Movie Number 61
TitleDeep Red (Director’s Cut) (1975)
Running Time– 126 minutes (“Not Rated”)
Director– Dario Argento
Writer– Dario Argento and Bernardino Zapponi
Starring– David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi

(Originally an IP Movies Review)

Being able to use the word “art” when reviewing a horror film is almost as rare as getting to use the word “playoffs” when describing the Detroit Lions season, but that is exactly what Dario Argento’s masterpiece Deep Red is: an artistic achievement in the horror genre.

This Blu-ray release (releasing May 17, 2011 from Blue Underground) brings together the English version that Americans have been watching for years, as well as the full Italian Director’s Cut, which adds over twenty minutes of footage from the English version. The Director’s Cut adds so much good to the film that it’s a wonder the English version is held in such high regard. The addition of even more beautiful cinematography, relationships, and detailed backstories make the Director’s Cut feel like a separate film than the English version most Americans have come to love. The other advantage of this argument is that nearly everything added into the Director’s Cut makes Deep Red a stronger, more memorable, and unique film.

Marcus Daly (David Hemmings – Gladiator, Gangs of New York, Blow-Up) is an English jazz musician who witnesses the murder of a famous psychic named Helga Ulmann (Macha Méril). Marcus believes he saw the killer leaving the crime scene the night of the murder, and a morbid fascination grows within him to discover who the killer is. He joins forces with the eccentric and beautiful reporter, Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi – Phenomena, Opera), to try and find the cold-blooded killer before they strike again. The murderer is determined to stay in the shadows, though, and will kill anyone who threatens that safety, including Marcus and Gianna.

Deep Red is a slow-moving slasher film and a fast-paced murder mystery thriller all at once. Focusing on the Director’s Cut – the version that everyone should watch – Argento manages to build believable relationships, and makes the audience care about the characters through witty dialogue and interesting backstory. These relationships are stripped down to the bare minimum in the English version, and lessen the impact of the film as a whole. Marcus and Gianna are both likable characters that have a naturally witty banter, and as their relationship is budding, provide comic relief in the earlier stages of the film. Because this is cut out of the English version, not only are two of my favorite, and most ingenious long shots removed from the film, but also the side story of Gianna’s dysfunctional car is missing. These scenes don’t necessarily advance the plot, but they help add depth to a genre known for its facileness and keep the audience caring about the characters.

The English cut not only loses depth, but some of the most remarkable cinematographic moments are cut out. One set in particular that Argento and company built for Deep Red is stunning, and most will probably recognize its inspiration quickly. This set, which is only in the movie for a few scenes, has a Roman architecture feel, and effectively towers over the characters. The image of Marcus standing at the corner of this set, looking towards his drunken friend cowering in a corner is just one of the many striking visual moments in Deep Red that make it must-see material.

As stunning as his pictures are, the greatest thing about Argento’s work with Deep Red has to be his use of lighting and music to create tension and scares. Whether it is in a dark closet, a middle school after hours, or a hauntingly infectious children’s song, Argento manages to make the audience uncomfortable on the drop of a hat. The way he manipulates the viewer’s attention is masterful. The extraordinary use of color and shadow, mixed with the original music by the band Goblin work in excellent contrast to the action onscreen, and have inspired countless horror filmmakers ever since (I challenge any John Carpenter fan to not think of Michael Myers while watching Deep Red; it’s virtually impossible). The scares are less “jumpy” and more psychological, which puts the audience on edge. The Director’s Cut does a better job of keeping the viewer anxious than the English version, which is just another reason I recommend the prior over the latter.

Dario Argento strikes all the right chords with Deep Red: it’s tense with likable character, excellent special effects, a jarring score, and incredible cinematography. Though some may put Deep Red in the thriller category before the horror category, I find that it belongs to both genres equally. Regardless of its label, Deep Red is a must for fans of bloody murder mysteries, slasher films, Giallo, or thrillers. In fact, I would go as far as saying that Deep Red is an essential part of the horror canon.