RETRO REVIEW: Giallo Magnifique: Dario Argento’s DEEP RED in Rare Italian Cut Screens Saturday at Buried Alive Film Festival

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2015 By:

Profondo_Rosso_posterBuried Alive Film Festival and Splatter Cinema Presents the rare Italian original cut of DEEP RED (1975); Dir. Dario Argento; Starring David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi; Saturday, November 14 @ 10:00 p.m.; Synchronicity Theater; Tickets $10 (or included with a $50 festival pass) here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of the Buried Alive Film Festival, Splatter Cinema will be hosting a 40th anniversary screening at Synchronicity Theater of what is, quite simply, one of the greatest thrillers ever made: Dario Argento’s groundbreaking giallo DEEP RED. To miss this in its rare Italian original cut (22 minutes longer than the US version), would be to offend the very gods of cinema, so it would be best to play it safe and plan to attend.

From the late 1920s forward in Italy, a series of cheap paperback editions of murder mysteries featuring eye-catching artwork was issued by the publishing group Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. The success of these editions led to other publshers to also release mysteries under their own banners while imitating Mondadori’s cover designs. The common design element? The color yellow used as a background. As a result, over time all murder mysteries in Italy would come to be called “yellow.” Or, in Italian, giallo.

Mario Bava set in stone the tropes and archetypes of the cinematic giallo in the early 1960s with films such as THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. The wild success of these films—and their blending of brutal violence with stylish camerawork and set design, all set to equally stylish musical scores—led to a whole host of other filmmakers jumping on the giallo bandwagon and establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the Italian film industry. Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi, Riccardo Freda…all dipped their toes into the waters of the giallo and built careers off their early successes. But none of them took the genre to new extremes like one particular filmmaker: Dario Argento.

schultz-figueroa-web2Beginning with his “Animal Trilogy” (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O’ NINE TAILS and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), Argento took Bava’s sense of visual style to a whole other level. Deep focus, graceful camera movements, exquisitely detailed set design and carefully crafted compositions were the hallmarks of his aesthetic. His impossibly twisty plots and outstanding soundtracks worked hand-in-hand with his visual style and led him to be regarded as the Italian Hitchcock. But his work on the Animal Trilogy was merely a prelude to his masterpiece: DEEP RED (aka PROFONDO ROSSO).

Jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses a woman’s murder, and decides to investigate the case himself after realizing that a painting he saw in her apartment is now missing. Accompanied by reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), he tries to tie together the loose clues he has assembled and the one detail he cannot quite remember, while other women across the city are being murdered and he himself is targeted.

All of the elements are in play here. The black-gloved killer. The half-remembered detail. The outsider protagonist dismissed by the police as a troublemaker. The meddling reporter. The brutal violence. But Argento assembles these key tropes into something wholly new and original. Visually, Argento uses art in general, and painting in particular, as a recurring thematic element. Beyond a painting holding a key detail that is needed to solve the mystery, key plot points are revealed via artwork. Argento even gives us a life-size, live-action depiction of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks early on to establish the importance of the visual arts and their accompanying artifice in the film’s world. In a word, the visual style is audacious.

But not as audacious, perhaps, as the film’s musical score. After having worked with the celebrated Italian film composer Ennio Morricone on the Animal Trilogy, Argento wanted something contemporary. He initially turned to jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini for the film’s music, but was unhappy with the results. Instead, he decided to go in a progressive rock direction and eventually found kindred spirits in local band Goblin. Their remarkable score winds up being incredibly catchy, complex, sinister, subtle and bombastic—somehow all at the same time. Their music ended up being the perfect complement to Argento’s visuals, managing to capture the essence of one medium in another. The reception to their breakthrough work was so intense, and the pairing of group and filmmaker so perfect, that Goblin (or the band’s leader, Claudio Simonetti) would continue to work on-and-off with Argento through the decades up to his latest film, DRACULA 3D.

Argento would return to the giallo again several times over the course of his career, most notably in films like TENEBRE and OPERA, but none of his work within the genre comes close to this masterpiece. It’s nearly flawless. The only complaint that I have with it is that the humorous and romantic scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi tend to dissipate the building tension felt throughout the film. But that is such a slight complaint in comparison to the riches on offer in this brutal but beautiful movie. To see it at all is a rare treat. To see it in its original Italian cut on the big screen is a thing that should not be missed by anyone interested in seeing a director firing on all cylinders, at the top of his game, regardless of genre.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Get Set for a Swinging Time with Vincent Price at THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM! A New Digital Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 30th, 2013 By:

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961); Dir. Roger Corman; Starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele and John Kerr; Premiere Friday, Feb. 1 @ 8:00 p.m. with giveaways; then nightly at 8 p.m. Feb. 2- 7; Plaza Theatre (visit website for times and ticket prices); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Finally, after years of waiting, it is now possible to see PIT AND THE PENDULUM on the big screen once again in a newly-restored, high-definition digital presentation. For far too long, the movie has been hard to see in optimal condition (even the most recent MGM Midnite Movies DVD of the title isn’t anamorphically enhanced for widescreen presentation). This is something that’s always struck me as odd since it’s one of the best-remembered films of American International PicturesEdgar Allan Poe cycle, was a huge box-office smash at the time and contains some of the most defining scenes in post-1960 horror. Be that as it may, as far as securing prints go, it has been one of the more obscure films of Roger Corman. Thankfully, that’s changing now, and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM can be seen in all of its glory and grandeur at Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre from Friday, February 1 through Thursday, February 7. Friday night’s showing will feature a special giveaway of two free tickets to all nine days of the Atlanta Film Festival: a $600 value! It promises to be an event big enough to befit the legendary teaming of Corman, Price and Poe.

