This, of course, is from the soundtrack of Dario Argento’s film of the same name.
This, of course, is from the soundtrack of Dario Argento’s classic 1975 film Deep Red.
It’s not Halloween without a little Goblin!
Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1970s.
Dirty Harry (1971, dir by Don Siegel)
“Well, I’m all torn up about his rights….” Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) says after being informed that he’s not allow to torture suspects for information. Unfortunately, in this case, the Academy agreed with all the critics who called Harry a menace and this classic and influential crime film was not nominated. Not even Andy Robinson picked up a nomination for his memorably unhinged turn as Scorpio.
Carrie (1976, dir by Brian DePalma)
The Academy liked Carrie enough to nominate both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. The film itself, however, went unnominated. It’s enough to make you want to burn down the prom.
Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)
In a perfect world, Goblin would have at least taken home an Oscar for the film’s score. In the real world, unfortunately, Argento’s masterpiece was totally snubbed by the Academy.
Days of Heaven (1978, dir by Terence Malick)
If it were released today, Terence Malick’s dream-like mediation of life during the depression would definitely be nominated. In 1978, perhaps, the Academy was still not quite sure what to make of Malick’s beautiful but often opaque cinematic poetry.
Halloween (1978, dir by John Carpenter)
“The night he came home!” should have been “The night he went to the Oscars!” The film received no nominations and it’s a shame. Just imagine Donald Pleasence winning for his performance as Loomis while John Carpenter racked up almost as many nominations as Alfonso Cuaron did this year for Roma.
Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)
If the Academy wasn’t willing to nominate Night of the Living Dead, there was no way that they would go for the film’s longer and bloodier sequel. But perhaps they should have. Few films are cited as an inspiration as regularly as Dawn of the Dead.
Up next, in about an hour, the 1980s!
If you’ve ever watched a Dario Argento film, you know how important music is to his art.
After collaborating with Ennio Morricone on his first three films, Argento used an Italian progressive rock band for his 1975 film, Deep Red. Argento and Goblin turned out to be a perfect match and the band went on to compose and perform the scores of several other Argento films, most famously for Suspiria.
In this clip from 1975, Goblin performs the main theme for Deep Red on an Italian TV show. (Sorry, I don’t know the name of the show.)
Goblin Rebirth is one of the many different incarnations of the classic Italian prog rock band, Goblin. Goblin Rebirth is made up of:
Fabio Pignatelli – bass
Agostino Marangolo – drums
Aidan Zammit – keyboards
Giacomo Anselmi – guitars
Danilo Cherni – keyboards
Anyway, here they are performing Buio Omega in concert. Buio Omega is the main theme of one of my favorite Italian horror films, Beyond the Darkness. Even if you haven’t seen the film — and, when it comes to movies about wealthy young men who dig up their dead girlfriends and eat hitchhikers, it doesn’t get much better than Beyond the Darkness — the music is wonderfully atmospheric. You just hear this music and you know that something really odd is about to happen.
Both on his own and as a member of Goblin. Claudio Simonetti has been responsible for some of the most iconic scores in the history of Italian horror cinema. He is probably best known for Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The minute you hear the opening of that score, you are immediately transported into Argento’s nightmarish world of witches, death, and ballet.
In 1999, Simonetti formed Daemonia, a heavy mental band that played updated version of his classic horror scores, along with new material. In this video, they perform Suspiria and the end result is a perfect video for October!
Hell of the Living Dead, a 1980 Italian zombie film, is a movie known by many different names. Some of these names are more memorable than others.
For instance, it’s known as Virus, which isn’t a very good name. It’s kind of boring. Plus, a virus could lead to anything. Sure, a virus could turn someone into a zombie but it could also just mean a week in bed. Plus, there’s already a thousand movies called Virus.
Night of the Zombies is a bit more specific, though still rather generic. Just about every Italian horror film that came out in 1980 was about zombies and most of them took place at night.
Island of the Living Dead, at the very least, let’s you know where the majority of the movie takes place. That said, it’s kind of a dishonest title. The island isn’t just occupied by the living dead. There’s also a primitive tribe, the members of which pop up occasionally to throw spears at a group of soldiers and a journalist.
I absolutely love the title Zombie Creeping Flesh. Seriously, I don’t know why they bothered to come up with so many alternate titles when they already had Zombie Creeping Flesh.
