Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) (1975) ****


Despite 35-plus years of subsequent variation and deviation in films good, bad, terrible and amazing, this remains Dario Argento's calling card: the perfection of the pure giallo of Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Cat O'Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet, and its first fusion with the baroque explosions of pure style that would become the central element of his next phase, beginning with Suspiria.
All of the above are worthy of investigation, but it is the unique combination of rationally involving narrative and wildly imaginative flourishes that continues to make Rosso so vividly exhilarating a film.

It's a murder mystery, that signposts its indebtedness to Antonioni's Blow Up by casting David Hemmings as the young musician who sees a murder and then, in its aftermath, becomes fixated upon the sensation that he saw something significant but cannot quite remember what it was.
This plot device - common to several of Argento's films - then plunges him into an increasingly nightmarish investigation, punctuated by murder scenes staged like rock operas.

Viewers without any taste for the excesses of the horror genre will find the whole thing too undisciplined and savage, and there's no question that Argento's relish in the process of violent death is problematic. But treat it like a kind of nth-degree Hitchcock movie, where style is all and content at most a facilitator, and this film should prove a stylistic text-book, wherein the defining effects and preoccupations of the Italian Giallo cinema are displayed in a state of eccentric perfection: black-gloved killers, fetish objects, strange juxtapositions of image and music, disorienting cuts to extreme close-up, ambiguous angles and perspectives, non-ambient lighting, the transformation of superbly chosen Italian locations into dream landscapes, shock moments somehow more effective for being announced rather than sudden.

Watch for Ossessione's Clara Calamai in a small but scene-stealing role.