Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Peter Strickland’s Italian horror homage, Berberian Sound Studio, has us thinking back on our favorite giallo movies.
Deep Red (1975)
Deep Red rocks for many reasons, but it does so first and foremost because of Goblin, Dario Argento’s favorite heavy metal band, whose score to the Italian horror maestro’s 1975 giallo is a thing of propulsive malevolence. It’s the ideal audio accompaniment to Argento’s masterpiece, a serial-killer thriller rife with the auteur’s signature flourishes: serpentine camerawork, lurid colors, regular POV shots from the killer’s perspective, a fiend seen only in close-ups of black gloves and eyes (here, lined with dark mascara), screeching birds, and a story fascinated with the reliability of sight. As in 1966’s Blow-Up, David Hemmings—as a European pianist in Italy—finds it difficult to fully decipher what’s right in front of his face, which in this case is the slaughter of a psychic who, the evening before, had sensed the presence of a murderer in her audience. Puzzled by the notion that a painting he’d seen in the victim’s apartment the night of the crime is now missing, Hemmings begins an investigation alongside Daria Nicolodi’s journalist, who continues to flirt with him even after he repeatedly dismisses women as inferior to men.
A running gag in which Hemmings’ car seat places him far lower than Nicolodi amusingly speaks to Argento’s own gender-equality stance, though Deep Red is most entrancing when its characters are navigating the darkened hallways and secret rooms of abandoned buildings. A prologue murder seen in shadows against a kid’s bedroom wall, and set to the “la la la” singing of a children’s song, sets the terrifying, beguiling tone. It also provides clues to the ensuing whodunit, which—both in terms of the killer’s identity and motives, as well as Hemmings’ desire to remember whatever it is about the missing painting that strikes him as vitally important—is all rooted in return-of-the-repressed struggles. Despite his contentious bickering with Nicolodi, Hemmings is a bland protagonist. That shortcoming, however, doesn’t diminish Deep Red’s power, which thanks to Argento’s sleek and sharply honed stewardship, hums with sinister sensuality.
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