Giallo + Goblin + Gongs = Great

In the current climate of adaptations and genre remakes, let’s look at something original. This week we take a look at Dario Argento’s 1975 giallo classic, Deep Red.

In the current climate of adaptations and genre remakes, I thought it’d be a good idea to review something original. This week we take a look at Dario Argento‘s 1975 giallo classic, Deep Red. Before we get too far into the review, let’s talk about giallo. Giallo is an Italian term used to describe a particular genre of crime/mystery and “pulp” that first became popular in the 20’s and 30’s. In film, starting in the late 50’s and early 60’s through the 70’s, Italians created many many movies in this genre, which thrived on setting up a murder and keeping audiences guessing who the mystery killer was until the inevitable twist ending. Wikipedia expands the definition:

“‘Giallo’ films are characterized by extended murder sequences featuring excessive bloodletting, stylish camerawork and unusual musical arrangements. The literary whodunit element is retained, but combined with modern slasher horror, while being filtered through Italy’s longstanding tradition of opera and staged grand guignol drama.”

deepredfilmposter2In Deep Red, Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is a jazz pianist that gets mixed up in a mystery when he witnesses the first in a series of brutal murders. He meets a journalist (Daria Nicolodi), and the two slowly bond as they try to solve the case and stop the murders. There are many interesting twists and a lot of foreshadowing that definitely make this film worth checking out many, many times. With those familiar with giallo, you’ll get even more out of the film as you see how Argento plays with the genre and creates something new.

Even though I sincerely love this film, I typically don’t like it’s director Dario Argento. He’s one of those guys that horror fans love because of his stylish death sequences and crazy camerawork. Fans can give you a million explanations of the true meaning of scenes, but on the surface most of his films don’t make much sense. I remember actually buying his film Suspiria based on word of mouth, only to be hugely disappointed by it’s lack of interesting characters and the sloppiness of its presentation. I kept trying to find what it was that people saw in him. I watched Phenomena, The Bird with the Crystal Plummage, Inferno, and Trauma, so by the time I finally saw Deep Red I was fully prepared to hate it. I ended up loving it, and after re-watching, I think I’ve figured out why.

Not only does this film have one of the best soundtracks of all time (performed by Italian prog rock legends Goblin), but it also has a sense of humor. None of the other Argento films have humor. There are attempts at humor in his other films, but in this movie you get the real deal. It’s fun watching Hemmings and Nicolodi play off of each other, and all of the scenes in Nicolodi’s car are hilarious. Believe it or not, the juxtaposition of brutal murders and romantic hijinks can actually work sometimes too.

Music is one of the distinguishing aspects of giallo, and Deep Red has some of the best music in the weirdest places I’ve seen. It’s hard to get used to at first, but giallos always have really intense music during the murder scenes. This seems odd because the genre puts an emphasis on thrills and tension, but the music takes away the tension immediately. Goblin’s score for the film centers around a heavy groove that is played over every murder sequence. While the groove does hurt the tension, it’s so catchy that it rises above this criticism and ultimately works. Gong blasts are even added to the groove during key moments in a given sequence, making the whole thing just ridiculous enough to be amazing!

The death sequences are also well shot and imagined. Even though the violence is nothing compared to today’s films, you do really feel it in scenes. I don’t want to give too much away, but for the most part all of the murders involve exaggerations of everyday things that happen to everyone, so there is definitely something there to identify with. There are also some genuinely creepy moments that you will immediately try to forget so that they don’t pop up in dreams.

If you’re intrigued by this “giallo” concept, I definitely recommend giving this movie a shot. Then, for more information, check out the now defunct Bloody Italiana. The site is no longer updated, but they have a great archive of reviews, and it’s easily navigated. The big directors in this genre are Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci and these films are actually getting easier to find thanks to sweet labels like Blue Underground, Anchor Bay, and Severin Films.

Hopefully we can get Movieland to screen this at some point, but for now you can pick it up on Netflix.

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Scott Burton

Scott Burton is a tireless composer and guitarist in Richmond. He writes reviews about obscure movies for RVANews, and he writes music about obscure movies for the avant jazz group Glows in the Dark.

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