In exactly one week today, horror fans from across the globe will be gathering in one place, and that location is the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square for the 13th Annual FrightFest film festival. In the spirit of the event we take another look at the films of this year’s honoured guest, Dario Argento.
Having already covered Tenebrae, the director’s meta-dissection of the sub-genre he helped create, I take the time to look at my personal Argento favourite, Deep Red, aka Profondo Rosso
After lighting up the genre with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage back in 1970, Argento completed his so-called ‘Animal’ trilogy with Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet and it seemed everything was going well for the director, with all three performing well at the box office. It wasn’t until his first venture outside of horror, more specifically giallo, that he tasted failure. His 1973 comedy The Five Days of Milan was not received well by either critics or the public, so wanting to find his feet again he returned to the genre that made him a star director.
And so Deep Red was born, the film that would make Argento an internationally respected talent and the catalyst for his career-defining era as a great horror filmmaker. The story of Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), a pianist who witnesses the murder of a famous psychic, he becomes obsessed that he missed something important when arriving at the scene of the crime. Alongside reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), they begin to unravel secret after secret as they get closer to finding the identity of the killer.
A true Hitchcockian nightmare, Deep Red’s dream-like thriller narrative impacts as a psychological horror much more effectively than any of the surface scares that Argento is able to construct. It imbeds itself within your mind and disorientates, exposing an audience’s hidden primitive fears. The repetitive use of the colour red constantly batters your eyes, whether it’s the opening curtains or Marcus staring at his reflection is a pool of blood; it’s an obsessive tool suggesting that danger and violence could be right around the corner.
The heavy influence of Hitchock is clear, as well as that of Antonioni’s Blow-Up (not only because of Hemmings’ involvement), with the lead character’s arc being rather similar. However, what I love about this is how these mainstream/classic film influences are spiced up with the flair of Argento. The ultra-violence, the production design and – dare I say it – mise-en-scene is just beautifully orchestrated from the first frame. Therefore, even though he does take these elements from other movies, Argento makes it still feel wholly original.
Another interesting and important aspect to Deep Red, which Ian also brushed on in his Tenebrae article, is the idea of Argento as a misogynist. Whereas in Tenebrae, Argento acknowledged that this was the way some people saw him, in Deep Red I think he debunks any arguments one would have about the director and misogyny. The farcical nature of Marcus when he exclaims ‘Oh don’t get me started on the woman stuff, they’re just weaker’ and then proceeds to get beaten in an arm wrestle by Gianna. The hilarity of the inclusion of that scene, for me, completely puts to bed any idea of Argento being a misogynist, as he represents it as a trait of stupidity of Marcus than anything else.
The film was also the director’s first collaboration with Italian progrock band Goblin, a connection that would continue over years to come, and although the final outcome is maybe not as memorable as their work on Suspiria or Tenebrae, it works perfectly for Deep Red. From the first chords of the child’s nursery rhyme at the beginning, the collaboration was able to add a different quality to the horror that was not really known previously. To add urgency rather than terror into his more chilling scenes, it takes a little getting used to but only adds to the nightmarish quality of the film.
You could really go on go on about Deep Red, my personal favourite of Argento’s incredible body of work. It not only battles for one of the best giallo films ever made, but horror as a whole. Insanely gorgeous, nail-bitingly horrific and gloriously violent – just the way I like my Argento.