Few horror films deserve the “classic” label as much as Dario Argento’s giallo from 1975, Deep Red. It is required viewing for any fan of the genre, not only for the film itself, but for its influence on the every scary movie that came after it. A real gamechanger, this one, and it has never looked better than it does in the new Arrow Video Blu-Ray release. That’s not hyperbole; I own two other versions of Deep Red, and this one is the most visually compelling.
There are three cuts of Deep Red currently circulating. One of them, an R-rated version inexplicably titled The Hatchet Murders, clocks in at 98 minutes. It’s a hack job, barely watchable and incoherent. The theatrical cut, running for 106 minutes, is the most common. It’s excellent, but Arrow wisely chose to go with the director’s cut, a full 22 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The extra footage isn’t there for padding; it fleshes Deep Red out, completes it, and reinforces it as a thoughtful film, not another stamped out cookie-cutter slasher flick. This is arthouse horror without pretension.
Argento has attained a stigma over the years, sometimes referred to as a director who hates women, delighting in their violent demises. Deep Red was released 1975, only two years after the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs known as ‘The Battle of the Sexes.” It is telling that the main character in the film, Marc Daly (David Hemmings), is a male chauvinist. As he finds himself drawn into the investigation of the murder of a famed psychic, he pairs up with a fiesty female reporter named Gianna (Daria Nicolodi). After Daly goes on a mini-rant about the superiority of males over females, Gianna promptly beats him at arm wrestling. She is smarter and stronger than he, and it makes his balls shrink. The role reversal is fun to watch, giving the film more depth than the average horror film.
But it’s the set-pieces that garner the most attention, the deftly constructed death scenes that punctuate all of Argento’s work. The 4K restoration presents them all in vivid detail. From the scalding later recreated in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II to the eerie, unheralded appearance of a clockwork puppet in a victim’s office, later aped by the recurring presence of the tricycle-riding Billy in the Saw series, the Arrow disc is sharp and clear. Videophiles often talk about black levels, but as it should be, the star of this presentation is the color red. Particularly within the first twenty minutes, at a parapsychological conference held in an old theater, different hues of red are easily distinguished. The red velvet seats, the crimson curtain behind the speakers, even subtly different shades of lipstick are clearly defined.
The disc is also loaded with special features, including interviews with star Daria Nicolodi, soundtrack musician Claudio Simonetti and Argento himself. The visual essay by Michael McKenzie, Profondo Giallo, dives deeply into the underlying themes of Deep Red. These are all great resources for anyone who wants to know more about the thought process behind the creation of the film. Note, though, that these are not new interviews. There is much discussion of a remake of Deep Red in 3D which, thankfully, never entered production.
But none of that would matter if the movie were awful, and it assuredly is not. Deep Red was one of the last great adult horror films of the 1970s, before the market began to re-orient itself towards teenagers. It requires focus and attention. There is not an on-screen kill every twelve minutes. But Deep Red carries itself with import and style, and has had such an impact on the genre, that it needs to be seen. The director’s cut Blu-Ray from Arrow Video is now the best way to achieve that, and is the essential version to own.