Over the last couple of years, I’ve watched a lot of Italian giallo movies. Giallos tend to be quasi-thriller, semi-slasher, kinda-horror films, stylized, exploitative, and way over the top.
If nothing else, the genre offers up a wealth of fun titles: All the Colors of the Dark. Kill, Baby, Kill! Hatchet for the Honeymoon. The House With the Laughing Windows. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. The Perfume of the Lady in Black. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.
The best-known giallo to U.S. audiences is probably Suspiria, Dario Argento’s dizzying supernatural thriller. Suspiria makes its mark with a hypnotic (or just repetitive, depending who you ask) soundtrack and a blaring oversaturated color palette. Anytime anything happens, the screen is drenched in color. Why be subtle when you can just light entire scenes bright glowing red? The genre already showcases stylized, over-the-top violence, so why not go nuts with the visuals to match? It may not be good, strictly speaking, but it’s definitely memorable.
But never mind Suspiria (and definitely don’t mind the terrible po-faced 2018 remake, unless you enjoy watching a film zoom straight up its own ass on a rocket blast of bombastic self-importance). Suspiria is usually classed as more of a horror film, for its supernatural aspects.
But the same director also made what might be the ultimate pure giallo film, Profondo Rosso, a.k.a. Deep Red. Deep Red hits every giallo formula note perfectly, cogs clacking like a roller coaster climbing to the top. It’s also a thriller so strained and tissue-thin, it almost becomes a comment on the genre.
I’m going to spoil almost the entire plot of Deep Red now, in the sense that I’m going to tell you what happens in most of it. But at the same time, I can’t spoil this plot for you any more than I can spoil a bowl of alphabet soup. One is about as coherent as the other.
Deep Red begins with a silhouetted stabbing, followed by a bloody knife falling to the floor next to a child-sized pair of Mary Janes. Amongst the credits, an English guy directs an Italian jazz quintet, and boy do those Italian musicians look like they’re loving that.
Cut to: a parapsychology lecture. Against a backdrop of vivid red curtains, the beautiful Helga Ullman (Macha Méril, Godard’s A Married Woman, Buñuel’s Belle de jour) shows off her psychic powers by playing “what does it have in its pocketses” with audience members. Then suddenly, the psychic shouts that someone in the audience is overwhelming her with twisted, perverted thoughts. Her parapsychology dude friends try to calm her down but she just freaks out harder, gasping about murder! A child! Blood! Death!
After trying and failing to pull it together and take a drink of water, the psychic turns her wet dripping face to the audience and intones dramatically: “You have killed– and you will kill again!”
So we’re five minutes in and we’ve already seen the inspiration for the famous exploding head scene in Scanners (for real!) and heard what’s got to be one of the most baller lines in act one of any thriller.
Giallos have a penchant for filming shots or entire scenes from the killer’s point of view, which creates fun metafictional implications about the audience’s complicity in the violence they’re witnessing. Deep Red does a lot of this, and after the psychic’s big bravura declaration, the camera adopts the killer’s perspective as they stand up, edge past other attendees, and head into the bathroom, where the mirror is conveniently grimed over, showing only a vague silhouette.
The psychic, Helga, leaves after the lecture, but not before telling Parapsychology Dude #1 that she might be able to identify the murderer she sensed earlier. Unfortunately, we the audience are viewing this from the killer’s perspective, so you can guess where this is headed. Sadly Helga only has the kind of psychic powers that provoke murderers, and not the kind that help her sense danger, because later that night, when the killer’s POV cruises down the hallway to Helga’s door, Helga only gets a psychic blast that warns her a few seconds before the killer bursts in and starts axe-murdering her.
Cut to English piano dude, now wearing white pants, a white blazer, and a black shirt, bumbling down a city street. We follow this guy as he spots a pal boozing it up by a nearby fountain. White Pants chides his friend for drinking too much and tells him to stop wallowing in self-pity. While he’s being a scolding killjoy, you might recognize the actor as David Hemmings, an English star adrift in this Italian film. Oh… oh no, you might now ask yourself: is Schoolmarm McFashionCrime our protagonist?
He is. White Pants and his drinky friend Carlo stand outside a living replica of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Diner and talk about how they’re both jazz pianists but White Pants does it for love and Carlo does it for money, pounding the keys at a bar every night for his wages (paid entirely in alcohol, going by what we’ve seen of him so far). The men hear a scream and Carlo speculates that it might be a rape, offering a soused toast ‘to the raped virgin,’ so you know this guy’s a prince.
