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Month of Horror 2016: Genre Exploration – Giallo: Deep Red

Editor’s Note: The links within all point back to the original sources.  Perhaps one day I will fix them but more than likely I will keep them as is to honor the past (and because it is so much easier).  Links to the AVC are likely off due to the Kinja switchover.

10/24/2016 – Giallo: Deep Red (1975)
Directed by Dario Argento

Aside from maybe Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, the Italian horror genre is mostly defined in the eyes of many by the giallo genre. That’s not to say they were exclusively devoted to that as evidenced by gothic horror titles such as Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, the zombie title Zombi 2, the early found footage Cannibal Holocaust, etc., it’s just that giallo is an unmistakably Italian creation. The giallo is a crime or detective horror work frequently defined by plenty of blood and stlye with the plot coming in far behind and a heavy Alfred Hitchcock influence. It’s murder-mystery format and bloody kills make for many of them being proto-slasher films and were incredibly influential to the development of that genre (the first Friday the 13th film being essentially an American giallo).

Mario Bava is unquestionably the founder of the genre with his 1963/1964 titles The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace but it is Dario Argento who turned it into a movement starting with 1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The next few years saw a genre explosion with such often awesomely named titles as A Bay of BloodA Lizard in a Woman’s SkinDon’t Torture a DucklingWhat Have You Done to Solange? Deep RedThe House with Laughing Windows, and if you are willing to stretch the definition a bit Suspiria. As a genre though, it fell from popularity in the late ‘70s though a number of acclaimed titles including MacabreTenebreStageFright, and Opera being produced throughout the ‘80s before largely dying out as a genre of well received films. Even aside from slashers and splatter films which drew from the genre, you can also point to films such as Berberian Sound Studio which have drawn from the genre.

Aside from the two linked reviews and the lackluster The Cat o’ Nine Tails from Argento, I’ll admit I’ve been very slow on my intake of giallos but I blame that on the fact that they are not as well distributed in the US and so many of them are incompetently done. I actually rented Deep Red for last year’s Month of Horror only to find that the disc played the movie in both dubbed English (a crime against humanity) and in select scenes unsubtitled Italian. This year I would not stand for any more problems tracking it down (especially with the film being one of the horror titles I was most ashamed to have never seen before, something I have specifically targeted this year, and the most acclaimed of the giallos) and just picked up a copy.

The first thing any viewer will notice is the awesome theme song and score (if not always congruous with what’s on screen) by Goblin (who also did the theme for Suspiria) full of that recurring motif and that seems to have heavily influenced Halloween and John Carpenter in general with it’s synthasizers and overall sound. As with any giallo, the next most important thing to note is the visuals which may not be quite on the level of Suspiria in the luscious colors but still looks really good with plenty of vibrant, fake looking blood. There’s a lot of shots of creepy dolls (to be fair, all dolls are creepy) including one left hanging in a woman’s apartment (which is of course spoiled by the American poster along with the SPOILERS Psycho-esque late reveal) END OF SPOILERS and a doll automaton but honestly the shots as they lingered over them had me laughing and not unsettled. The kills are well handled particularly SPOILERS a murder by being drowning in extremely hot water with her face left gruesomely burned, a scene depicting the squishing of the supposed killer’s head with a car, and an elevator assisted decapitation of the main baddie END OF SPOILERS but I won’t go so far as to call them especially memorable.

The story tells of a woman has a psychic vision of a cruel mind in her audience but is hacked to death before she can share her notes on it. Her murder is witnessed by a pianist who works together with a reporter to find the murderer while the murderer tries to track him down and kill him and anyone that will expose their secret. I criticized Pulse for its length and though I’m glad I saw the restored length film here, there is a ton of time killing and I can completely understand why they’d want to cut things down. The film as a whole seems to have a sense of humor including with an old car and flirtations between the two leads that don’t seem to really lead anywhere to go along with lengthy scenes as the killer puts on eye black and of course the dolls that grew tedious. This tone isn’t all bad as it was refreshing to have a remarkably good humored for someone soon to be accused of the murders and fairly unique. Having a woman stab a bird to death in self defense makes for an especially amusing jump scare and SPOILERS then trying to have her leave a note in fog only for the film to take it from her in a hilariously cruel manner takes from her with a brush of cold air (though as the film reveals later she didn’t actually finish the clue).

The final twist, I have to say the movie got me mostly by cheating. The film gave it away incredibly early when the pianist says “I never said it was a man” that it was incredibly obvious that it was a woman. I thought for sure it would be the reporter though since she just happens to stumble on him at the villa as it goes up in flames, is with him the entire way and gets stabbed at just the right moment to prove she is “innocent”. Instead it just proves how unoriginal Friday the 13th (as if we needed more proof) by pulling the “it was the mother” card though I still have no clue what her motivation was. Did she really believe the psychic was real? Was the psychic real? Why is Suspiria frequently not called a giallo since it has supernatural elements okay while this one seems to as well and yet is considered one? END OF SPOILERS

Deep Red is more coherent and better put together than Suspiria but I’m not sure that makes it a better movie or at the very least as entertaining a movie. It’s a very good movie for sure, but years of films influenced by it and looting the film for parts have dulled its impact. Still, there’s enough here to worth watching even aside from its huge historical impact.

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