“A passionate love letter to Giallo”; forgive my being coy, but I thought my title would be a good way to salute this film.
Those of you that read my reviews regularly already know that my tastes in horror flicks are pretty wide-ranging, covering many styles; that marvelous Italian subgenre of the seventies, the giallo, is no exception. I’ve seen many of them (although I won’t claim to have seen them all; that would be no small feat…the accepted run of the style is from 1968 to 1978, and there were no fewer than sixty-five released between 1971 and 1973 alone); The Girl Who Knew Too Much. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Four Flies On Grey Velvet. Blood And Black Lace…I could go on for the rest of this page. Big names were made with such films, names that are on the Wall of Fame for most of us Fellow Fans…Bava, Argento, Fulci, Lenzi; these are directors whose contributions still resound in the collective culture of our chosen entertainment. Had there never been a Twitch of the Death Nerve, there likely wouldn’t have been a Friday The 13th…and where would we be without Tenebrae, or New York Ripper? Even De Palma’s Dressed To Kill shows many telltale facets of a giallo. The impact that this style has had on the horror film is undeniable and long-standing; even today, the subgenre is seeing a revival, some good, some not-so-good…
Argentinian-born Luciano Onetti has crafted a good one. Sonno Profondo, a.k.a. Deep Sleep, effortlessly took me back through the years; although it’s not a perfect film, I find that my Italian tagline to this review is a pretty damned accurate representation of it; an Italian-language art-house film that takes a love and respect for the source beyond mere homage to near-rebirth, it truly is a love letter to that old style.
We witness a small boy playing with a straight razor; it’s taken from him by a female hand. Switch to a black-gloved point-of-view, as the leather-clad hands move with angst over a nudie magazine, a particular name across the gaudy cover. We follow this POV through the darkness to a small apartment, where a lingerie-clad lovely is…um, well…making the most of her time alone (giallo was known for it’s raunch as well 🙂 ).
We watch as she dies beneath the blade held by the gloves, bleeding thick, bright red blood that clings to the blade like toothpaste (just like those golden oldies). Our faceless first-person murderer thinks he’s gotten away with it, but when he is back at his home, an envelope is pushed under his door, an envelope with photographs of him committing his ghastly crime. Calling the number he finds on the envelope, a gravelly-voice swears revenge upon him for the murder. What follows is a nonlinear and often psychedelic trip though the city, a game of cat-and-mouse between two killers whom we never see their faces, each seen from their own eyes, the only distinction being one wears the black gloves and the other white…
Right out of the box, the film blew my socks off with it’s look; it was set in the 1970s, and I promise you, if I had just walked in while someone else was watching I would have sworn on a box of Goo-Goo Clusters that I had happened in on a viewing of an old giallo; the color saturation, film-grain, and lighting is absolutely spot-on perfect. The props, clothes, cars, and landscapes scream “1970s”…I even tried to find an anachronism, but to no avail; very close attention was paid to detail. While gawking at the visual smorgasbord, the audial portion of my brain kicked in, and I realized that the jazz-heavy synth score that I was hearing was not Morricone, nor was it Goblin; it was instead a lovingly and carefully composed work intended to sound like those esteemed artists, fitting in with their contributions to those works that had gone before. The composer was none other than Onetti himself, adding his name to that credit to go along with writer, director, actor, cinematographer and editor.
Clearly, Onetti has a strong knowledge and affection for those old works, going as far as to make the film set in Italy and written for the Italian language; hell, he even puts an actual giallo (an old Italian pulp magazine popular for their gritty, bloody detective stories, referred to as giallos for always having a yellow cover) into the film.
Although it’s a hell of a trip down memory lane, there are a few shortcomings; there’s very little dialogue, and the story can get quite confusing. Although giallos have always tended to be misleading and full of red herrings, in this case there’s no detective or other person that we can plod along with through the sea of suspects to discover whodunit? This film does answer the question, and upon watching it twice and really scrutinizing it, I have a pretty secure theory as to exactly what happened and why. The surrealness of the flick was intentional, and is even hinted at by the title (Deep Sleep referring to that time where dreams and reality become blurred), but I can understand why the casual viewer might be scratching his or her head at about the midway point wondering what the hell is going on? Fortunately, Onetti realizes that he was making an experimental film in the giallo style, and doesn’t belabor the point; the film clocks in at just over an hour, and that’s plenty of time to get into the story without getting overly-frustrated.
I enjoyed this experience, peeps; admittedly, it took me two viewings to get to where I feel like I understand everything, but the nostalgia and attention to detail ensured that I enjoyed both. If you’re a newbie to giallos or expecting a typical “slasher” flick, I’d bet that you’re not gonna be very happy with this film; however, if you enjoy the old styles and/or any of the films or directors that I mentioned way up at the top there, I’d say give this one a chance.
I certainly don’t regret it.
BrinkVision is releasing Sonno Profondo on a special Limited Edition DVD on August 26th, and on a special classic VHS release on September 23rd, limited to 200 copies.