White Pants at least shows some taste and walks away from this boozy jerk. He hears another scream and looks up in time to see Helga’s head shoved through her window, body sagging against it with her neck on the blood-streaked glass. Cementing himself as our… sigh… hero, White Pants races up the stairs to the psychic’s apartment, glancing wildly around at the seriously creepy blank-eyed paintings that line the hallway until he spots the blood trail and follows, running to lift Helga off the glass.
She’s pretty chopped up in a stylized way, meaning she has a couple of tears in her robe and has been splashed liberally with fire-engine-red paint. Marcus looks out the window to see his friend Carlo still lingering by the fountain while a figure in a brown raincoat and fedora hustles away.
Later: police. White Pants get a name, Marcus, and tells the detective that he’s a jazz pianist who teaches at “the Conservatory.” Even the cop knows this guy is in the wrong movie: “You play piano, doesn’t that mean you don’t have a job?” On the other hand– come on, yobbo, he just said he’s a teacher.
Wait a minute, we’re seeing a long shot of Marcus now– how the hell did he lift Helga’s blood-soaked body off the window glass without getting red paint all over his white outfit? His beautiful ice cream suit still looks 100% vanilla. Somehow the cops never ask.
The police do ascertain that Marc lives upstairs from Helga the psychic, but didn’t really know her. Meanwhile, Marcus is bothered because he thinks one of the freaky paintings (and I’m not exaggerating, every one of these bizarre smear-faced paintings leaves The Scream eating its existentially horrifying dust) has been moved or altered or something, because the art in the hallway looks different to him.
The cops barely have time to express their apathy about the artwork before Daria Nicolodi arrives, playing a reporter named Gianna. Daria Nicolodi shows up in a number of giallos, and she brings a welcome, level-headed presence just about every time. That’s true even when she’s spackled with foundation a yard thick for some reason, as she is here. She’s also wearing laborious, elaborate eyeliner, but that’s 1) common to Italian movies from this era and 2) a plot point, though it’s a stretch to say this plot has points. Plot bumps, maybe.
(It’s the most minnow-sized of red herrings, but when the killer gets ready to strike, we see them select a knife from a collection nestled among a pile of old toys, don a black pair of gloves– de rigueur for killers in giallos– and run thick rings of eyeliner around their eyes, a la Batman’s eyehole camo. Chief suspects: anyone with access to an eyeliner pencil! While I’m parenthesizing, Dario Argento famously wears the black gloves and performs all the killer POV shots in his movies, probably as a personal favor for every future film student who wants to write a thesis about the Role Of The Auteur In Cinema.)
Anyway, Gianna is barred from the crime scene so she snaps a photo of Marcus, the newsworthy eyewitness. Marcus goes off with cops to give a formal deposition. When he returns, his drunk friend Carlo is still by the damn fountain (is it a whiskey fountain? if so brb planning a trip to Italy) so Marcus asks if Carlo also saw the brown raincoat figure (yeah, for a second from the back; not helpful). Then Marcus starts blathering at him about the maybe-missing painting while Carlo is walking off, trying to fade on him, which goes on for a couple of comical minutes.
Plot bump! Now we’re at Helga’s funeral, where Gianna talks shit about the mourners to Marcus. When is this? Why are they here? At what point did they decide to meet up and pool information? No one knows. These mysteries are buried with Helga. Marcus didn’t even wear black to the funeral, the jerk, though he did at least trade the chalk white ensemble for very light grey suit. As they leave the cemetery, Marcus complains that Gianna put his photo in the paper, so the killer knows what he looks like, a concern she blows off at first.
Later, Marcus and Gianna return to the red-curtained auditorium with two of the mourners, the parapsychology guys from the lecture, Bardi and Giordani, who describe what Helga said during her outburst. Marcus and Gianna leave them and talk a little shit about ESP, and then they argue about feminism, as Marcus claims that women are innately weaker and gentler than men. An irritated Gianna challenges him to arm wrestling, and beats him.
Marcus reacts exactly as you’d expect from a guy who just said shit like that and got stomped: he claims she cheated and storms off, not interested in seeing her again. For her part, Gianna admits she feels a bit bad about putting his photo in the paper, and says he can call her when he gets over himself.
