Magic and murder combine in Argento's mystery masterpiece Deep Red (1975)
Often referred to as his greatest work, Dario Argento's Profondo rosso is not only a dazzling technical showcase but also his strongest narrative film. I've often said - especially in reference to Suspiria (1977) - that Argento can't tell a story on paper to save his life. His narrative arcs unfurl through the combination of visuals and music, best exemplified by Suspiria's first murder sequence which takes the form of a horrifically grotesque Dalí-like abstraction. The colour in Argento's cinema is rich and saturated, almost to the point of being pornographic, and the score here has an almost supernatural air. But it's really the way images and music are cut together that makes the narrative work. Argento's murder scenes are edited to the rhythm of fear. They aren't concerned with continuity, but rather emotion. Imagine if a masked man had broken into your home and was trying to kill you? The experience would be frenzied and disorienting. Maybe you'd black out a little, or lose sight of your killer? The fluidity of Argento's camerawork, intensity of the colour and jagged cohesion of shots makes for an experience that is purely sensory, and works all the better for rejecting conventional structure. But Profondo rosso also has a great story, and an involving mystery at its core. It has a straighter narrative progression than I'm used to seeing from Argento, and there is the sense of a character arc actually evolving within a timeline...
Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is a character with relationships whose identity is actually (somewhat) explored. Many of Argento's films place a greater emphasis on action, but this one seems equally concerned with plot and character. I believed in the way Marcus wanted to help his alcoholic friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia) and I enjoyed the playful relationship emerging between him and journalist Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi). That's what makes Profondo rosso Argento's best film - the fact that it marries his most inventive artistic flourishes and visual storytelling capabilities with an actual narrative arc and intelligently scripted characters who have believable relationships. Of course they do still have awful communication skills - is it really that hard to organize an immediate conversation, or tell somebody incredibly important details of a murder case over the phone? "I'll talk to you tomorrow" is pretty much the sign-off line for every character who gets too close to revealing the killer. But that doesn't detract from the pleasure of Profondo rosso, which features a stunning set-piece in a country house with the scariest shot of a clothes rail you'll ever see. Also, Argento manages to compose an ending worthy of the mystery that has come before it. So many of his films derail before the finale but this one manages to tie all the plot strands together for an exciting, blood-soaked denouement featuring two awesomely inventive kills. It's a little silly, sure. But that's why it's so great.
There's still some grain to the picture, but if a gialli flick was too clean it would lose a lot of its appeal. Arrow are a company who really understand these kinds of genre movies though so they place all of their efforts on serving Argento's colour scheme, and in that regard the film looks great. The score and sound design is well served too, and my 5.1 Surround Sound System had me jumping and looking over my shoulder more than once. The extras are numerous and include interviews, documentaries and trailers. An excellent package.