TRANSMISSION from SATURN 7 (freq: 10909238AX1): DEEP RED active participation guide:
Deep Red is a movie that gives what it gets; the more thought and attention you put into it the more its entertainment value matures. It is not a movie that plays fiddle to expectation and is merciless on placid, dull eyed viewers. With that said here are some quick and dirty cliff notes to introduce you young ducklings to the thought inspiring spectacle of a well balanced, nuanced, giallo movie.
In this film moments of revelation happen through water. Water is the great baptizer and seems to bring out hidden truth; as in when the identity of the killer is revealed via steam and when the psychic throws up water while peeking into the killer’s mind. Water is symbolic in many traditions as a purifier and harbinger of revelation and that certainly seems to be the case here as well.
The police detectives continuously eating is a subtext that speaks to their lackadaisical efforts in solving the murder (they are always “stuffed” with trying to solve other crimes), and provokes images of the stereotypical police slang “pig”. Story wise ineffectual cops are needed in order to place the responsibility on the viewer and protagonists to figure out who the killer is. Argento actually points out their absence for most of the film when the detectives meet at the malfunctioning soda machine and they say they’ve been looking for each other for an hour, which is exactly one hour of screen time after we’ve seen them last.
Gender confusion plays a heavy handed role in this film. This is purposely done to widen the gamut of potential murder suspects, but it also is used to disorient the viewer. We have ingrained expectations of what constitutes female and male and the blending of those lines is something introduced into the film to both confuse and play into the other Deep Red theme of duality. Almost every scene demonstrates a duality of some kind, like between the drunken piano player from the tavern and the professional jazz musician, or the strong and outgoing female reporter and the timid and withdrawn murder witness, these symbolic plays on duality also work reveal character flaws, which are in no short order in Deep Red.
The past and future are alluded to and are treated in much the same temporal matter. The scene shown during the movies prologue could have taken place at any time; it is temporally displaced from the main story of the film.
The “cobwebs in the room” that the telepath refers to is an obvious allusion to the hidden room later discovered in the haunted mansion. Argento also slyly teases the viewer with lines such as “even a child can see it” during the psychic conference scene. He’s challenging the audience to watch the movie closely and remember that visual clues can be as important as the clues presented by dialogue. Even with the absence of dialogue the murder mystery can be entirely solved by closely watching the first kill scene within the context of the actual story (not the prologue).
Murder is linked to child-like glee in this film. The red headed girl that leads the jazz player to the haunted mansion takes pleasure in impaling the lizards around her home and murder scenes are accompanied by a haunting (or is it annoying?) children’s lullaby. Also of particular note is that the actresses with red hair in the film are also the (SPOILER!) red herrings that stand out the most in the story.