Two things about this scene. The arm wrestling is not cute or flirty. They are both dead serious and pissy about it. Also, the U.S. version of Deep Red cuts 20+ minutes, including most of Gianna’s scenes. In the U.S. cut, Gianna disappears from the movie for an hour after this arm wrestling match, and only reappears when they absolutely cannot cut her out and keep the plot going.
While I’m taking time out, a word about the writing. So far, on a granular level, this isn’t terrible screenwriting. For example, when Carlo drunkenly rambled that he has to play piano for money while Marcus can play for love, that lets us know why Marcus can drop everything to throw himself a murder mystery weekend, as he promptly does. But it’s an interesting case of failing to see the forest for the trees. Like, thanks for establishing that Marcus can afford to take time off work, Mr. Argento, but that doesn’t explain why you made him a jazz pianist, or why a musician who saw a murder would immediately start invading funerals and playing Sherlock Holmes.
(Actually, there may be a reason Marcus is a jazz pianist. David Hemmings previously starred in the excellent and influential Blowup, as a fashion photographer who realizes he may have accidentally documented a murder in the background of his model shots. Feckless and distractible, the photographer becomes one of cinema’s most incompetent amateur detectives. Ah ha, Dario Argento must have thought: I can top that.)
Marcus goes to find Carlo, because when you’ve witnessed a murder, you really want a(nother) heart-to-heart with your drunkest pal about it. Carlo’s not at the place he shares with his mom, so Marcus awkwardly deals with Carlo’s scatterbrained mother Marta, who insists on showing him photo keepsakes of Carlo as an adorable curly-haired little kid before she’ll cough up where Carlo actually is.
Marcus finds Carlo crashing with a beautiful person in feminine clothes and makeup, and then they tilt their head to reveal a faint mustache on their/his upper lip. I say his, because Carlo is distressed about Marcus discovering that he’s gay, so the person is meant to be male despite presenting otherwise, though the actor is a woman with a few mustache hairs glued on. (This character is also wearing heavy eyeliner, if we’re still keeping track of that red herring, and so was Carlo’s mom, and so is every other feminine-presenting person who appears in the movie. Like I said, elaborate eyeliner: a thing at the time.)
Marcus may be a kneejerk chauvinist, but after some initial hesitation, he’s a pal to Carlo in this scene, sticking by him and encouraging him to sober up and go to work so he doesn’t get canned. They go play Carlo’s nightly gig at the bar together, side by side at the piano, having a jazzy good time, and honestly? I’m almost okay with Marcus being the protagonist now.
The next day, Marcus sits at his home piano solo, composing. Let’s review the situation. Marcus is a jazz musician who happened to see a murder. His downstairs neighbor was killed. That’s all he knows. The cops already took his statement, which was bupkis. He talked to a reporter, who only knew the victim was a psychic with some ESP-loving friends. He talked to a couple of those friends, who only knew about Helga’s very nonspecific spooky vision.
Then he went to hang out with his buddy Carlo, and now he’s back to doing Just Jazz Musician Things. To all appearances, he’s off the case, since he has no relevant skills or expertise, no clues, and no reason to look for clues. He’s not even trying to keep digging as an excuse to hang out with the pretty reporter, because she hurt his ego.
Marcus could close the book on this whole episode in his life right now under the title: One Time, In Italy, I Saw A Murder. The End. And it seems like that’s exactly what he’s doing.
So naturally this is when the murderer decides to come after him.
And credit where it’s due, the reasoning for it is murky, but the staging of this scene is great. Marcus taps out notes at the keyboard while Killer-Kam shows us the murderer is sneaking into his apartment. Despite not being psychic, Marcus seems to have better spidey-sense than Helga, because he tenses up. Faintly he hears children singing some kind of la-la-la song, and taking that as the sure horror-movie cue it is, he keeps tapping out notes on the piano with one hand while getting his fist around a metal sculpture with the other. He goes on faking while he sees the killer’s shadow creep up, as they hover just beyond the open door.
Wait, is this a joke about how Marcus hitting the keys at random sounds about the same as Marcus composing jazz piano? Is this whole scene a pretext for a little swipe at jazz? Is Marcus a jazz pianist just for this gag? If so, forget I ever complained about that, because suddenly I love it.
THE PHONE RINGS, and Marcus lunges for the door and locks it, and snatches up the phone. It’s Gianna, checking on him. Marcus is suddenly fine with strong independent women because someone is trying to kill me, help! Through the door, the murderer whispers a promise to kill him later. Marcus hears them go, looks out the window and sees the figure in the brown raincoat rushing off.
