Deep Red

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/15/07 10:45:24

"The cut version, at least, is okay."
3 stars (Average)

Dario Argento doesn't make false promises with the title of this movie; as someone with even just passing familiarity with giallo and Argento might expect, the film has plenty of blood and the picture is photographed to maximize the shocking red. Beneath Argento's gloss, though, is a fairly competent murder mystery undermined by some rather hammy acting.

The opening introduces us to Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril), whom we're told is a powerful psychic. She swoons slightly at a lecture, claiming she feels terrible evil from someone in the room. Whether she was for real or got "lucky" doesn't matter; the next time we see her she's being attacked with a hatchet. Her neighbor Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), a visiting English pianist, witnesses the attack, but before he can do anything, the woman is dead. Convinced he's seen something the police don't, Daly investigates on his own, finding reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) alternately helpful and a nuisance.

There's an air of the paranormal around the mystery, thanks to the dead medium and an abandoned house that the locals certainly treat as being haunted. Argento and company don't lean too heavily on that, though; while Blood Red probably isn't a solvable mystery, it's not one that will spring "character X can move the murder weapon with his mind" on you without any warning, either. Nor does it give Marcus much information that it doesn't share with the audience; it plays fair enough. I don't quite think it makes sense, even beyond the killer being kind of insane - I'm still trying to puzzle out just how one character fits into the story beyond the need to have another murder midway through the movie. That may partly be an artifact of the cuts, though - the English-dubbed print screened is half an hour shorter than the Italian version.

Argento and co-writer Bernardino Zapponi may stumble, but it's easy to see why Argento is well-regarded as a director. There's something plain masterful about the way he shoots Helga's murder and its aftermath, with Marcus first looking in her window as someone appears behind her and then out, searching the street for where the killer may have escaped. The old house is a playground, where clues may be hidden within the walls and stonework may collapse as Marcus tries to gain entry to a secret room. A climactic sequence takes place in a school, and the filmmakers get the most out of location that can both crush a person with its history and stifle with the sort of bland institutionality especially common in this 1970s time period.

The people Argento has playing out his decent (if problematic) story are a bit of a mixed bag. David Hemmings was probably instructed to play Marcus Daly as a bit of a tool, so it's hard to completely fault him for doing it well. Maybe his chauvinism played a little better thirty years ago - is it a sign of progress that conversations that involve the phrase "women's lib" sound quaint today? That's not the only awkward seventies-speak he's stuck with, either. As tough as Marcus is to really like, it is fairly impressive that his character doesn't become a parody; the smug amateur detective who is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is could easily be played as a total fool, which Hemmings avoids. Nicolodi is enthusiastic, maybe a little too much so; both the actress and character seem a bit too eager to please.

Maybe seeing the original Italian version would improve things significantly; it's certainly good enough in its edited form to be worth a look.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.