Deep Red echoes Daro Argento’s earlier (and not as good) The Bird With The Crystal Plumage with its tale of a foreigner in Rome witnessing and getting himself mixed up in a murder (and getting everyone around him killed along the way). Don’t let the fact that this feels like an instance of a director remaking his own movie deter you from checking it out because Argento is able to play up his strengths (kinetic camera work, sudden vicious violence, a sense of isolation) and jettison all the barnacles that slow his other pictures down (pointless red herrings, lazy plotting, all the self-referential crap that helped to sink Tenebre).
A parapsychology conference is featuring a couple of old guys and this woman with psychic abilities. At first she doesn’t demonstrate much more than you would expect from Criswell or Carnac, telling an audience member that he has his hands in his pocket and is playing pocket pool with his keys and I’m thinking that what we have here is your basic sideshow act like in X – The Man With The X-Ray Eyes. The only thing missing was Don Rickles !
Well, this woman turns it up a notch and launches into one of those crazy-assed trances that tend to afflict psychics whenever there’s a murderer in the crowd.
She flops all over the place and some people in the audience leave because apparently there’s quite a few of them that think her comment that “there’s a murderer here” could apply to them.
Marcus Daly is walking along the street late that night talking with his drunk pal Carlo. They part company and Marcus hears someone screaming. He goes toward the noise and looks up to see the woman psychic slammed through a window, her neck sliced when it lands on one of the broken shards. He runs up to the house and looks around, finding that the psychic is dead. He sees a person in a brown coat running down the street from the apartment.
Marcus is bothered by something that he thinks he saw in the house. He is convinced that a painting he saw when he arrived on the scene was missing when he finally left the house.
Marcus also meets up with a reporter named Gianna. She’s one of those nosy Lois Lane types that wants to get in on all the action. Gianna plasters all over the papers that Marcus is an eyewitness and it doesn’t take a genius to know that this murderer isn’t shy about shutting up witnesses.
Back at home, Marcus hears someone in the other room as well as a child’s song. This is the same song we heard at the very beginning where we saw someone being stabbed by someone else, presumably involving a family with a child.
We assume that the psychic had stumbled onto someone who committed this murder all those years ago and now that person is doing everything possible to make sure he or she isn’t found out.
Marcus continues to be bothered about the painting that he thought was taken from the murdered girl’s apartment, so he goes looking for Carlo to see if he saw anything that night. Carlo doesn’t really know anything but says a lot weird stuff about how Marcus is just believing that what he saw is the truth and how it may not really be that at all and generally not the supportive stuff you would expect from your alcoholic, gay, piano-playing pal.
Marcus looks up the dudes that were at the psychic convention and tries to get some tips from them. One of them remembers that there was a book of folklore that described a ghost story where children’s music could be heard coming from a home where there were some murders!
Marcus runs out, deciding that now would be a great time to finally get his library card to the Rome Library of Folklore and Big Time Clues. Marcus rushes from one location to another in search of clues, leaving stabbings, shootings, and murders in his wake.
The identity of the killer is semi-preposterous but Argento sticks with a fairly straight-forward explanation for the killings, thus avoiding all the head-scratching and shoulder shrugging that characterized the endings of films like Tenebre and The Bird With The Crystal Plumage.
Nothing torpedoes a murder mystery more than a bunch of baloney served up at the end explaining all the action you just sat through. In fact, you could probably make the case that Argento almost went too far in the other direction and could have added depth to several characters by going into detail a little more about the past of the murderer, but as it is, there are issues which are only hinted at and the audience is left to draw its own conclusions about various relationships.
There’s not a lot of meaningless happenings in this film that are shoehorned in to trick the audience. There is a bit of misdirection, but most everything is incredibly focused and driven toward the ultimate goal of Marcus discovering the identity of the killer.
Though I could quibble with how the killer could know where all these people were all the time, I didn’t really mind because the movie just flows so well, segueing from shocking scenes of violence to the more lighthearted moments where Marcus is complaining about Gianna’s crappy car and then back to Marcus going off on his own to investigate things.
The resolution at the end explaining what it was about the painting in the house that drew his attention is very good and is quite creepy.
Argento marries solid plotting with his trademark visual flourishes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Scorsese movie, the sweeping and swirling camera work mesmerizing the viewer with its constant motion. Even the music by Goblin only serves to enhance the scenes it’s used in, the quickly familiar riff (echoed in John Carpenter’s Halloween theme a few years later) instilling a sense of dread in the viewer whenever it explodes into a scene. This is the film where Dario Argento puts all the pieces together and gives you the nasty, unsettling Italian slasher epic that you hope for every time you watch his films.
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