Gianna offered her help, and Marcus just admitted he needs help, so he goes straight for… a music shop, to buy a record with that kid’s tune he heard. And then he goes to share the music with the two parapsychologist dudes.
I am barely paraphrasing this threadbare conversation:
Marcus: This la-la tune played while the killer came at me. Thoughts?
Bardi: One time I read a book about a haunted house where people heard a kid singing.
Marcus: I’m on it.
Seriously, on the ironclad connection of ‘children’s voices singing,’ Marcus goes to the library, consults that book, and (librarians, brace yourselves) tears out a page with a picture of the haunted house.
Somehow from this, the lurking killer deduces that Marcus will next go find the author of that book. So the killer goes and murders the author.
I mean… sure, killer, you stopped making sense a while ago. This is the batshit road you’ve chosen, why not ride it all the way to the rocky nonsense end.
For some reason, the killer really comes down hard on this author, beating her up, running a tub full of steaming hot water and drowning her in it. The author survives briefly, horribly burned, and writes in the steam on the mirrored tile wall before dying with her finger still poised on the glass.
So that’s all crazy, but here’s crazier: Marcus actually DOES track down the author of this random-ass book that happens to mention a haunted house where kids’ singing is heard, on the strength of Marcus hearing some childish la-la-la tune while a murderer broke into his place. He finds the author’s body, and in a sudden attack of good sense, he doesn’t call the cops and become the foreign guy connected to two brutal unsolved murders. He calls Gianna, who picks him up, shares a tiny airplane bottle of hooch with him, and calls in an anonymous tip on the body.
Marcus then checks in with Giordani, aka Parapsychology Dude #1. Giordani says he can find a plausible excuse to go visit the dead author’s house, she also having been a parapsychological kinda person. Marcus emphasizes that the author’s body looked like she was pointing at something, so when Giordani gets there, he puts the pieces together, runs some hot water to steam up the bathroom, and finds the author’s writing in the condensation still legible.
It says: “It was…”
Come on, author! Is your deathbed really the time to compose one last thesis statement? You don’t have to conjugate a complete sentence, just write the goddamn name!
(…I say, thousands of words into a description of a movie that you could just watch yourself on YouTube or Amazon Prime right now, if you wanted. Note, the Prime version is the US cut, 20 minutes shorter and dubbed all in English. If you want to see the uncut version, you’re looking for the one that clocks at 2 hours, 5 minutes. Also, to be, very belatedly, fair to the author, the DVD commentary claims we are meant to intuit that the author wrote a name which is simply not shown onscreen to build suspense. Why would the author know the killer’s name? Realistically she wouldn’t, but obviously we left realism in the dust at least twenty minutes ago.)
While Giordani leaves the latest crime scene, Marcus takes the book photo of the haunted house to several landscapers. See, Marcus doesn’t recognize the type of tree out front of the house in the photo, and he assumes that if he, an Englishman, doesn’t know this tree, why, it must not be native to Italy!
I can’t express to you how angry I am that he’s right. A gardener recognizes this rare goddamn tree which has only managed to grow in ONE place in the entire city. And sure, random jazz musician, I’ll give you that address.
Marcus visits the haunted house, meeting the caretaker and his creepy young daughter (another tiny red herring? no visible eyeliner here, but she does abuse a lizard).
And credit where it’s due again, this house is a spectacular location. It’s huge and ornate, with Art Nouveau elements worked into every detail of the architecture: the railings are festooned with swoopy curves and curlicues, the door panels form a giant circular window, it’s all graceful bends and willowy arches. The whole movie could have been a virtual tour of this house, as far as I’m concerned. And they do give it a solid ten minutes, just our hero wandering around the most beautiful abandoned old house you’ve ever seen while the Goblin soundtrack jangles away.
Marcus spots a cracked wall where the plaster has crumbled to reveal a red and black spot. He picks at the spot, then grabs a flat piece of glass and scrapes, and the plaster flakes away like a scratch-off lottery ticket. Soon Marcus chisels off a big square, revealing a mural of a curly-haired little kid figure holding a bloody knife next to a larger adult figure with a gouged stomach. As it gets dark, Marcus leaves. Behind him, another chunk of plaster falls, revealing a third figure off to the side. DUN DUN DUN!