However, this film is best known as Hell of the Living Dead and, actually, I guess that’s a pretty good title. I mean, it’s totally and completely over the top. Add to that the title almost feels like a challenge being specifically issued to the fans of George Romero’s zombie films. It’s as if the film is saying, “If you can’t handle the Night or the Dawn, the Hell is absolutely going to kill you!”
Anyway, this is an extremely low-budget film from director Bruno Mettei and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso. The team of Mattei/Fragasso were famous for producing some of the most ludicrously silly horror films to ever come out of Italy. (Outside of his collaboration with Mattei, Fragasso is best known for directing Troll 2.) A typical Mattei/Fragasso film is entertaining without being particularly good. They were never ones to allow a thing like a lack of money to stand in the way of their narrative ambitions.
For instance, in Hell of the Living Dead, there’s one isolated scene that’s supposed to take place at the United Nations. The scene appears to have been filmed in a lecture hall at a small university. One delegate angrily declares that he is sick of everyone exploiting his zombie-occupied country. Someone else suggests that maybe they should take a break until tomorrow. It’s an incredibly inauthentic scene that adds nothing to the story but that didn’t keep the team of Mattei and Fragasso from including it in the film. They were determined to have a UN scene and they weren’t going to let a lack of money or access stop them.
Anyway, the majority of the film deals with a zombie outbreak on a small tropical island. The island is almost exclusively made up of stock footage. A typical scene will feature a character like journalist Lia (played by Margit Evelyn Newtown) standing in the middle of the frame. She looks to the right and we get some grainy stock footage of a bat or something similar. She looks to her left and we get some faded stock footage of a tiger.
As I mentioned previously, the island also has primitive natives. Whenever you hear the drums in the distance, it’s important to toss off your shirt, paint your face, and start jogging. Otherwise, you might get killed. You know how that goes.
And then there’s the zombies, of course. The zombies get an origin story, something to do with an accident at top secret chemical plant. At the start of the film, a rat attacks a scientist. I’m assuming the rat was carrying the virus but it’s just as possible that Mattei just decided to throw in a random rat attack. (His best film was literally just 90 minutes of rat attacks.) Regardless, the zombie effects actually aren’t that bad but the problem is that whenever the zombies show up, they have to compete with all of the stock footage. When the zombies aren’t dealing with animal footage that was originally shot for a mondo film, they keep busy by eating nearly everyone that they meet. A group of soldiers have been sent to take care of the zombies but since none of them are particularly bright, they don’t have much luck.
Hell of the Living Dead has a reputation for being one of the worst zombie films ever made. I don’t know if I would go that far. It’s watchable in a “what the Hell did I just see?” sort of way. And in the end, isn’t that kind of the point of a film like this?
I’ve been using this year’s horrorthon as an excuse to watch and review all (well, almost all) of Dario Argento’s films! Today, I take a look at one of Argento’s best — 1975’s Deep Red!
After the successful release of Four Flies on Grey Velvet in 1971, Dario Argento announced his retirement from the giallo genre. His next film was 1973’s The Five Days of Milan, a historical comedy-drama with a political subtext. The Five Days of Milan was a huge box office flop in Italy and, to the best of my knowledge, it was never even released in the United States. To date, it is Argento’s most obscure film and one that is almost impossible to see. In fact, it’s so obscure that, in two of my previous posts, I accidentally called the film The Four Days of Milan and apparently, no one noticed.
After the failure of Five Days, Argento returned to the giallo genre. And while he was undoubtedly stunned by the failure of his previous film, Argento ended up directing one of the greatest Italian films of all time. If The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet were both great giallo films, Deep Red is a great film period. It is Argento at his over the top best.
Now, before I go any further, I should point out that there are many different versions of Deep Red floating around. For instance, it was released in the United States under the title The Hatchet Murders and with 26 minutes of footage cut from the film. For this review, I watched the original 126-minute Italian version. I’ve always preferred the original to the shorter version that was released in America. Oddly enough, Argento has said that he prefers the shorter version.
Deep Red opens with a blast of music that both announces Argento’s return to the giallo genre and also provides some hints to his future as a filmmaker. Whereas his previous films had all featured an excellent but rather serious score by Ennio Morricone, Deep Red was the first Argento film to be scored by Goblin. There’s a gothic, almost operatic playfulness to Goblin’s work on the film. (If the Phantom of the Opera had ended up working in Hollywood and writing film scores, the end result would have sounded a lot like Goblin.) Goblin’s deafening score works as the perfect sonic companion to Argento’s constantly roving camera and vibrantly colorful images. (The blood spilled in Deep Red is the reddest blood imaginable.)
