Deep Red (1975)

Young generations might find it hard to believe ,but most of Argento’s works were greeted by poor receptions when they were first released.Critics dismissed them as gaudy ,flashy,showy,you name it.

And now we are in 2005 ,and thirty years after,with hindsight ,that most fruitful part of Agento’s works which begins with “Ucello della piume di cristalli”(1967) and ends -roughly- with “opera” (1987)shows how the frequently demeaned director was ahead of his time.Argento’s work is art-house film!If Mario Bava or John Carpenter are,he is too.

Influenced by the former (color,lighting effects,depth of field,baroque settings),he had a strong influence on the latter,particularly for his use of music,which may seem trite at first listening but literally grows on you and leaves you completely panting for breath.

There’s really an Argentesque geometry,a non -Euclidean one,and few other directors ( Alfred Hitchcock , Roman Polanski ) know how to depict a place and make it threatening for his characters.Argento,who certainly read Gaston Leroux (“le fantôme de l’opera” ) when he was young,loves the opera houses(or theater).”profondo rosso” begins on a stage where some kind of medium (Macha Meril) sees horrible things.People who have read Hergé’s adventures of Tintin will notice the similarities between this scene and those pages in “the seven crystal balls” where Tintin and Haddock are watching Mrs Yamilah in a music hall.”Opera” ‘s first scene also would take place in a theater as if the director told us “it’s only a movie,do not worry” before treating us to the delight of the best scene with birds since Hitchcock’s eponymous movie.

The sense of space which Argento displays is mind-boggling: depth of field,high and low angle shots,impressive lighting effects.His characters become Tom Thumb lost in the huge forest:think of the ballerina ,running away through the corridors (“Suspiria” ),James Franciscus in the graveyard (“il gatto…) ,Tony Musante in the lighthouse (Ucello …),or Irene Miracle in the basement (Inferno).Here it’s a true anthology:almost every place is memorable,from the corridor where the drama is resolved to the house where bad things happened long ago ,from the isolated house in the country -where Argento uses condensation as only a Conan Doyle,a Gaston Leroux or an Ellery Queen could have done it- to the school where weird drawings might be the final clue.To top it all,there’s a sensational scene in a corridor ,which recalls Orson Welles’ “lady from Shanghai.A “they do it with mirrors” trick which is still very impressive today.

Not only Argento creates fear with his disturbing settings ,but he makes us also ill-at-ease with his supporting cast:the gay with the androgynous face,the little girl who seems to be out of Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” (1968),and of course Clara Calamai who was famous in the fascist years (Visconti’s “ossessione” from “the postman always rings twice”).

What about the screenplay?Well,like all Argento’s movies I mention ,it’s far-fetched and derivative (“psycho” ,”Marnie” for the final flashback).But it’s delightfully far-fetched and smartly derivative .When today’s horror flicks screenplays consist of one page (maybe two)of clichés ,Argento’s ones have always been painstaking and labyrinthine .

It is one of the best works in Argento’s much debated but absorbing filmography.No horror movie buff can ignore him.

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