And now we come to the ludicrous kill that made me want to write about this movie in the first place. Let’s take stock again. A psychic received a muddled threatening vision. She thought she might be able to find out who it came from. Someone killed her. Marcus saw the psychic die and ran to help. He made a desultory effort to figure out who might have wanted to hurt her, then went back to his life. Except the murderer came after him and promised to kill him too, making it a matter of survival for Marcus to track them down. Marcus then made an incredibly tenuous connection between a children’s song the killer played, and a book about a haunted house where a child sang. The murderer killed the author of that book to stop Marcus from learning anything more about the house, apparently forgetting that the book had already been written and published, so Marcus was able to use it to find the house anyway. Giordani visited the dead author’s home and saw the author had written a clue on the wall which was not shared with the audience.
So it just follows that the killer targets Giordani at this point, right? Even though the killer cannot possibly know that the author wrote a clue on the bathroom wall, or they would have, you know, wiped off the wall.
Still, what if Giordani did find something at the dead author’s home? What then?! Giordani might tell Marcus! Then Marcus might become unstoppable! Somehow! What?
The killer plays the la-la song on a tape and lurks outside Giordani’s nice airy study while Giordani becomes increasingly unnerved. Like Helga before him, he tries to take a calming drink and spills the whole thing all over himself. Unlike Helga, he grabs a hefty-looking knife and stands en garde. He tracks the noises outside his windows to his terrace door, and…
This thing comes galloping in.
And look, there’s been a recurring creepy doll motif throughout the movie that I haven’t mentioned because I just assume you know creepy dolls come with this spooky-slasher territory. There were creepy little baby dolls in with the killer’s knife collection, there was a creepy doll hanged by the neck in the author’s house before the killer attacked her. Et cetera. You can probably thank Deep Red’s influence for about 20% of the creepy dolls in modern horror films. This particular doll has been namechecked as inspiration for Billy, the puppet in the Saw films, among others. Thanks, Deep Red.
Anyway, this puppet automaton comes hurtling in on two legs, as robots still aren’t really able to do even now in the 2020s without falling over. The thing bombs straight for Giordani, who brings down his big fuck-off knife and splits its ceramic head open, revealing a bunch of springs and cogs and clockwork gears.
Giordani peers down at the broken puppet, and the killer bursts through the side door and applies a poker to the top of his head. Once he’s stunned, the killer crashes Giordani mouth-first into the stone mantle and then into his massive wood desk. (It’s pretty obvious they wanted to show teeth breaking in these shots but couldn’t make the special effects work.) Then the killer grabs the puppet-slaying knife and stabs Giordani through the back of the neck, nailing him to the desk. Farewell, Giordani… you’ll always be Parapsychology Dude #1 in my heart.
Let’s just skip over the obvious questions— why the fuck did the killer have that doll, WHERE did the killer get that doll, how did the killer get the doll to this guy’s terrace unnoticed, WHAT WAS THAT DOLL PUPPET ROBOT THING?!
I’ll tell you now: let it go. They never explain a thing about that fucking doll.
Less obvious but equally puzzling: what’s the plan, here? The killer said they were going to kill Marcus later. We’ll see in an upcoming scene that Marcus is still staying in the same not particularly secure apartment, and he doesn’t seem to have alerted police to the attack or sought out any help besides a couple of parapsychologists and Gianna. It’s sweet that he has so much faith in her arm-wrestling skills to save the day, but she doesn’t even seem to be staying overnight at his place.
We’ll never know. Marcus hears about Giordani’s death and gets motivated to return to the haunted house, leaving a note for Gianna before racing out. Looking at the photo he stole from the book, he realizes the photo shows a particular third-floor window, but the house no longer has a window there. So he climbs the exterior and takes a pickaxe to where that window used to be. Why not look for the bricked-over window from inside? Too easy, I guess, so we get to watch Marcus fumble around, lose his footing, half-fall half-climb down the ivy and ornamentation on the house exterior. Then he goes inside and finds where the missing window would lead and tries to enter from inside, like he should have done to begin with.
After some difficulties, Marcus demolishes his way into a room that was long since bricked and plastered over, where he discovers a Christmas tree that’s become 90% cobweb, dusty old furniture and holiday decor, and a desiccated corpse parked in a chair near the tree, like he’s been waiting a long, long time to start handing out presents.