Roger Corman. The name means many things to many people. To some, it primarily conjures up images of cheaply-made and quickly-shot horror/sci-fi fare from the 1950s and ‘60s. Flicks like CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, A BUCKET OF BLOOD and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. For others, it is chiefly and inextricably linked with the development of the “New Hollywood” of the late 1960s and ‘70s. Movies from American International Pictures and New World Pictures that helped launch the careers of talents like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Barbara Hershey, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. For a former co-worker of mine, it means “that aloof guy who would stroll into the New Horizons office and ask if Jim Wynorski had called.”

But for a certain set of the man’s fans, the first things that come to mind are two names: Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Price.

In 1960, American International Pictures was seeing the market for their low-budget, black-and-white output shrink. Roger Corman had been their most prolific filmmaker, churning out low-budget schlock in 10 days or less (mind you, it’s some great schlock, and never without a sense of wit and intelligence behind it all), and convinced studio heads Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson to take a risk on shooting a full-color widescreen film with a larger budget (a full $300,000!) and a longer production schedule (a full 15 days!). The success of this film, HOUSE OF USHER, pushed AIP to demand more of the same: another Poe adaptation, made by the same team and starring the same lead, Vincent Price.

Corman complied and assembled his USHER team: cinematographer (Floyd Crosby), set designer (Daniel Haller), score composer (Les Baxter) and screenwriter, the now-legendary horror author Richard Matheson. Matheson had seen a good deal of success as a writer in the decade previous to his teaming with Corman. He had adapted his novel THE SHRINKING MAN into the smash sci-fi/horror film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and his novels and short stories were in high demand. He had just been added to the stable of writers employed by THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and was also selling scripts to western- and war-themed TV shows. In short, Corman (in a typical move for him) had spotted an up-and-coming talent that he could grab for relatively cheap: someone who might be willing to trade some of the money he could get from a higher-paying gig for the relative liberty of a Corman screenwriting job. The pairing worked so well on USHER that Matheson returned for this, and several of the films following this in Corman’s Poe series.

The film is set in 1th Century Spain, and follows Francis Barnard (John Kerr) as he visits the castle of his brother-in-law Nicholas (Vincent Price) to investigate the death of his sister Catherine (Barbara Steele). Nicholas recounts that Catherine had been driven mad by the castle’s history and atmosphere, had committed suicide and now walks the castle halls as a ghost. When it is uncovered that Catherine had been interred alive, Nicholas is sent into paroxysms of fear and plunged into madness as he has visions of the traumatic events of his childhood. It all culminates in Nicholas’ break with sanity as he tortures his household in the dungeon beneath the castle’s floors.

Because of the slightness of narrative material in Poe’s short story, which is set nearly entirely within a prison cell over the course of a few nights, Matheson was encouraged to devise a way to shoehorn Poe’s tale into just the film’s climactic scene. In doing so, he created a psychologically rich screenplay centered on the main character’s neuroses, all of which seem to stem from a terrifying event witnessed in his youth. This psychological approach to gothic horror would prove to be incredibly influential in the years to come, as reverberations of its themes (along with their visual depiction by the team of Corman, Crosby and Haller) would be seen in many of the great Italian gothic horrors of the 1960s and ’70s, as Tim Lucas uncovered in his 1997 interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi in VIDEO WATCHDOG #39. Gastaldi admitted that the film had inspired his screenplays for Mario Bava’s THE WHIP AND THE BODY and Antonio Margheriti’s THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH: “Yes, of course! THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM had a big influence on Italian horror films. Everybody borrowed from it.”

Vincent Price, too, returned to the AIP fold. Price had starred to great effect in HOUSE OF USHER, and brought equal parts menace, dignity and emotional complexity to what could have been a flatly-played character in lesser hands. In THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, he would be given even more to chew on as Nicholas Medina (and, in flashback, his crazed Inquisitor father, Sebastian Medina). Some have argued that perhaps Price sank his teeth a bit too deeply into the role, which required him to shift from a refined-but-fragile gentleman persona to that of a raving madman at a second’s notice. And it’s true that Price seems to be having the time of his life, relishing every utterance and mannerism, and basically being Vincent Price at his Priciest. But in a film that demands a tone that almost tips into the surreal, his nearly over-the-top performance works perfectly as a piece with every other element in the production.

Barbara Steele, fresh from starring in Mario Bava’s international gothic horror success, BLACK SUNDAY, is also incredibly memorable as Catherine, delivering an impressively expressive performance. However, it’s hard to objectively discuss her work in this film beyond the physical aspect of it: thinking that her natural British accent didn’t mesh with the other actors’ performances, AIP had her part dubbed in post-production by another actress.

Visually, Corman and his team work wonders with what little budget and time they were given, using impressive sets borrowed from other studios, violently active camera work and dream/fantasy/flashback sequences warped and twisted optically and displayed using a blue and red color palette. Corman’s direction is—as usual—tight and effective, providing impressive and perfectly-timed jolts while steadily building an atmosphere of oppression and madness. For pure horror, it is the highlight of the entire Corman/Poe series, and artistically tied only with THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (MASQUE may be more thematically and symbolically rich and more daring in its approach, but PIT beats it on pure fright value).

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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