Synopsis: An English jazz pianist living in Rome witnesses the brutal hatchet murder of a renowned psychic and is quickly drawn into the savage crime. With the help of a tenacious female reporter, the pair track a twisted trail of deranged clues and relentless violence towards a shocking climax that has ripped screams from the throats of audiences for more than 35 years!
Deep Red stars David Hemmings (Gladiator, Blow-Up) and Daria Nicolodi (Phenomena, Shock), and is widely considered by both fans and critics alike to be Dario Argento’s true masterpiece.
Profondo rosso 7.0
‘Profondo rosso’ is considered a classic of horror cinema; it’s probably the second-most referred-to film in Dario Argento’s whole career (after ‘Suspiria’, obviously). It’s a fan favourite and it consistently rates very high on most review sites.
Personally, I’ve had a difficult time appreciating Argento’s work; I’ve only seen a few of his films, but they’ve often felt like they were insubstantial, as though story development was an afterthought. I always get this sense that Argento is so focused on the scares or visual style of his film, that plausibility takes more than a backseat – it ends up in the trunk.
‘Profondo rosso’ isn’t as bad as that, thankfully: it’s only in the back seat. But it’s still a challenge for me.
The story involves a jazz musician who sees someone being murdered and consequently becomes prey for that murderer. Consequently, he tries his best to put together as many clues as he can to discover the murderer’s identity before he falls under his/her knife. He ends up going rogue and working in parallel (but not with) the police.
It sounds decent enough, albeit a bit clichéd. But it’s how it’s pieced together that makes a difference. Let’s face it: you can take any concept and evolve it many different ways. A story like this could easily be a comedy, a suspense/thriller, a horror film, an action film, a drama, …etc.
In ‘Profondo rosso’, Argento tried to go the suspense route with a penchant for horror. In some ways he succeeded. Sadly, with every success seems to come a negating quality.
For instance, there were some clear moments of terror, but they were often spoiled (for me) by implausibility: the characters made decisions that no average person would make (oh, I’m being stalked in my own house… let me go back in, despite the fact that there are no lights and I’m all alone ), or things transpired that couldn’t (the creepy running doll… how did that even work? How did the killer sneak that into the apartment? And why? ).
Compounding the problem are a series of clues that you couldn’t possibly tie together or to the mystery (save the first one – if you’re perceptive enough ) if your life depended on it; events don’t make any sense collectively and, frequently, not even on their own. So, unmasking the killer is pretty much impossible: you can guess all you want, but the only way to know is to watch the last five minutes of the film.
I even have issues with the choice of killer, quite frankly. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t say anything here, obviously, because it’ll spoil the movie, but the person revealed as the killer simply is not up to the task – there is just no way. And there is some question as to whether the character can even be there, given his/her back history. So the ending left me totally incredulous.
To me, this appears to be typical of Argento films: there’s little effort put into the script, but there’s lots of style.
Because there is plenty of style here. Argento certainly knows how to create visually-interesting shots and editing together scenes that are visceral, if unbelievable. He often creates moments that are a bit otherworldly, which may in part be due to the low-budget nature of his films (i.e. he had to make do with fake-looking fake blood, sets that look like sets, …etc.). I’m convinced that they’re a bit DIY and that this influences his style. And, in this case, probably for the best.
Having said this, I enjoyed the slow pace of this film, even if it failed to create any real mood or build-up of tension (instead, it often slipped into dramedy mode). And I like the setting and the visual quality of the film; there’s just something about it that’s appealing. I find that, sometimes, there’s “something” about European films that forgives their sins that you just don’t get in North American cinema (for instance, there are French and British comedies that wouldn’t work in North America, just as there are horror films that work in Italy and Japan that wouldn’t translate well).
So I kind of liked the film, even if I wasn’t as thrilled as I would have liked to be.
In the end, I’d say that it’s my second-favourite Argento film, after ‘Opera’. But I’m still not a fan of Argento (I’m a bigger fan of Mario Bava, even if his work was inconsistent), and Argento fans are truly devoted to the filmmaker – so they will likely think differently.
Essentially, if you like suspense, like foreign films and/or locales, and are willing to try something different, ‘Profondo rosso’ might be a good gamble.
– originally published October 6, 2011