AKA PROFONDO ROSSO, THE HATCHET MURDERS, SUSPIRIA 2
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW
RUNNING TIME: 127 min/ 105 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
At a psychic conference, medium Helga Ulmann senses there is someone with a twisted and violent mind in the audience. Soon after, she hears a wordless children’s song being played, before being attacked. The killing is witnessed by music teacher and occasional jazz musician Mark Daly, but by the time he gets to her apartment Helga is dead. Mark feels that something important is missing from the apartment, possibly a painting, but no picture appears to have disappeared. He begins a reluctant friendship with journalist Gianni Brezzi, both of them wanting to solve the murder. After hearing the same song Helga heard being played near his apartment and having a near miss with the killer, he plays the tune to Prof. Giordani, a psychiatrist. Giordani tells him of a folktale involving a haunted house in which a singing child is heard, followed by the shrieking of someone being murdered…..
Deep Red, which in part remakes Dario Argento’s first film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage [which also had a man witness a murder and know he saw something that was ‘off’ but is unable to work out what it was], can probably be called the ultimate giallo. There may be other efforts that are bloodier, crazier, even cleverer, but this 1975 thriller is perhaps the best all-round example of the form, so if you have to just see one, or just want to get on overview of the genre before then moving on, then this is probably it. It gives you everything you expect in a giallo, from a complex mystery to a traumatic past informing the present to brutal murders to a black gloved killer, packing in all the cliches and reveling in them, but also slyly sending them up so the film works just a well as a pastiche and even taking the genre down some new routes. It also contains good performances, decent characterisation and even some charm, things which this director’s films are not known for. In short, while it’s not personally my favourite Argento, it’s a tremendously entertaining picture all round, a devious combination of murder mystery and slasher movie, made by a director who was just reaching the height of his powers.
The script for Argento’s return to the giallo after the failure of his comedy western Le Cinque Giornate [Five Days in Milan] was mostly written by himself, though he called Bernardino Zapponi in to help him complete it. A scene where a parasychological medium senses the presence of a killer was originally planned for Four Flies On Grey Velvet. The initial star was going to be Lino Capolicchio, but he changing his mind about the project caused Argento to contact David Hemmings, who had starred in Blow Up, a major source of inspiration to Argento and a direct influence on several of his films. Though set in Rome, Deep Red was shot in Turin [like the later Sleepless]. The Blue Bar set looked so real that locals came in to buy drinks. As usual, Argento wore the black gloves himself for the murder set pieces, and, similarly, the film was shot silent and Italian and English language versions recorded afterwards. Despite being a big hit in Italy, 22 minutes were cut from the export version, though sources vary as to who by, Argento even once saying that he preferred the shorter version! The edits mainly removed scenes between Mark and Gianni, in doing so cutting much of the film’s humour, though the first scene showing Mark with his jazz band was also removed and many others, like Mark’s search of the haunted house, shortened. An 88 minute edit called The Hatchet Murders was released in US cinemas after the success of Halloween and this version came out on UK video, while in Japan the film was called Suspiria 2. Up until 2010 all UK versions lost a few seconds of animal cruelty [making one moment involving that fine child actress Nicolettii Elmi imcomprehensible], though these were restored when Argento told the BBFC that the shots were faked [though the sight of a lizard impaled by a pin still looks uncomfortably real]. Of course many versions trimmed the violence too.
Deep Red has the most audacious opening. The wonderful Tubular Bells-style theme music plays as the credits begin, but it’s twice interrupted twice by a child’s wordless lullaby over images of a 50’s style living room at Christmas time in which we see a killing in shadow, a bloody knife being dropped and a child’s feet standing by a knife. Then we see Mark practising with his band, and no, in terms of narrative it’s not important at all, but it’s symbolically important, creating a slight sexual uneasiness which will be in other places of the film with Mark’s hesitating of the word bordello, as well as having Mark’s comment “it’s precise, too formal” foreshadow the film’s whole approach, which is to create the ultimate giallo but also to ‘shake it up’ a bit. After this, Deep Red moves quite slowly for a while, perhaps too slowly for some wanting tons of suspense, murders and gore. Even after Mark has witnessed the medium’s death there’s much lengthy chat involving Mark and his drunken friend, and, in particular, Mark and Gianni the journalist. I love the latter scenes myself though, which have a screwball comedy flair to them and are sometimes genuinely funny to boot, from Mark constantly being made to look inadequate [like losing at arm wrestling and the seat he’s sitting on in Gianni’s car collapsing], to the smug look on his face [at the audience!] when he knows he’s going to ‘score’. David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi have considerable chemistry too.
The highlight of the first half of the film is an amazingly suspenseful sequence when Mark is playing the piano and realises that the killer is in his house, a truly scary bit of business up which Alfred Hitchcock would have had trouble matching. The plot doesn’t really get going to any great degree until the second half as Mark and Gianni set out to solve the mystery, a search which takes them all over Turin. Argento constantly wrong foots the audience with gleeful abandon, and the final revelation of the killer doesn’t really matter that much to the plot, but Argento does play fair in actually showing the killer’s face early on in the film, a brave device but one that works because very few people would actually notice it, while it also helps make the final revelation startling. Meanwhile the ever moving camera also plays with the audience, tending to move backwards more than forwards, and often moving away from someone when they are in the middle of doing something to somewhere else. Mark is in a cellar looking for something, so what does the camera do? It pulls away from him so he is off-screen, then goes up the steps and waits for him to come up! There’s also much interesting use of jump cuts, usually to suggest someone’s thought processes. Luigi Kuveiller’s cinematography is constantly teasing and toying while never being an empty stylistic device and adds immeasurably to the perfectly paced scenes of tension building.