Deep Red‘s protagonist is Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) and, like so many Argento protagonists, he’s both an artist and a man without a definite home. At one point, he explains that he was born in England, grew up in America, and now lives in Italy. He’s a jazz pianist but he supports himself by giving music lessons. In a scene excised from the American cut, Marcus tells his students that, while classical music should be respected and appreciated, it’s also necessary to be willing to embrace art that some critics would dismiss as being “trashy.” Marcus, of course, is talking about jazz but he could just as easily be Dario Argento, defending his decision to return to the giallo genre.
While Marcus plays piano and tries to help his alcoholic friend, Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), a German psychic named Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril) is giving a lecture when she suddenly announces that someone in the audience is a murderer. Later, Helga is brutally murdered by a gloved, hatchet-wielding attacker.
(Helga’s murder scene is always difficult for me to watch, even if Argento doesn’t — as Kim Newman pointed out in a review written for Monthly Film Bulletin — linger over the carnage in the way that certain other horror directors would have. I have to admit that I also always find it interesting that Helga is played by the same actress who, that same year, would play the evil Lady On The Train in Aldo Lado’s The Night Train Murders. Playing one of the Lady’s victims was Irene Miracle, who later co-starred in Argento’s Inferno.)
The only witness to Helga’s murder? Marcus Daly, of course. He’s standing out in the street, having just talked to Carlos, when he looks up and sees Helga being murdered in her apartment. Marcus runs up to the apartment to help, arriving just too late. And yet, Marcus is convinced that he saw something in the apartment that he can’t quite remember. Deep Red is yet another Argento film that deals with not only the power of memory but the difficulties of perception. Marcus knows that he saw something but what?
Well, I’m not going to spoil it for you! In this case, the mystery and its solution makes a bit more sense than the mysteries in Argento’s first three films. Argento isn’t forced to resort to debunked science, like he did in both Cat o’Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. One reason why Deep Red is so compulsively watchable is because, for perhaps the first time, Argento plays fair with the mystery. After you watch the film the first time, go back and rewatch and you’ll discover that all the clues were there. You just had to know where to look.
That said, the way that Argento tells the story is still far more important than the story itself. Argento’s first three films may have been stylish but Deep Red finds Argento fully unleashed. The camera never stops moving, the visuals are never less than stunning with the screen often bathed in red, and Goblin’s propulsive score ties it all together. This is one of those films from which you can’t look away. It captures you from first scene and continues to hold you through the gory conclusion. Deep Red is an undeniably fun thrill ride and, even today, you can easily see why Argento frequently refers to it as being his personal favorite of his many films. In fact, Argento even owns a store in Rome that is called Profondo Rosso.
But you know why I really love Deep Red?
It’s all because of the relationship between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi. Daria Nicolodi plays Gianna Brezzi, a reporter who helps Marcus with his investigation. After three films that featured women as either victims or killers, Gianna is the first truly strong and independent woman to show up in an Argento film. I know that some people have criticized the scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi, feeling that they drag down the pace of the movie. I could not disagree more. Both Hemmings and Nicolodi give wonderful performances and their likable chemistry feels very real.
To me, that’s what sets Deep Red apart. You care about Marcus and you care about Gianna. Yes, the mystery is intriguing and the murder set pieces are brilliantly choreographed, and Deep Red is definitely Argento at his best. But for me, the heart and soul of the film will always belong to the characters of Marcus and Gianna and the performers who brought them to life.
Deep Red was the start of Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s long and often contentious relationship. (Dario and Daria’s daughter, Asia Argento, was born around the same time that Deep Red was released and has directed two films, Scarlet Diva and Misunderstood, that deal with her often chaotic childhood.) This relationship would play out over the course of six films and, as much as I love those six films, it’s always a little sad to consider that, when watched in order, the provide a portrait of a doomed and dying romance, one that did not particularly end well. (It is possibly not a coincidence that, with the exception of Deep Red and Tenebrae, Daria Nicolodi suffered some type of terrible death in every film she made with Argento.)
But, regardless of what may or may not have been going on behind the scenes, Deep Red remains a triumph for both its director and its stars.