Memories of murder

David Hemmings in Deep Red (1975).
When I was twelve or thirteen or so and had recently come into possession of both a word processer and a copy of Mick Martin and Marsha Porter’s Video Movie Guide—conveniently organized by genre—I embarked on a project to watch, in alphabetical order, and subsequently type up, every horror movie available to me at my local video store (Video Factory; Rome, NY).  I never finished the project, though I did keep at it for about a year or so, and made it up to “F” or thereabouts.  Which meant that I ended up watching a fairly high number of shitty horror movies with titles beginning with “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E”—The Alchemist, Bloodsucking Freaks, Cathy’s Curse, Don’t Open the Door, etc.  But it also introduced me to such gems as Bride of Frankenstein, The Changeling…and Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975), the latter under the U.S. title Deep Red Hatchet Murders.  I’m pretty sure this was the VHS copy I rented:

Even in this, um, butchered version (some 26 minutes shy of the Italian cut) the film made a lasting impression on me.  I recall being tickled by the conceit of a murder clue written on a bathroom mirror, which only became visible when the room was sufficiently steamed up.  And I enjoyed the twist ending in which the murderer is revealed to be the crazed mother of the prime suspect—something like Psycho in reverse—though for years I had misremembered this and was under the impression that the murderess was actually Daria Nicolodi’s screwball journalist.  Anyway.  Some clunky storytelling aside, Deep Red, which I re-watched earlier this week for the first time since 2007 or so, is still a lot of fun.  Its murder scenes are gruesome, imaginative, and witty, if that’s your thing; its gender politics are surprisingly progressive, if that’s your thing (the plot hinges on the gradual disabuse of David Hemmings’ male chauvinism); and, as one would expect from Argento, it’s drenched in style.  I particularly love the crumbling art-nouveau mansion that Hemmings explores at several points in the film, with its wrought iron, stained glass, and climbing ivy.  Even though the house serves a narrative purpose within the film, the exploration scenes are examples of Argento’s penchant for bringing the plot to a halt in order to indulge in the sensuous pleasures of his own mise-en-scene.  It’s a fabulously designed space that looks ahead to the florid beauty of Suspiria two years later.


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