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Probably Argento's best and good example of 'giallo' but flawed
on 10 October 2010
Don't worry - no spoilers!
I originally saw this movie many years ago in a Paris art-house cinema under its French title of 'Les Frissons de l'Angoisse' (shivers of agony) and, whilst not making a huge impression, did get under my skin a bit and stuck in my mind. I waited a long time to see it again. Luckily the digital Horror channel showed what I believe to be the uncut version a few nights back and gave me the opportunity to exorcise the ghost and assess whether it really is the masterpiece that some believe. So, for what it's worth, here are my musings on Deep Red/Profondo Rosso/Les Frissons de l'Angoisse.
The genre known as 'giallo' (Italian for yellow) spawned a great many movies based on trashy and highly melodramatic murder/mystery novels, so named because they apparently used to be cheaply bound with yellow covers. They sound quite similar to what used to be known as 'Penny Dreadfuls' in England. Put Argento, with his penchant for eccentric direction, in charge of such source material and the result could have been cringe-worthy car-crash material at its worst. Well it has to be said that some of the dialogue is pretty dreadful and far from convincing. In particular the conceit of Hemmings often talking to himself in order to explain a plot development, was both unrealistic and insulted the intelligence of the average viewer. Furthermore, between the admittedly impressively gory killings, there is much superfluous dialogue and action that does little or nothing to advance the plot. I could certainly forgive the elements of humour (verging on slapstick in places!) that contrast effectively with the horrors to come, but what was unforgivable was an explicit and pretty damn vile scene of animal torture (the spiked lizard, which has been cut from some versions of the film), which is utterly gratuitous and will certainly diminish any decent person's enjoyment of the film.
The plot is reasonably coherent (for an Argento!) and everything falls into place pretty well at the moment of the grand denouement. You will probably even wish to rewind to watch for clues you may have missed. One clue is very blatant and careful use of the DVD pause button will reveal whodunit early on (OK I promised no spoilers, so I'll say no more). As for the music, it's rather incongruous and intrusive. Apparently Argento wanted Pink Floyd, but had to make do with some Italian band called Goblin, who produce an almost note-for-note rip-off of the latter stages of Tubular Bells first movement! Did Oldfield ever sue?
To summarise, this is a reasonable example of the giallo genre and is certainly a far more accomplished movie than the ponderous Bird With The Crystal Plumage or the ridiculously trashy Suspiria. There are a few truly inventive death scenes contained herein though and the overall atmosphere is maintained at quite an unsettling level. But Psycho it ain't! It's far too long with much tedium between the high points and the cheesy (and frequently poorly dubbed) dialogue will grate, as will the derivative and intrusive music. Also a star knocked off for the animal torture.