiscent of a classic Hollywood romance. The taut murder mystery is an engaging and memorable experience from the highly-regarded Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. The Blu-ray comes with an excellent audio and video presentation, but a disappointingly small collection of supplements. However, it does come with two versions of the movie, which is fantastic! Fans of the genre and of Argento are likely to purchase, but everyone else is recommended to give this classic thriller a watch.