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Happy Halloween with Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975)

October 31, 2015

deepredWhen you listen to the song “Mack the Knife”, you’ll hear Bobby Darin sing the chilling narrative of Mack, a town resident fresh out of prison and known for having a killer’s instinct. Throughout this melodic ditty, Darin’s gently sweet voice gradually crescendos into a soaring epic complete with brass horns, a tight pounding snare and a swing that you can’t help but bob your head to. Together these elements bring listeners into a sleepy seaside town where the tragedies of a serial killer’s strike is shaking it in to a frenzy of gossip. Though bodies keep piling up and no evidence is found everyone knows it’s Mack, whose lavish spending coincides with a victim’s bank account getting cleaned. “Mack the Knife’s” ability to tell a hauntingly arresting story through a bright, sunny disposition is perhaps why it has always been one of my favorite songs. Likewise, Dario Argento takes a similar route by visually wrapping his films in flashy, stunning visuals which is perhaps best done in his giallo classic, Deep Red.

Italian born Argento is known for bringing audiences the world over his brand of candy-coated, colorful blood and gore that has put him in his very own throne among horror masters. Throughout the 1970s Argento churned out numerous thrillers featuring good-looking people meeting gruesome bloody deaths. Interestingly enough he avoided most of the backlash claiming his films glorified violence, an argument that usually affects contemporary directors who use film and television as a means to explore the malleability and anatomy of the human body in horrific ways. I can only assume it’s because Argento roots his violence in stylistic, colorful expressions while still using his camera to show the mastery of his artistic intentions.

Deep Red lurks after a serial killer making their way around the streets of Italy. Argento’s camera acts as an omnipresent seeing eye for audiences that switches between being the eyes of the killer and an objective observer. Our role as the active backseat spectator of the murders is the most fascinating aspect of the film since it also acts to explore homes and buildings where the killer hides out before making their move. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Argento firmly believed in the philosophy of a non-static camera. Close-ups shots constantly tilt up and down, wide shots pan back and forth and zooms into close-ups, and the camera impressively tracks around rooms, whipping to and fro in an ever-moving ocean of suspense.

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Argetno’s busy visual eye is largely the reason Deep Red is so engaging despite its many shortcomings and downfalls. The story is a bit silly. A local jazz pianist, Marcus Daly, witnesses a murder then spends the rest of the film playing detective to nearly invisible or more so non-active police officers. Marcus’ ability to freely enter and leave crime scenes with no questioning is strange, almost as strange as the telepathic physics of the film who can’t seem to sense when an intruder is in their  homes. We spend much wasted time watching Marcus make even sillier decisions and discoveries, but Argento’s graceful camera and Italian prog-rockers Goblin’s fast-driving killer soundtrack makes it difficult to feel any boredom with the film, even when the character’s dubbed over voices doesn’t quite match their moving lips.

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Deep Red is a 70s gem, one that reminded me just how fantastic the 1970s were in the realm of cinema. It was a time of exploration, experimentation, and colorful exploitation of genres. Argento’s work stands the test of time because as Deep Red showcases no one else could do horror the way he did. Argento likely took influence from directors like Orson Wells and Howard Hawks, but by blending art, narrative, and shock value Argento is a legend unto himself. Even now, exactly 40 years later I still haven’t seen a director who has matched him. Though Quentin Tarantino comes close and Robert Rodriquez and Eli Roth have undoubtedly followed in Argento’s footsteps, no one has touched the grace of his stylistic abilities.

SEE IT. Tonight if you’re not doing anything. Have a Spooktacular Halloween!

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