Profondo Rosso

Profondo Rosso

I’ve never attended a séance or been to any conference on the supernatural but imagine them to be harmless affairs. A few entertaining tricks by the performers on stage, raised (albeit hollow) hopes for the recently bereaved and a few ‘how on earth did he know that?’ moments. Witnessing the opening scenes of Profondo Rosso, it’s evident horror master Dario Argento thinks they should be far more dramatic.

Proceedings kick off at a public talk on the paranormal when the visiting psychic, in a thrillingly hammy scene, claims to sense great eeeeeevil: not only is there a killer at large but that killer is here in this very room and plans to kill again. Probably the wrong move to announce this kind of thing to a crowded room of onlookers because, you’ve guessed it, the next murder victim turns out to be the psychic herself. One has to wonder that if perhaps she’d just kept her mouth shut the murderer would have slunk away and the city of Rome would have been left in peace. But then we would have no film so thank you Macha Méril – playing the psychic Helga – for making the ultimate sacrifice.

Into the mix steps David Hemmings, an expat musician and Helga’s neighbour who witnesses her murder on his way home. He is too late to save her but becomes intrigued by the gory circumstances and commits himself to solving the crime. The story is nothing ground-breaking and it more or less follows the tested formula in Argento’s earlier Bird with the Crystal Plumage where the protagonist is a stranger in the city, witnesses a murder by chance then gets doggedly caught up in finding the killer; easily outperforming the regular detectives but endangering his own life along the way. It’s boilerplate stuff but the beauty is what Argento does with the material.

Profondo Rosso

The camera almost becomes a character in its own right, peaking around corners, blind in the dark, pushing curtains out of the way while the killings are fabulously inventive; not a least bizarre & terrifying attack by wind-up doll (be assured: a hell of a lot scarier that it sounds). Journalist Daria Nicolodi joins Hemmings in the investigation and the two actors play very well off each other, developing a charming repartee that more than compensates for the few ill-judged moments of goofball humour that don’t quite work. In fact for my money the best scene in the movie doesn’t involve splatter at all. It’s purely expository, full of easy humour and involves the two investigators, on opposite ends of a phone line, both in comically noisy environs.

The further the film proceeds the less plot matters. Argento abandons quite a few story points along the way – Helga’s seemingly genuine psychic powers, a mynah bird as murder witness – as well as throwing in a few kooky red herrings. And when it finally arrives the solution to the central mystery is a futile and ultimately hollow victory for the hero, much in keeping with many of its classy ’70s contemporaries like The Conversation, Night Moves or The Long Goodbye.

Once the killer is cornered & exposed the film wraps incredibly quickly – a perennial criticism of Argento – but the twists that get us to the final reveal, not to mention the last two deaths as poetic justice is served, are superb so it’s no wonder this is regarded by horror aficionados as being the primo example of the genre.

Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red) – directed by Dario Argento (1975)

In Short
Argento’s best work and considered to be the quintessential Giallo.
Hemmings revisits Blow Up by way of Italian horror.
Avoid if averse to hatchets or creepy dolls.
Trailer here