Deep Red: Blueprint for Giallo
Dir. Dario Argento (1975)
A black-gloved killer kills a psychic and a piano teacher must discover the killer’s identity while trying to survive.
Argento is the master of Italian horror, and that’s a huge role considering the legendary status of Italian horror films. Most Italian horror movies fall within two categories: giallo and gore. I’ll make a Top 10 Giallo list shortly where I break down a bit more of what encompasses a giallo, but if you want a quick tutorial, just watch Deep Red. It’s filled with the tropes of the genre: a black-gloved killer, a crime-centered storyline, parts of the movie that is seen through the eyes of the killer, and it’s Italian! And it’s Argento! Literally all of the best Giallo features all in one film. The one Giallo feature that is left out is the best one to leave out: the massively unfocused storyline that meanders into meaningless at times during the film. Deep Red does not have that, and its conglomeration of the good features while leaving the bad one behind make it the best Giallo of all time.
The movie literally opens with someone being stabbed to death in the shadows, setting the stage for the numerous murders to come. Flash to present day and we see a psychic showing off her powers by reading people’s minds in an auditorium. She then says that one of the people in the audience has murder in their mind, and that they’ve killed before and they will kill again! Not something you usually want to hear from a psychic, but thankfully she doesn’t make any more predictions as she’s quickly dispatched by a meat cleaver and by being shoved headfirst through a window.
The film is very progressive while at the same time being very regressive. It openly discusses homosexuality and transgenderism, while also containing disturbing conversations about sexual assault that aren’t necessary at all to the plot and committing supposed real acts of animal cruelty by sticking a pin through a live lizard. Argento has denied this claim in the past, but uh… yeah, he totally stuck a pin through a live lizard. Ain’t no way that’s fake, and it’s an unfortunate choice that is more a sign of the times than anything else, but it’s sort of a throwaway red herring that is wildly unnecessary because it causes the suffering of an actual creature. The film also drags at time, especially during the periods in which Marcus, the piano teacher, investigates the old house, which seems to take forever. Thankfully, the film is scored, as usual, by Goblin, and there is a particularly nifty riff playing throughout his house investigation. Hot top: If you fast forward the house investigation at 1.5 speed, where it still plays the sound (as I accidentally did), that Goblin track is a fucking banger.
This, uh… this really tanks the resale value, doesn’t it?
Now, here is the unfortunate hot take that I feel is going to lose me a lot of readers: The Goblin score is iconic, as it always is, but… I’ve always felt that it takes away a lot from the scare factor in Argento’s work. It makes the film less horror-based than it perhaps should be, and if Argento had used more traditional horror scores his films could have been a lot more applicable to the current generation of horror fans than they are. I know its sacrilege to criticize Goblin in an Argento review, and I’m sorry, but I just think it doesn’t usually fit the feel of the film as perhaps it should.
All that aside, the film is filled with Argento-isms: the bright color palette, the creepy atmosphere, delightfully dated gore and sweeping camera movements. That is to say nothing of Goblins synth-o-riffic 70’s soundtrack. Argento believes that red is the color of fear, and, like in Suspiria, he fills the film with it as often as he can. He also uses small little comedy bits throughout the film which help to lighten the mood and keep the audience engaged. He kills people in this film in ways that he thinks the audience can relate to, thus increasing their fear of the torment of the characters: he burns them in scalding water, he hits their bodies against furniture, and he… hits them with meat cleavers. I mean, they can’t all be relatable, it’s a slasher flick after all. He closes the film with arguably his best twist ending, because Argento does Shyamalan better than Shyamalan ever could.
Plus, there’s whatever the fuck this thing is.
Who the movie is for: Classic horror fans; Giallo enthusiasts; People who want to see the best Giallo film ever made
Bottom line: This film is an all-timer, and the best Giallo ever made. I know I’ve said that numerous times throughout the review, but it bears repeating. This one is an absolute must watch for any horror fan in general and any Giallo fan specifically. It’s a classic, and it’s a lot of fun. More fast paced and less meandering than most of Argento’s work, Deep Red is indisputably his best Giallo and, most likely, his best film altogether. Not to be missed.