Monday, January 31, 2011

BLU-RAY REVIEW: DEEP RED


DEEP RED (1975)

LABEL: Arrow Video
DIRECTOR: Dario Argento
CAST: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra, Piero Mazzinghi, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai, Aldo Bonamano, Liana Del Balzo, Nicoletta Elmi
RATING: 18 Certificate
REGION CODE: Region Free
DURATION: 127 mins / 105 mins
TAGLINE: Flesh ripped clean from the bone… And the blood runs red…

PLOT: A black gloved killer hacks a psychic to death but there was a witness… Marcus Daly, an English pianist, rushes to the scene but he’s too late to save her. He sets out to solve the murder but at every turn the mysterious slayer strikes, cutting off each line of enquiry with acts of grisly violence, each more shocking than the last!


FILM: Dario Argento's directing career began with three quite brilliant giallo films all in short order. The Italian Giallos were in essence proto-slashers that laid the blueprint and fueled the late-70's and early-80's slasher genre. This trio of films included THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971) and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1971). Each an exciting and stylish genre defining film. Next, Argento would go onto direct the comedic period piece FIVE DAYS IN MILAN  (1973) which was quite a failure at the box office. This stands as the only Argento film I have not seen and the only title not widely available on DVD (anyone wanna help me out with that?). Fresh off that disappointment Argento again returned to the genre that brought him notoriety with what many consider to me his masterpiece DEEP RED.

It's familiar territory as an everyday man finds himself mixed-up in the dealings of a black-gloved murderer, it's a pretty standard giallo set-up. This time our amateur sleuth is an English musician  working in Rome named Marucs (played by David Hemmings fresh off Antonion's BLOW-UP). Marc is out for a drink when he runs into drunken friend Carlo outside a piano bar when both men hear a frightful scream ring out in the night. Carlo merely raises a toast to the "deflowered virgin" and heads back to a nearby bar. Marc remains a bit longer and witnesses the murder of a woman from outside her apartment window. The woman is struck with a hatchet to the back of the head and crashes through a thick window pane and her throat is slashed by the jagged glass. Marc dashes to the woman's aide but is too late. Through the window Marc spots a figure fleeing the scene in a rain jacket and hat obscuring the killer's identity. The woman was a psychic medium named Helga who earlier in the evening attended a conference for paranormal psychology when she sensed the thoughts of a murderer amongst the theatre goers.  The traumatic experience leaves her stricken and terrified. The murderous minded figure leaves the theatre unnoticed but follows Helga back to her apartment where she's attacked after hearing the strains of children's lullaby. After the police arrive at scene of the murder Marc meets bubbly tabloid journalist Gianni played by a never lovelier Daria Nicolodi. The two develop a playful relationship as Gianni vies for Marcus's attention. They're a fun dynamic duo and easily stand as Argento's most defined character pairing. In typical giallo fashion the police prove to be largely inept and most of the sleuthing is left to the unlikely pair. As the intricate thriller plays out Marc is dogged by the fact that he cannot recall a crucial piece of the puzzle,  something is missing from the scene of the murder that he cannot remember. Together he and Gianni set out to follow the clues beginning with the psychics death which lead them to some truly improbable deductions that lead them further down the mystery laden path, the killer seemingly one-step ahead of them. Each murder is preceded by the haunting refrain from a reoccurring children's lullaby.

Argento is sometimes pegged as a visually stylish director who forgoes certain narrative elements in favor of striking imagery and I see it myself in films like the visually delightful but narratively shallow SUSPIRIA (1977) but Deep Red is an exception. The characters are interesting and defined, particularly the two leads. The plot is full of subtly intricate twists and turns but Argento's signature style is ever present and in full force. Each shot is meticulously staged and framed by Luigi Kuveiler's wonderfully fluid scope cinematography. The killings are magnificent, great staging, sharp editing and some very fine special effects that hold up some 35 years after the fact. A particularly brutal scene involves a man having his teeth repeatedly smashed on the corner of a marble table after being attacked by a nightmarish porcelain-faced mechanical doll. Then there's a gorgeously shot drowning in a tub of scalding hot water, great stuff.

