Profondo Rosso is a truly bewildering experience. It?s perverse, but not enough to alienate; it?s sentimental about certain characters, but still slightly devoid of true identity; many scenes feature intense splashes of color and atmosphere while others are simply gristly and brutal; it contains suspense that is never as genuine as hoped. Directed by Italian thrill maestro Dario Argento, Profondo Rosso is material that accommodates so much, yet leaves more to be desired. (Considered by many to be Argento?s masterpiece, I still lean toward his 1977 classic Suspiria).
It?s as good a film can get within the genre of thrills and bloody mayhem, but it is also a work of pure style with very little substance and depth. That is a complement, mind you.
The plot is fairly elementary, with David Hemmings (Blow-Up) as an American freelance pianist living in Rome who witnesses the murder of a famed female parapsychologist. This is essentially the same storyline Argento told a few years before with his debut Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) where an American writer (Tony Musante), adrift in Italy, is the beholder of a near-killing at an art gallery. The main difference between the films? two crime scenes is merely extravagance: Where Bird relied on shadows, realism, and a Did-that-really-just-happen?
Mentally, Profondo uses shock, gore, and outrageousness. But Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) is all about shock.
Hemmings? Marcus Daily becomes so obsessed over the murder that he won?t be satisfied until he figures out who the assassin is. And like Musante?s character in Bird, Marcus puts his and his fellow patrons? lives at risk. He is questioned by the police over and over again and even inquires the help of newspaper reporter Giana (Daria Nicolodi, Argento?s ex) whose car?s locks don?t work resulting in a charming sequence where Marcus and Giana must exit the vehicle through the roof window. It becomes clear to us that Giana is attracted to Marcus, but their relationship is never fully sorted out?a shame since these two characters are one of the high-points of the film. Together they emerge as a pair of bickering 1940s starlets.
As the movie moves on, more murders happen, one that truly defies Argento?s sense of menace, style, and gore: As the pounding score by The Goblins rocks the soundtrack we get some really creepy imagery as the killer butchers his/her next victim via bludgeoning by a desk corner. Argento would letter revamp this gory dispatching in Opera (1987), a better film in my opinion. But character development is not always the highlight of a movie like Profondo Rosso, where every camera angle, every set design, and every aspect of the film?s killing scenes are the main focus.