Thursday, May 7, 2015
A psychic named Helga Ullman (Macha Meril) is attending a conference when she picks up evil thoughts from someone in the audience. "You have killed before, and you will kill again." Helga's prediction is right on the money because Helga is butchered with a meat cleaver by an unknown person that very night. British pianist/teacher Marcus (David Hemmings of Unman, Wittering and Zigo), a neighbor of Helga's, witnesses the murder but only from a distance. Marcus and a brash lady reporter named Gianna (Daria Nicolodi of Phenomena) investigate the killing, making you wonder what the heck the briefly-seen police are doing. As Marcus and Gianni pursue various leads, there are more killings of anyone who has any connection to this case, as well as a long-ago rumored death in a spooky old mansion. Marcus thinks he's uncovered the killer but may be tragically mistaken ... Deep Red, arguably Argento's best picture, is a gruesome shocker which has an emphasis on violent death but also boasts a fascinating and twisty plot line. The main strength of the film is its almost consistent eeriness, with menace threatening in everyday places like someone's supposedly safe home or study as well as more esoteric locations. The murder sequences are always tense and suspenseful and, in their own way, scary, and there's quite a bit of inventive business as well [such as a scene when one victim writes a clue in steam on the bathroom wall only to have the window open and fresh air come in, obliterating the evidence]. A highly sinister children's song that figures in the action is described by one character as "a leitmotif of the crimes." Deep Red is cinematic but occasionally clumsy and sometimes over the top, such as a death scene involving a truck and the truly grotesque finale. Once everything is figured out you might wonder if everything really adds up, but it's such a fun, if disturbing, ride that if you are an Argento fan you probably won't care. Hemmings gives a good performance as Marcus, although Nicolodi's character, while admirably feisty when it comes to misogynous attitudes, is somewhat caricatured in that brave if callous "Lois Lane" fashion. Marcus' friend, Carlo (Gabreiele Lavia), another musician, turns out to be a drunken, self-hating homosexual, and his boyfriend, Massimo Ricci, is not only a laughably outrageous caricature, but is even played by a woman (Geraldine Cooper) with a eyebrow-pencil mustache! Lavia gives a good performance, however, as does Clara Calamai as Carlo's mother, Marta. The settings in the film are of special note, and always chosen for maximum creepiness. Argento has made his share of bad movies since Deep Red, but some of his later films are also effective, such as Sleepless and Trauma.
Verdict: One of the very best Italian giallo films with many outstanding sequences. ***1/2.