Flashback Flick – Deep Red: A Symphony of Sleaze

After the run of success from his first three films, all of which fall under the genre of giallo, Italian director Dario Argento didn’t want to confine himself to the horror box. So, he followed up his acclaimed Animal Trilogy with The Five Days, a Sergio Leone-influenced historical drama-comedy about the Italian Revolution. There is a world where this movie made a fortune at the box office and where Argento would continue to make films that drift away from the horror genre. Fortunately, this didn’t happen – and Argento was forced to make a return to giallo films, where he crafted maybe his most definitive entry in the genre.

Deep Red (or Profondo Rosso in Italian) follows Marcus (David Hemmings), a pianist who witnesses the murder of a psychic and of course, feels compelled to investigate the murder himself – with the help of journalist Gianna (Daria Nicolodi) looking for her big break. The film opens with a creepy lullaby and a murder that we see take place through shadows on a wall. A knife then drops into the frame as, what looks like to be a child’s legs, approaches it. This murder will become the visual lynchpin of the film – its image being repeated in crude child drawings and echoing like a primal scream throughout the film. And then, the movie gets weird.

Broken Doll from Dario Argento's "Deep Red" (1975)
Shot from Dario Argento’s “Deep Red” (1975)

In an early scene in the Italian cut of the film, where Marcus is leading a live jazz session, he advises the band to make the music trashier. It’s a line that feels simultaneously like a throwaway and the thesis for the film – and Argento’s work as a whole. The film is deliciously and unabashedly perverted and is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock in the sense that the director has no qualms in showcasing his most debauched obsessions. From the grisly murder sequences to a moment where the soon-to-be dead psychic drinks a glass of water and slowly drools it out, you can tell that Argento is having too much fun behind the camera.

Deep Red, like most Argento films, forgoes any notion of narrative cohesiveness or logical sense and instead focuses purely on visuals. Argento makes every shot, every sequence, and every set piece as beautiful as possible. He juxtaposes the beauty of those visuals with the gruesome moments of violence throughout. Because of this, the film can be almost off-putting to some viewers who come into Deep Red expecting a traditional murder mystery or even something closer to a slasher. There are red herrings on red herrings, clues that make no sense, and upon the killer’s reveal earlier scares don’t add up. Yet, none of this matters, because as Guillermo Del Toro puts it, “it doesn’t make logical sense, but it makes lyrical sense.” The film performs almost like a symphony – a fantastical, sleazy, and violent symphony.

Deep Red features everything that one might expect from the genre: black-gloved killers, P.O.V. murders, and beautiful women being violently slaughtered. But in Deep Red, Argento is in a way canonizing the tropes that will become synonymous with him as a director. It’s the first Argento film where he collaborates with the musical group Goblin, and it is also the first film starring Daria Nicolodi, his then-wife, an actress as fundamental to Argento’s work as black gloves are to gialli. Deep Red isn’t the best Argento film, it isn’t even my favorite, but it is pivotal to his career. It’s a film that bridges the two major phases of Argento’s career – his early and more classical giallo trilogy and the supernatural giallo that he would next venture into with his most famous film, Suspiria. It is the film where it feels that he has finally developed a fully formed voice as a director, beginning an unparalleled 6 movie run of some of my favorite films of the genre. Argento would never venture outside of horror again and I’m selfishly, forever thankful.

Tatiana Nunez is an English major on the Writing and Rhetoric Track and is in her Senior Year at FIU. Her favorite films include The Handmaiden and Heat. And her go-to genres are horror, action, and erotic thrillers.