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Under the Radar: 'Deep Red'

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May 20, 2011 | 6:54am EDT

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By now it’s hardly a secret that I am cinematically inclined toward the horror genre and that I count myself a fan of Dario Argento. Moreover, I have done a terrible job concealing my love affair with Blue Underground and its wealth of incredible Blu-ray horror releases. This week, however, provides an added twinge of excitement, as Blue Underground has seen fit to release what has become my absolute favorite Argento film on Blu: Deep Red; a more apt chromatic pun there never was.

Deep Red Blu-rayDeep Red is the dark tale of an English pianist living in Rome who, in between laying down badass concertos, manages to witness a particularly brutal murder. The female victim is one of the world’s leading psychics -- funny that she didn’t see this one coming. Our ivory-tickling protagonist finds himself suddenly teamed with a tenacious (read: slightly annoying) reporter as the two investigate the killing to discover the horrible secrets that lie at its rotten core. Along the way, they are stalked at every turn by a shadowy madman with impeccable fashion sense.

One could easily divide Argento’s canon into two separate but equally creepy camps. The first is composed of his supernatural fare, wherein otherworldly forces conspire to bring death and destruction to some poor unsuspecting mortal. Suspiria and Inferno find welcome purchase onto this shelf. But then there are his giallo films, featuring malevolent forces of a more human persuasion. Deep Red and The Bird with the Crystal Plummage, one of Argento’s first films, are definitely of the latter. The killers stalk their prey, usually while wearing black leather gloves, and brutalize their victims with gleaming blades as often as possible. Frankly, for the well-deserved love that Suspiria routinely receives, I am far more fascinated by Argento’s giallo films.

There is a pattern at work in Argento’s giallo that never fails to warm my black heart. The main character in Deep Red is, true to Argento form, an artist. This arguably self-serving penchant for casting artists in the hero’s spotlight is echoed in his male lead characters in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (a writer), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (a musician) and Tenebre (also a writer). These artists are often strangers in a strange land who see something they shouldn’t and instantly have their worlds turned upside down. In this way, Argento seems to be channeling the ordinary-man-in-the-extraordinary-situation mold that Alfred Hitchcock so adeptly perfected, if not invented. It’s actually quite a trip watching an Argento giallo as if they were bloody, pulpy Italian Hitchcock films.

The music in Deep Red is wickedly brilliant -- but then, when horror-movie maestros Goblin are involved in any film, this becomes less a compliment and more a consistently satisfied expectation. Their infusion of rock guitars with dream-like synthesizers makes for the most insidiously catchy and darkly enjoyable score as ever featured in an Argento film; it's hideously funky. The finest special feature, for my money, on this unsurprisingly stellar release is a music video for the film’s theme as performed by Goblin tribute band Daemonia. Don’t get me wrong, the dueling music video on the disc, performed by Goblin themselves just last year, is a treat for any fan, and there is no denying that they still sound great. But honestly, I was more intrigued by Daemonia’s admittedly more dated video, which sees the band members brazenly wear their Deep Red fandom on their cloak sleeves. Their re-creations of seminal scenes from the film, while venturing into the realm of the cheesy with abandon, are impossibly endearing.

Deep Red Blu-rayBut what really sets Deep Red apart from films of a similar breed -- even from other Argento films -- is the violence. In all fairness, there is nary a preschool on the planet programming any given Argento film to serve as a nap-time lullaby. This is a man who has proven time and again that he has no qualms about shuffling his characters wildly off the mortal coil. But in Deep Red, it seems his disregard for life has erupted into a raging hatred for humanity as a species. People don’t just get killed in this film; their souls get pulverized and the remnants bathed in boiling blood. The film opens with a grisly murder on Christmas Eve underscored by joyful choirs of children, for screaming out loud! Not to give too much away, but my favorite death scene in the film involves a man being dragged behind a truck, his corpse striking every stationery object along the way.

The picture quality on Blue Underground’s Deep Red Blu-ray is crystalline and sharp -- again, no big shocker considering the source. But what I really appreciate about the clarity of this particular release is that Deep Red is not quite as colorful as some of Argento’s other films. That’s not to say it’s monochromatic, but its use of color is far subtler. The beautiful picture quality at work therefore allows for smaller details in any given scene to maximize appreciation of Argento’s unique shot composition. I especially love the shot of the toys at the beginning of the film, featuring Dario playing with the perception of size for a truly disorienting and creepy effect. It also served as an interesting take on giallo’s fetishistic relationship with knives. It was also nice to observe the entrance of the mechanized doll in flawless detail, as it is now an image that will haunt my nightmares forever. Thanks, Dario!

The Blu also features interviews with many of the filmmakers, some of which were apparently filmed at the exact same time as those on the recent Inferno release. Nevertheless, these interviews are perfect companions for this masterful film. Viewers are also given the option of viewing the Italian version of the film in addition to the English version. This sounds far more appealing than it turns out to be and frankly detracts from the greatness of the film, as the Italian version is heavily edited. But beyond that, Blue Underground’s Deep Red Blu-ray is an absolute must-have for Argento fans as well as fans of great international or classic horror in general.

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