A name that the folk who run in horror circles know (if they've been around long enough and are worth their salt) is that of Dario Argento. Anyone else has probably never even heard of him. Not definitely, no, there are always exceptions, but probably. I can think of about three people I know who read my reviews at all who might have some prayer in hell of knowing who he is–and any of those three have seen more Argento than I have.
Profondo Rosso is a giallo, which is an Italian word for "yellow," referring to the covers of the cheap pulp paperbacks that led to the term–they're all crime mystery novels, but the term has now come, at least in America, to be most closely associated with film. Gialli, as films, are murder mysteries which tend to have elaborate and fairly gory murder scenes with fairly unusual set-ups. Argento was no stranger to them by this film, having previously directed a handful, well-known amongst his followers–L'Uccello dalle piume de cristallo, Il gatto a nove code, 4 mosche di velluto grigio*–but this is perhaps the most well-known and best thought of.
Marc Daly (David Hemmings) is a British jazz pianist teaching piano in Italy when he happens to witness a the murder of psychic Helga Ulmann (Macha Méril) and feels that he saw some valuable clue in the process. He begins attempting to put this together to ease his mind with the help of reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, a near-regular in Italian horror between Mario Bava's Schock and many collaborations with Dario Argento–not only acting, but also helping to script the classic Suspiria, and on one of their most eye-pleasing collaborations–daughter Asia Argento). He assembles clues in a very standard mystery/thriller fashion–here's a picture in a book about a story that's reminiscent of the story that they think might have inspired the murder (you wonder how they happen to pick exactly the right one sometimes…) and so on. He occasionally compares notes with Ulmann's companion Professor Giordani (Glauco Mauri).
The story is nothing to write home about, it's a murder mystery, and there's only so much that can be done with that, though of course this is a lot of murders and they're still occurring, which is something (or was, at the time of filming, comparatively). But then it usually ISN'T much to write home about when dealing with gialli–they're all about style. And Argento has style. Gobs of it. He's most notorious for his use of colour, which, while visible, seemed less instantly apparent in this particular film. More present was his use of cameras that roll and swoop, as well as extreme close-ups and strange, low and high angles. The composition and construction of the shots (yes, especially the murders!) is stunning and beautiful, with the camera often casually but steadily gliding along a few inches above the floor, as if it were an extremely sure-footed rat or other small animal, simply seeing the murders occur but taking no interest in them. The low angles on one character as she speaks into the phone and the bottom of the frame is even with the bottom of her eye, completely skewing our normal view, leaving us with only what is present above and beside that point, instead of her whole face. Mirrors and coloured surfaces are perfectly placed, spaced and sized for maximum viewing impact; more than one bathroom is actually present in the film, the first being a dingy white one with more space on all sides than one might expect, giving the viewer a strange feeling of too much openness, of vulnerability, the later one in a mirrored and partly dark bathroom, here a slick, wet mess of claustrophobia. The man was a master of these things; while the scenes between could drag on a bit (I was also pretty tired, in fairness), it was worth waiting for every single carefully constructed thrilling sequence, even the ones that weren't murders. Daly discovering the hidden secrets of a dilapidated home, for instance.
Oh, there's one other thing to note. Some crazy band called "Goblin" did the soundtrack.
Yeah, THAT Goblin.
If you know me, you know that's false ignorance. You also probably saw this coming. I LOVE Goblin. This is one of their finest soundtrack works, especially with the way Argento has married it to the visuals, even when the visuals are just an uncomfortably close stroll through a string of objects the killer has strewn around and carefully placed on a solid black surface. Simonetti's pounding keyboard lines and warping synth sounds carry the tension admirably over Marangolo's rapid, dancing, shifty drums as Morante's guitar adds an extra chord of force to the melody, Pignatelli's bass rolling it altogether and giving it momentum. It is absolutely fantastic, as should be no surprise from such a wonderful group. Giorgio Gaslini's contributions are modest but very effective, and I shouldn't do anything to discredit the work he did on the film before those wonderful lads took over, but it is a bit more run-of-the-mill. As good as Argento's images are–and they are VERY good–they are only enhanced by Goblin's music. It's like an instant infusion of energy and power into every scene they occur in. It's an almost visceral experience to see these carefully constructed stalking and murder scenes carried out to this wild, vaguely jazzy and extremely hard rocking soundtrack.
I remember when I first watched this, it was a bad, pirated VHS of, I imagine, this very DVD–it was the uncut version and included the now infamous switch between subbing and dubbing. This is because many scenes were never dubbed for the English cut (which was a good 28 minutes shorter!) and so no English audio exists. If I had thought about it, I would have watched it in Italian and just kept the flow of continuous subtitles, but it worked well enough without I'd say. Knowing that now, I took no issue with it and watched it happily as it switched back and forth, and I'm not too upset I missed the chance at cohesive voice acting, as I did get to hear Hemmings' actual voice. One must realize that Argento does indeed maintain the Italian style of film-making–every actor is speaking their native language and no audio is recorded natively. There is no "Additional Dialogue Recording" with his films, there's just "Dialogue Recording." As such, yes, it's difficult to judge acting. All of the physicality felt right and all of the voices were at least competent and never felt stilted or wooden, but it's difficult to reconcile the fact that they are obviously not related to the character. Here, again, though, we come to the fact that this is more something to SEE, something to HEAR, something to EXPERIENCE, than something to watch for performances or story. Both are definitely passable and are not distracting, but don't go in expecting fireworks from either.
*OK, OK–The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O' Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet.