Deep Red (Dario Argento / Italy, 1975):
(Profondo Rosso; The Hatchet Murders)

The "artistic temperament" splayed wide open as grisly symphony, crimson curtains and all. A crucial little scene, usually missing from American prints, states Dario Argento’s rejection of formalism (a midnight jazz session criticized as "too clean, too precise"), the Teutonic psychic (Macha Méril) gives incantatory voice to his imagist approach ("Thoughts linger about the room like cobwebs..."). The set-up (out of Mabuse and The 39 Steps) puts a mind-reader and a killer in the same auditorium, she’s pierced first telepathically and then physically, an expatriate musician (David Hemmings) witnesses the slaughter from afar and decides to investigate. The self-loathing colleague (Gabriele Lavia), the stifled diva (Clara Calamai) and the brassy reporter (Daria Nicolodi) take turns confounding the protagonist, even the redheaded moppet (Nicoletta Elmi) grins like a goblin when not toying with pins and reptiles. The prowling camera builds toward "the house of the screaming child" where the obsessed pianist chips away at the plaster on a mural until a skeleton is revealed (cf. Dali’s Rainy Taxi), gruesome illumination comes in the surreal junction between paintings and mirrors. Beauty and horror, these are Argento’s braided elements: extraordinary compositions unsettled by tracking shots, macabre objects that in extreme close-up go from talismanic to architectural, gorgeous tableaux that somehow grow even more gorgeous once skewered by a hatchet. Faces are burned and teeth are demolished, though it is the eye that’s confronted most assiduously in this bottomless analysis of Antonioni’s Blowup, where gaze and memory are as slippery as the visual clues that literally evaporate from moment to moment. (By contrast, the puncturing of Hemmings’ masculine control, from the delicate prettiness of Lavia’s male lover to the arm-wrestling bout conquered by Nicolodi, is downright Hawksian in its implacability.) A procession of shocks at once stark and rococo, a most ferocious view of the repressed artiste’s bloody manifestations, and so rich that De Palma had only to glance at it to come up with both Dressed to Kill and Blow Out. Cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller. With Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra, Piero Mazzinghi, and Glauco Mauri.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home