Deep Red was a confusing film. It wasn’t that the plot was difficult to follow, or the motivations of the characters murky, but tonally the film surges from one end of the spectrum to the other. There are many instances of slapstick comedy inserted into a film that seems to want to be a horror. For instance, there is a running gag where the two lead characters, Marcus (David Hemmings) and Gianna (Daria Nicoladi) have to climb out through the roof of Gianna’s mini car, which I have to guess is attempting to elicit a laugh? Gianna’s character constantly and desperately attempts to sleep with Marcus, something that I think is played for yucks but falls completely flat.
Now besides these strange instances, this is a fun, atmospheric horror flick. Any time the killer seems to lurk around the corner the viewer is spellbound to the screen. Director Dario Argento makes magnificent use of lighting and color to create some very memorable imagery. Marcus’s walks through the dilapidated old mansion, for example, oozed tension and creepy ambiance.
Another scene has Marcus’s friend Giordani (Glauco Mauri) moving about his flat suspiciously. The audience isn’t shown a direct threat, but the way Argento films Giordani by having the camera follow him and peer at him from obscured spaces, we are well aware something is stalking him. Instead of resorting to a cheap jump scare, like many contemporary horror filmmakers would, Giordani simply hears his name whispered aloud. This is when Argento’s masterful score kicks in setting the mood for a truly bizarre encounter.
The music is worth mentioning more of. The score of this film, along with other of Argento’s works, is truly unique. It would be easy to see how someone like John Carpenter would have been influenced by the use of twinkling synthesizer in repetitive ascending and descending riffs played over images of darkly lit corridors. The mood set is extraordinarily distinctive.
The plot of this film, while easily followed, makes little real sense. The final reveal is totally stupid and the circumstances too extraordinary. The film would do better to ease away from the mystery element and lean into the horror more. Instead of pulling the viewer along with threads of mystery it could have cut maybe twenty to thirty minutes of trivial character interactions and gone for straight surreal horror, which would work far better for a film like this.
The problem with this film, as with the only other Argento film I’ve seen, Suspiria, was that the dialogue and characters fell enormously flat. Any instance of dialogue had me rolling my eyes, whereas any instance of tension had me on the edge of my seat.
This is not a perfect film, but as a horror flick, you could do significantly worse. Watch for the moody atmosphere and gory encounters, but pay little attention to the details of the plot or the individual character traits. Little depth is found there.