BLU-RAY Dario Argento's DEEP RED is given it's due respect by Arrow Video whom also have planned editions of TENEBRAE, CAT O' NINE TAILS and PHENOMENA planned on top of a brilliant INFERNO: 30th Anniversary Edition released late last year. There are two versions of the film; the Theatrical Cut  (105 min.) and the Director's Cut (127min.)  - both have been given gorgeous new 2.35:1 1080p transfers. While this isn't the stuff of 1080p legend it is truly fantastic and by far the best the film has ever looked. Crisp, vibrant and finely detailed with a healthy amount of grain. The image appears slightly brighter than previous DVD editions I've seen, but the colors are vivid and the black are deep and inky. Audio options include a striking Italian language DTS-HD 5.1, an Italian Language Dolby Digital stereo mix and an English language Dolby Digital Mono track. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is remarkable with the Goblin score heard as if for the first time. While not my personal favorite Goblin theme it's a truly iconic score and is reinvigorated by a brilliant mix. Optional English language subtitles are included. The English audio on the Director's Cut of the film has some portions of English audio missing that was either never recorded or has been lost and has been re-assembled from various audio sources. So, at times the audio will go from English to subtitled Italian. It's not too distracting but I recommend the rich Italian language DTS-HD 5.1 over it just the same, it's a great mix with some decent depth to it.

It wouldn't be an Arrow Video release without some amazing exclusive extras and there's no shortage bonus content here. A brief introduction from Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti voicing his pleasure at being involved with a film he considers a masterpiece. Then onto Lady In Red: Daria Noclodi Remembers Profondo Rosso (20:39). Argento's former lover and mother of his children discusses not only her involvement with Deep Red but her other works, Argento's career and Argento himself who she described rather unflatteringly several times. It's a great piece. Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red (15:26) an interview with the Goblin Composer who is as much a part of Argento lore as the master himself. Like Nocilodi I always find the Simonetti interviews to be quite interesting and revealing. Rosso Recollection: Dario Argento's Deep Genius (13:59) features the director himself speaking about his family and the film. The Argento family and the depictions of his wife and daughters is an interesting one. Rosso: from Celluloid to Shop (14:46) is a tour of the Profondo Rosso Shop in Rome an guided by filmmaker Luigi Cozzi . The place is a museum to all things Argento and rounding out the special features are both an Italian and U.S. trailer for the film. It's interesting to note the difference in approach between the two markets. All the special features are 16:9 and 1080p. And then there's the fantastic Arrow Video packaging detailed below which includes an 8 page booklet with new writing from Argento scholar Alan Jones, reversible 4-panel sleeve with 4 art options including 3 one sheets and newly commissioned artwork from Arrow Video regular Rick Melton plus a two-sided fold out poster featuring the U.S. one sheet and the Melton panel.

PACKAGING:
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned art work
- Two-sided fold-out poster with new art work
- Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on Deep Red by Alan Jones, author of ‘Profondo Argento’

DISC 1 SPECIAL FEATURES
- Introduction by composer Claudio Simonetti 16:9 1080p
- Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock (2:06:34)
- Rosso Recollections – Dario’s Deep Genius (13:59) 1080p
- Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi remembers Profondo Rosso (20:39) 1080p
- Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red (15:26) 1080p
- Original Italian Trailer (1:52) 16:9 1080p
- Original Trailer (2:47) 1080p

DISC 2 SPECIAL FEATURES:
- A Tour of the Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) shop in Rome with long time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi (14:46) 1080p
- Easter Eggs - a brief interview Claudio Simonetti about the use of the GOBLIN score in a SUSPIRIA remake.  (0:39) 1080p



VERDICT: The Italian maestro of the macabre Mario Bava more or less created the giallo film with THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), but Argento fine tuned it with his debut feature THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and arguably perfected it with DEEP RED. The giallo genre is a precursor to the 80's slasher craze and this along with Mario Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) are essential viewing for genre fans.  Arrow Video's lovingly assembled Blu is by far the most definitive release of the title and comes with high recommend from the Mausoleum. Treat yourself to a true masterpiece of Italian slasher cinema in a gorgeous 1080p presentation.  Arrow Video's Blu-ray is region free and I suggest the Blu-ray over the DVD if only to avoid the PAL speed-up and the fact the the audio commentary is a Blu exclusive. Up next from Arrow Video is a DVD of the Oswaldo De Oliveira's women-in-prison film BARE BEHIND BARS (1980)  as well as Blu-rays of the 80's neon comedy-horror VAMP (1986) and the gore-filled surreality of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND (1981). Outstanding. ****1/2  (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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