Marcus backs away in horror, and finally the killer makes good on that threat and bops him in the noggin. For some reason the killer doesn’t stab him, scald him or even give him a beating like the other victims got– his protagonist plot armor deflects everything but an artful cut over one eyebrow. Marcus wakes up a while later to find he’s now outside the house, head in Gianna’s lap, and the house is in flames. Gianna got his note and followed him, arriving in time to drag him out of the house before he could burn up with it.
If you’re watching the U.S. version, Gianna vanished after the arm wrestling contest, and this is where she finally reappears. There was no way to cut her out and work around her at this point, someone had to save Marcus from the flames.
(It’s a pretty decent fake fire effect, but it clearly is a fake fire effect, and thank goodness, because if I suspected a single person on that production lit a match anywhere within a mile of that beautiful house, I would track them down and kick them in the shins. It really is the perfect house as far as I’m concerned: it’s gorgeous and it’s already pre-ruined so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not taking care of it. Win-win.)
Sidebar here. If you’ve been keeping track, Marcus has had three insights over the course of his Scooby-Doo murder investigation. One: something changed about the paintings in the hallway at the site of Helga’s murder. Two: there was a red and black spot where the plaster chipped that looked like it could be part of a drawing (and so it was). Three: this house had a third-floor window when the photo was taken, but the window is not there now.
So, you know. Thank goodness this jazz pianist is on the case, bringing to bear all the outstanding memory for images and visual acuity that jazz musicians are known for.
Marcus and Gianna go to the caretaker’s to call the fire department and police to report the fire and corpse, respectively. And now, are you ready for another plot bump? Because here comes a heck of a plot bump.
The caretaker’s creepy daughter has some creepy little kid drawings in her room. Marcus notices one in particular: it’s just like the image of a gored adult and a kid with a knife that was concealed under plaster in the haunted house! The daughter swears she never went into the house, and admits she saw this image in the old student files at her school. What? Gianna and Marcus immediately head to this school, a school that retains all the students’ artwork neatly filed away in archives for twenty-plus years, you know, like schools do!
A pause, here. I’m ragging hard on the plot of this movie, which is so deranged it makes me second-guess every thriller I’ve ever seen. Are all thrillers this ramshackle and loose in their plotting? I can’t remember, everything is la-la-las and creepy dolls now.
But the thing is, Deep Red is a classic for a reason: as risible as the story so far has been, the ending is genuinely great, with an effective double twist. It’s impossible to ruin the movie with spoilers up to this point, because it’s nonsense anyway. But from here to the end, spoilers are a relevant concept again. There is an actually cool reveal coming up. So if you want to watch Deep Red and care at all about spoilers, stop here.
Back to Marcus and Gianna at the school. Somehow, flipping through what has to be acres of children’s finger-paints and coloring book pages, Marcus and Gianna find what they’re looking for… another version of the crucial picture. Gored adult, check, kid with knife, check.
Just then! Gianna hears a sound and checks it out while Marcus is preoccupied with finding out who drew this art. Why do they always gotta split the party? Marcus belatedly follows Gianna and finds her stabbed with a switchblade, but alive. In another rare flash of good judgement, Marcus lays her out and doesn’t touch the knife. When he goes for help, he hears movement. He speaks to the lurking presence, and turns to see Carlo holding a gun on him.
Whaaat? The most prominently featured of the four surviving secondary characters is the culprit? SHOCK. Though Marcus isn’t shocked. He saw Carlo’s name on the school artwork and realized that the curly-haired kid in the drawing matches the photos of kid Carlo that Carlo’s mother showed Marcus.
Carlo, conflicted, wants to know why Marcus couldn’t just let it go and walk away, which is a good point, I mean, I feel like I’ve been saying that myself for half this writeup. Before Marcus can soul-search and find an answer, the police show up– they were called hours ago about the corpse and the fire, remember, and directed to the school by the caretaker.
Marcus ducks amid the distraction, and the cops open fire on Carlo, who runs. Fleeing the heavy gunfire, Carlo blunders into the street, where his clothes are snared on rebar sticking out of a passing cargo truck. He falls, and the truck drags Carlo down the road, battering him against the asphalt and bouncing him off the curbs. Finally the truck stops with the badly injured Carlo lying in the street, where an approaching car is unable to stop before running right over his head.
At the hospital, Marcus learns that Gianna’s surgery was a success and the doctor believes she’ll heal completely from her stab wound. Relieved and mourning, Marcus makes his way home, stopping sadly at Carlo’s Drunkytimes Flav-o-Rite Fountain.