Argento takes his time but usually with good results, especially when Mark explores a supposedly haunted house. For about five minutes, all we see is him wondering about, but the carefully chosen angles [often hinting at somebody watching him], the truly unsettling location and the Goblin music makes the sequence hypnotic. Though this is not at all what happened, it actually seems like the Goblin piece was written first and the scene edited to it, so well does it match the images. The film as a whole almost seems like a bridging work between Argento’s previous three giallos and the crazy fantasy of Suspiria and Inferno, from the haunted house to some really grotesque paintings in a hallway. One of the most interesting aspects of Deep Red is the sense of a supernatural world lurking in the shadows, right down to the way the murders are usually prefigured by something else – for example, Mark’s talk of hating his father and imagining that his playing the piano was, as a child, like knocking his teeth out, leads to a truly horrific killing where the victim has his teeth bashed on all four corners of a table. The murders are brutally effective without being prolonged. A drowning in a bath with scoldingly hot water was repeated in Halloween 2. The most chilling scene though is when one victim-to-be is attacked by a mechanical doll. There’s no real reason why the killer should want to tease him like this [though Michael Myers liked to tease his victims] but the image of the doll lying on the floor, his head smashed into two halves but his legs flailing about, is positively unnerving.
Hemmings really seems to be enjoying playing a rather ineffectual hero who always looks lost and is constantly made to look unmasculine, while Nicolodi is for once is even allowed to be sexy. She would go on to appear in many successive Argento pictures and become the mother of Asia, and one could say that Argento was at his artistic peak when he was her partner. Deep Red was the first Argento film to have music from the prog rock band Goblin. Giorgio Gaslini was hired to write the score, but, depending on whether you believe him or Argento, he either couldn’t finish it because he had to go on tour, or his music wasn’t what Argento wanted. Goblin had to write the music at short notice, some say over just one day and one night! Argento then placed and edited the tracks for placement in the film. Death Dies, for example, is played during murder scenes, while Mad Puppet turns up during Mark’s exploration of the house and a school. Some Gaslini music remains, like a slightly jaunty theme for Mark and Gianni, though of course it’s Goblin’s music, recorded extremely loud, coming across almost as a mixture of Mike Oldfield and Lalo Schifrin, that you remember. Deep Red has a few longuers and certain parts of the story feel tenuously connected to others, but it still works as both a cracking thriller and a film which, even [in fact possibly more so] in successive viewings when you know how it ends, really gets under your skin in an almost subliminal, and very Freudian, way. There are two or three Argento films I prefer, but it remains a perfect example of how great Argento the man really once was. His recent work may be increasingly disappointing to us fans, but we only have to put on Deep Red and it cheers us up straight away doesn’t it?
The version of Deep Red presented on Arrow on their Blu-ray is from an Italian restoration which had to be pieced together from different sources when the original negative was complete, though it’s only noticeable, and even then only slightly, during some of the scene transitions. Though this is a movie I’ve owned in quite a few versions, I never picked up Arrow’s earlier Blu-ray release of the film, but this 4k restoration is infinitely superior to the old Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD, and I would imagine it’s better than the Blue Underground Blu-ray too. Argento’s brilliant use of colour and set design for symbolic and psychological purposes pops out at you even more and the film boasts the depth and clarity of a more recent movie. It also has the proper version of the final scene, without that mystifying freeze frame that appeared in some versions. As with previous versions, The Original Version, if you watch it in English, switches to Italian with English subtitles for the scenes not in the International Version as no English track for them survives. Watching the whole thing in Italian is probably a better experience, and the subtitles are sometimes more eloquent than the English dialogue. The International Version, which I partially viewed, looks just as good, and still works well as a faster paced version of Deep Red, and of course you hear that great voice of David Hemmings.
I only normally listen to around 20 minutes of a commentary for review purposes, but Thomas Rostock’s Deep Red track was so good that I heard it all. While English isn’t obviously his first language, he supplies a great mixture of background information and in-depth appreciation which certainly taught me quite a few things as well as enlightening me further as to what a well thought through and put together film it is. The special features mostly duplicate Arrow’s earlier Blu-ray release, which is fine as they were very extensive, though there’s a new video essay, plus an introduction by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti. The addition of the complete soundtrack completes a brilliant package which is the definitive release of the film. It is now sadly sold out, though I have a feeling that Arrow will probably re-release this version of Deep Red, probably with simpler packaging and minus the CD, at some point soon, so keep an eye out for it!
3-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of two versions of the film
Original Italian soundtrack in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0 and lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, and original English soundtrack in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0*
English subtitles for the Italian Soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the English Soundtrack
Limited Edition Soundtrack CD
6 x postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
Reversible fold-out poster featuring two original artworks
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
Limited Edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film and an archive piece by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills
DEEP RED: ORIGINAL VERSION (BLU-RAY DISC 1)
Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
Isolated Score in Stereo 2.0
Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
Introduction to the film by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin
Profondo Giallo – a brand new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie featuring an in-depth appreciation of Deep Red, its themes and its legacy
Rosso Recollections: Dario Argento’s Deep Genius – the Deep Red director on the creation of a giallo masterpiece
The Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi Remembers Profondo Rosso
Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red
Profondo Rosso: From Celluloid to Shop – a tour of the Profondo Rosso shop in Rome with long time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi
DEEP RED: EXPORT VERSION (BLU-RAY DISC 2) [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
US Theatrical Trailer
PROFONDO ROSSO: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING (CD DISC 3) [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
28-track CD featuring the entire Deep Red film score from Italian progressive rock band Goblin and composer Giorgio Gaslini