Deep Red on Blu-ray & DVD

Wednesday, 05 January 2011 05:34

The shadows of two figures dance on a wall in an unknown dining room. Suddenly a piercing scream splits the air as one of the figures plunges a knife into the shrouded outline of the other. In the foreground the bloody knife clatters to the floor, and the legs of a child step into view, hovering over the blade. This is the chilling opening to Dario Argento’s “Deep Red”, an early Giallo masterpiece by the Italian horror genius.

David Hemmings (“Barbarella”, “Blowup”) stars as Marcus, a jazz pianist who witnesses a different, grizzly murder in his Roman apartment block. Rushing to the scene of the crime, Marcus is too late to save his ill-feted neighbour Helga (Macha Méril), a famous psychic, or apprehend the fleeing killer. Intrigued, Marcus embarks on a personal hunt for the murderer, putting his life and reputation in serious peril in the process.

Deep Red on Blu-ray and DVDJoining Marcus in the chase is flirtatious and feisty journalist Gianna (Daria Nicolodi, an Argento regular), and two of Helga’s colleagues who are both experts in the field of psychic phenomena. During the breaks in his investigation, Marcus confides in and worries about his friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), another jobbing pianist with a serious drink problem. The further our hero gets into his unofficial investigation, the more he fears the police will suspect him. He must solve the puzzle before the Law catches up with him, or the killer’s game of cat and mouse comes to a fatal conclusion.

“Deep Red” is Arrow Video’s first Dario Argento release of 2011, and what a cracker it is! In common with much of his work, Argento does not simply rely on lashings of gore and a high body count to sustain interest in his film. The central characters are fleshed-out and believable, not least Marcus and Gianna, whose delightfully playful on-off relationship is a highlight. Hemmings (suspiciously resembling a relaxed Rik Mayall) ensures Marcus is a vulnerable, normal person who cannot stop digging for information, partly to clear his name but also because he genuinely cares about the case and Helga’s fate.

Argento opts not to let the audience in on the identity of the murder, and although we occasionally catch glimpses of clues that Marcus is not party to, we are keen to join him on his journey. The plot is littered with red herrings and twists, and not all of the half-dozen or so murders are signposted, keeping us guessing as to when the serial killer will strike next, and in what bloody manner.

The death scenes are typically theatrical and gory, and as with the best in the genre you simply cannot take your eyes off the ensuing mayhem. Two shocking, stand-out fatalities include a character who is bludgeoned and then drowned in a boiling bath (a scene later copied by “Halloween II”), and a decapitation caused by the unfortunate entanglement of jewellery in a lift. The blood is a garish bright red, and the make-up and special effects are satisfyingly messy!

Argento’s direction is innovative without becoming showy, and he varies his shot selection to keep the action interesting. The camera often embarks on first-person jaunts through corridors, sometimes from the killer’s perspective, sometimes not, teasing the audience. It drifts away from characters as they enter rooms, leaving us feeling helpless and restrained when we want to know what is going on, and fear for their safety. Argento loves his extreme close-ups, such as when the viewpoint roams around a selection of children’s toys (and flick knives!), or spins around a record player. These techniques help to pull us into the action and the world the characters inhabit, bringing us closer to the story.

Soundtrack duties are performed by the progressive rock band Goblin (who famously went on to collaborate with Argento on a number of films, and also with George A Romero on “Dawn of the Dead”). Their atmospheric music gives film a unique flavour, and the catchy piano riff from the main theme was cheekily lifted and simplified by John Carpenter for his iconic “Halloween” theme. The soundtrack to the film has apparently sold four million copies, with good reason.

Alongside the usual Arrow bundle of alternate sleeves, a reversible poster and a booklet, the DVD and Blu-ray editions both include two discs, one featuring the completely uncut Director’s cut, the other the theatrical edition of the film. The Blu-ray version reviewed features wonderfully sharp and detailed picture quality, albeit with a fine grain. Special features (all in 1080p on the Blu-ray version, with typically inspired title sequences courtesy of High Rising Productions) include:

  • Introduction by composer Claudio Simonetti
  • Audio commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
  • Rosso Recollections – Dario’s Deep Genius
  • Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi remembers Profondo Rosso
  • Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red
  • Original Italian Trailer
  • Original Trailer
  • A Tour of the Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) shop in Rome with long time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi

You also get optional Dolby 5.1 or stereo Italian audio and mono/stereo English audio tracks (though the latter occasionally dips into Italian in the Director’s cut for obvious reasons). The shop tour featurette is the highlight of this lot. Argento and Cozzi set up the store after an awe-struck visit to a Forbidden Planet specialist shop in London. Cozzi takes us round the museum section of the store, proudly regaling us with stories about the hideous exhibits from various famous Italian horror and science fiction films.

To sum up, “Deep Red” is a fantastic horror/thriller full of lively characters, shocking deaths, cryptic puzzles and plenty of creeping dread. It is an audio-visual treat that must not be missed!

“Deep Red” (1975) is out now, courtesy of Arrow Video. The running time is 121 minutes approx, certificate ‘18’, and the movie retails for £17.99 on DVD, £22.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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