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Deep Red

(Directed by Dario Argento)

When we personally choose our 5-films from each year, we often tend to keep away from the more obvious “big-hitters” or well-known major cult movies from each 52 weeks. But in this case we’re still drawn to highlighting one of the more noticeable global releases of 1975. Arguably one of Argento’s best and most accessible Giallo offerings, it also works as a good introduction to Italiano Grand Guignol and effectively exists as a great standalone piece to his “Animal Trilogy” and the “3 Mothers” films. It is also known by a bewildering number of alterative titles around the world. As well as the literal translation of “Profondo Rosso”, the censored US version was known as “The Hatchet Murders”, Japan re-released it as “Suspiria 2”, the French originally called it "Les Frissons de l'angoisse" ("The Shivers of Angst"), and Germany went with "Rosso - Die Farbe des Todes" ("Red - The Colour of Death"). In terms of calendar releases, “Red” came after “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” and just before “Suspiria”, and marks a definite transitional benchmark for the director/screenwriter. David Hemmings plays a Rome-based musician who witnesses the bloody murder of a neighbour from the deserted street below her apartment. He becomes drawn to investigate the crime when some seemingly minor details from the murder scene play on his mind…

Like all of Argento’s (good) films, the narrative flips between obsessive protagonists searching for the truth, whilst those around them are gruesomely despatched in a highly elaborate fashion, accompanied by a disturbingly frantic prog-rock soundtrack. Amongst all this we get superfluous sub-plots involving a psychic mind-reader, a disturbed childhood (complete with an incessant creepy child’s “La-La-La” song), and a “haunted” mansion. And of course we also get a hideous clockwork puppet, a victim having their teeth graphically dashed out on a table, the trademark death-by-window, and a decapitation by jewellery… with plenty of other noteworthy visual flourishes by the auteur. The director’s output might have become questionable in later years, but this genuinely works like a charm. The graphic murders balance out with Hemming’s appealing hero and his love/hate relationship with the reporter (played by Daria Nicolodi), along with a narrative that plays out like a mainstream detective story. There’s also the genius central McGuffin that means (*slight spoiler*) the killer’s identity is subliminally revealed to the audience during the opening murder… but you just don’t realise the fact until Hemming’s character also draws the same conclusion! Add the terrific music and themes from “Goblin”, Argento’s gloved hands actually “committing” the murders in shot, and scenes that went on to inspire later sequences in “Scanners” and “Halloween II” (1981)… and you’ve got just about perfect 70s Euro-Horror.

Race With The Devil

(Directed by Jack Starrett)

Given that this film was released in US theatres merely a week after “Jaws” was released in June ’75, you certainly wouldn’t expect it dominate the genre box-office. Nevertheless, like a lot of films that crop up in this blog, it’s earned a cult medal-of-honour from repeated late-night showings on US and UK TV. If Spielberg’s “Duel” was a road movie crossed with a slasher flick, then RWTD is pretty much “Easy Rider” mangled up with “The Devil Rides Out”. It’s a generic actioner with an unusual twist of the genre, which led it to eventually stand out from other Grindhouse efforts. It was directed by seasoned filmmaker/actor Starrett, who was previously responsible for Blaxploitation classics “Cleopatra Jones” and “Slaughter”, as well as going on to direct episodes of “Knight Rider” and “The A Team”. (NB: Fun Fact – He also played the gibberish-talking Gabby Johnson in Mel Brooks “Blazing Saddles”). The plots itself is pure car-chase/backwoods-horror stuff, as two suburban couples drive an RV across Texas and accidentally witness a Satanic ritual… as you do in central Texas. From that point, it’s simply paranoia and car-wrecks ahoy as they try to stay ahead of the untrustworthy locals and truck-driving Satanists.