At that point, Marcus makes a terrible mistake: he starts to think about the plot.
See, Carlo and Marcus were together on the street when Helga was attacked. Carlo was right behind him when Marcus saw Helga shoved through the window, and when Marcus ran up and retrieved Helga’s body, he looked back down to the street and saw Carlo still near the Good Good Drunkytimes Fountain. There’s absolutely no way Carlo participated in that first murder. Helga’s killer is still out there.
Now Marcus charges into Helga’s apartment, determined to figure this out once and for all, starting with those damn paintings that have been nagging at him since the very first night. Walking up and down the hall, gazing at the art, Marcus finally realizes that the “painting” that looks different to him isn’t a painting at all. It’s a mirror that hangs at an intersection of two hallways, opposite some of the paintings.
Marcus flashes back: when he was racing by on the night of Helga’s murder, the mirror was reflecting the painting that hangs opposite it. But as he looks at the reflected painting and thinks back, it’s still not the same. There’s a face missing from the painting… because the night of the murder, when Marcus ran by, the killer was standing just around the corner, face reflected in the glass along with the painting behind them.
The movie plays completely fair on this point, by the way. If you go back to rewatch the original scene, the face of the killer is clearly visible in the mirror for a couple of seconds as Marcus hurries by. It’s easy to miss because the killer’s face, powdered white with rings of black eyeliner, blends in with the grotesque figures of the painting.
And NOW it kind of makes sense why the killer kept after Marcus when he didn’t seem to be a threat– the killer knows that Marcus saw their face, even if Marcus hadn’t registered that fact until this moment.
Marcus turns around and sees the same face right behind him: powdered white, heavy eyeliner. It’s Carlo’s mother Marta, wearing the fedora and the brown raincoat. The opening murder scene replays again, and this time we get to see it all: Carlo’s father explains to Marta that she needs to go back to “the hospital” while she blankly stares and insists that no one can ever make her go back there.
For some reason, Carlo’s dad thinks that’s a great note on which to end the conversation, and he walks off to greet kid Carlo, smiling warmly. Marta stalks up behind him and stabs him to death, dropping the knife at Carlo’s feet. Carlo holds it up, creating the tableau that he’ll later draw on the wall and in his artwork at school.
Carlo never killed anyone, Marta says, he was only trying to protect his mother. And now Carlo is dead because of Marcus, and Marta has a meat cleaver.
When Marta lunges, Marcus runs for it, rounds a corner, skids out, and hits the ground next to the building’s old-fashioned birdcage elevator, banging his head on the metal frame. Marta charges in and takes another swing, which Marcus isn’t able to totally avoid as he ducks, suffering a slash to his shoulder. But in a kind of neat little maneuver, he continues the downward slide, which puts his legs behind Marta, so he’s able to kick her sharply in the back with some momentum.
Marta hurls forward against the elevator frame, and when she tries to back away, her heavy necklace catches on the metal slats of the elevator. Marcus slaps the down button. Probably he’s trying to tangle her up and distract her for long enough to grab the cleaver or run again. I don’t think he expects what happens to happen.
Which is: Marta’s thick necklace is pulled down by the birdcage elevator, dragging her against the frame, tightening around her neck, and then cutting into it and… through it. What Marcus didn’t know is that this lady was wearing the strongest necklace on planet Earth, made of aircraft-grade titanium and strung with adamantium wire, capable of carving right through spinal vertebrae and slicing her neck.
(You don’t… quite see the decapitation or the severed head. But it’s still a jolt, maybe because all happens so fast– when Marcus runs, you’re steeling yourself for a big chase scene, but instead ten seconds later Marta’s bloody necklace is hanging from the elevator frame, useless now that Marta doesn’t have a neck to hang it on.)
The last shot is Marcus reflected in the red pool of Marta’s blood. Probably wishing he’d just stayed behind his piano and avoided this whole thing, since two people died just to keep him from getting information that he got anyway after a few hours’ delay, his new girlfriend was stabbed, his friend pointed a gun at him and then got run over by a car, and Marcus is injured and had to watch this lady’s head come off.
Even the noodliest jazz piano would have been a better time than that.
In case you can’t already tell, I love this movie. 10/10, 255,0,0, would recommend to anyone who wants a visually rich, slasheresque-yet-classy-ish horror film experience this Halloween, or any other time. See it.