Deep Red at 40: Dario Argento sets the standard for death as art form

Contributed by
Mar 6, 2015, 5:14 PM EST

Forty years ago, 1975 brought the arrival of a number of sci-fi, horror and fantasy films that made an impact on their genres -- some good, some not so good, but all interesting and all remembered even to this day. This is the second in a series (see our first installment on The Stepford Wives) that will step back 40 years and take a look at each of those films on the anniversary of its release and where it stands four decades later ...

Title: Deep Red (Italian title: Profondo Rosso)

Release date: March 7, 1975

Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Macha Meril

Director: Dario Argento

Plot: British jazz pianist Marcus Daly (Hemmings), working in Rome, comes home one night and witnesses the murder of his neighbor, a psychic named Helga Ulmann (Meril). Convinced that he has seen something that could possibly solve the murder, Daly begins his own investigation with the help of reporter Gianna Brezzi (Nicolodi) ... even as the black-gloved murderer begins targeting others around them in a tightening circle of death.

Why it's significant: Dario Argento is considered one of the grandmasters of European horror, and echoes of Deep Red, the fifth feature film from the legendary Italian filmmaker, reverberate through the horror and thriller genres to this day. Argento took the Italian giallo (a combination of mystery and thriller) in which he had initial success with his first three pictures and escalated the violence and gore to the point where the line blurred between giallo and outright horror -- a trend that has carried through the decades into films like Seven and The Silence of the Lambs (and its TV offshoot, Hannibal).

Less concerned with a precisely honed plot and more interested in creating visually shocking set pieces, Argento concocted a series of increasingly outlandish and gruesome murders for Deep Red -- in fact, the movie is structured more or less around each successive showstopper, from a woman being scalded to death in a bath to a man being dragged along a street by a truck, only to have his head crunched by another vehicle. The "creative death scenes" aspect of the horror genre has been seen since in films ranging from The Omen (1976) to the massively successful Final Destination series to Seven again. Argento's famed shots from the point of view of the killer have also been acknowledged in movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th, with the latter also taking its cue from Argento for the reveal of the killer.

Argento went on to greater heights with 1977's groundbreaking Suspiria and its 1980 followup, Inferno, but Deep Red is fondly remembered today as the movie in which the horror, mystery and thriller genres all collided in spectacular fashion, leaving a stylish trail of cinematic blood and artistically choreographed carnage that numerous genre filmmakers have followed in the four decades since.

Deep Red Trivia: