Profondo rosso (1975)

reviewed by
Mike Watson

A film review by Mike Watson
Copyright 1998 Mike Watson
Runtime: 121 minutes
Rating: 5 out of 5

*NOTE: This is a review of the full-length Italian language version with English subtitles.

Some fans of cult Italian director Dario Argento may be unaware that a two hour version of his classic thriller PROFONDO ROSSO (aka DEEP RED) even exists. Yet with its clearer narrative and better characterisations, this emerges as THE definitive version of the film. It is superior to all English language prints including the Japanese laserdisc (108 minutes) and the various heavily cut video versions which run as short as 90 minutes.

After 25 years, PROFONDO ROSSO still looks dazzling in its original widescreen glory and remains both a gripping murder mystery and rather amusing battle-of-the-sexes tussle between the two leads. Set in Rome, the story concerns a lapsed murderer who is stung back into action after almost being "outed" by a mindreader at parapsychology seminar. An English musician Marcus (David Hemmings) later witnesses the mindreader's violent slaughter. With his curiosity aroused, he teams up with perky reporter Gianna (Daria Nicolodi) and they attempt to solve the mystery on their own. Stubbornly avoiding involvement with the police, this risky option nearly costs them their lives.

For Dario Argento, PROFONDO ROSSO was the film in which he really came of age as a stylist. His camera technique is seductive and unusual, cleverly drawing the viewer into the proceedings. His use of lighting and colour is at times magical, and the murders are shocking and deftly staged with razor sharp editing. It is a beautiful, artful film despite its dark premise and boasts a bizarre, intriguing storyline with relatively few holes.

Hemmings and Nicolodi's awkward romance is quite charming. Their verbal sparring on issues of sex and gender may seem a little dated now, but it does give the story much of its heart and sense of humour, elements sorely missing from shorter versions of the film. A number of scenes between the two are also crucial in giving us both plot points and an understanding of their motivations in pursuing the killer. The voices of Hemmings and the other English-speaking actors have been dubbed into Italian, but it's not a bad dubbing job and you'll probably be too busy reading the subtitles to notice.

Once again, Argento's use of music is magnificent, easily on par with the stunning Goblin soundtrack he used later in SUSPIRIA. After three scores with Ennio Morricone, PROFONDO ROSSO marks Argento's first collaboration with Goblin whose peculiar brand of gothic rock is wonderfully macabre here despite its frequently upbeat tempo. Even better is the snippet from a haunting child's song that recurs throughout the film, a crucial element from the killer's past that becomes a vital clue in Hemmings' attempts to solve the mystery.

Faults? None major to speak of. There's some surprisingly inept effects of a house burning down, and the killer's presence during one or two scenes where a character makes an important discovery seems a little incredulous. But on the whole, this is pretty solid stuff.

Dario Argento has apparently been quoted as saying that the 108 minute English version is his preferred cut of the film. Having seen four or five different cuts of PROFONDO ROSSO, I must disagree. This Italian language version (particularly in the widescreen format) is surely the way the film was meant to be seen. If not Argento's crowning achievement, it certainly ranks among his two or three best works. So do yourself a favour and beg, buy, borrow or steal a video copy, or keep an eye out at your local art house cinema for what would be a most welcome revival.

**Be aware that the recent UK video re-release of this version of the film is a cropped print for TV with the edges cut off, and the film suffers considerably for it. But both SBS-TV in Australia and the World Movies cable channel do have the rare widescreen letterboxed print.

**The UK video re-release has a shot showing a dying lizard removed by the British censors. This cut unfortunately renders the particular scene meaningless.

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