Deep Red (1975): I Blame Goblins

Well, well, well. Remember what I said about best intentions? Here we are, probably 3 weeks since my last post. I blame Christmas, family, and friends for occupying my time so well. I’m getting back in the swing with a film we watched waaaaay before Christmas, so I’m hoping my memory serves me well.

The flick belongs to horror master, Dario Argento. I have a confession that will make most horror aficionados cringe: I am not the biggest Argento fan. His films, while visually dazzling with creative and effective gore, tend to leave me wanting more in terms of narrative and character development. Moreover, his films are all dubbed, even when the actors are speaking English. As dubbing makes me shudder with contempt (I cannot handle the falsity of the emotion in a dubbed performance), I have always found this annoying to the point of distraction. Many of these complaints are present in Deep Red (1975).

Synopsis: A musician witnesses a murder and teams up with a journalist to solve the killing while the killer attempts to silence them both.

Like much of Argento’s other work, Deep Red is based in “reality,” in the sense that there are not supernatural forces at work. Argento rarely dabbles in narratives involving the mystical; much like a Sherlock Holmes tale, incidents or creatures initially believed to be supernatural are often revealed to have purely natural explanations. This shunning of the other-worldly is part of my objection to his work. I am drawn to and scared by what I don’t understand. As horrific as murder is, working with offenders has demystified it for me. Even the most vile people with whom I have sat are predominantly just people the majority of the time. Once you have seen a multiple murderer pout like a five-year-old child because you were late for an appointment, or bounce with joy at the prospect of showing you pictures of his family (I write “his” as I have only worked with male offenders), it’s hard to subsequently disconnect him from humanity. My work is bleeding into my life as even in movies, I often find myself trying to comprehend the villain’s motivations. It’s not that I find the prospect of murder unfrightening; it is merely that I understand it too well for it to give me that feeling of dread, confusion, and panic I can get from a good ghost story.

It’s a shame I am not more engaged by such tales, as anyone knowledgeable of film can see instantly that Argento is a superb visual director. He is a master of the camera, and each shot is expertly framed. He uses the colour red as a stunning accent throughout the picture, with set pieces and props highlighted in the bloody hue. And above all else, which has undoubtedly earned him such a high reputation within the horror community, Argento is a master of blood. And guts. And decapitation. And evisceration. He has taken horror movie gore to such highs that I am often willing to overlook the inconsistent characterization and poor dialogue that are hallmarks of his work. Gore effects of the time had to be so much more creative that they do now, and the result was often inspired. Now CGI can make anything happen, and I find that the air of falsity inherent to the computer tricks renders them much less effective. I prefer to marvel at an effect through tense fingers while pondering how they could have possibly made it look so real! In addition, Deep Red is more humourous than I expected. Both the handling of the journalist’s POS car and the banter between the artist and reporter contain more laughs than all my previous Argento experiences combined. That’s not to say it’s a laugh riot; a Rob Schneider movie has more laughs than my previous Argento viewings. But it was an unexpected element that helped raise the film above my expectations.

My modest expectations. Because really, there are still a few glaring flaws that keep Deep Red from ultimately being successful, in my opinion. The first is admittedly my issue: I really cannot handle all the bad dubbing. In the opening, the characters were subtitled, and I became hopeful that this time, I could focus on the other important aspects of the picture. Then my ears were subjected to the poorly dubbed dialogue in English, and I believed that language in the film would follow general conventions; that is, the Italian people would speak English when one of the characters was English-speaking, but would converse in Italian with each other. But it soon became apparent that there was no logic driving this bus. Characters seemed to slip in and out of languages at whim. At one point, two previously established English speakers are talking in Italian (for no narrative purpose). So rather than being less distracting, as I first believed, the audio was more annoying than usual.

But the real killer here is the soundtrack, provided by Italian progressive rock band Goblin (who, according to Wikipedia, were actually well-known for their work on this film as well as Suspiria (1977) – seriously?!!). Imagine a shadow, cast across a frightened woman. She hears a noise, and her terror grows. Suddenly from behind she is knocked on the head and dragged across the floor, writhing and fighting to free herself. How scary is that… set to a the score of a 70’s cop action show? I genuinely felt like Starsky and Hutch were about to bust the Striped Tomato through the living room wall. If you were to lay this soundtrack over the Beastie Boys Sabotage video, it would fit like a magenta velour glove. Argento spends a long time building suspense and creating a delicious tension only to undo all his hard work with a score completely disconnected from the action at hand. The music was the primary element keeping Deep Red from being the creepy experience it had the potential to be.

So unfortunately, Deep Red did not change my mind of Argento. He remains a visual genius whom I wish would let others write his material. And handle the music (please). Because with his eye for tension and gore, if the other aspects were even decent, he would jump to the top of my list.

Favourite Scene: the death of the psychiatrist… he had it coming.

Key Quote: “Gianna! Gianna! There’s someone in the house… absolutely trying to kill me, ya’know?”

Fun Fact: After the international success of Suspiria, Deep Red was released in Japan as Suspiria 2, ignoring that Deep Red was made two years before and has no narrative connections.

Until the next,

K

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~ by K. Harker on January 17, 2011.

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