Kannas invites us to look further into Deep Red, allowing viewers to either discover or return to the film while also finding things for themselves.
The books in Wallflower Press’s Cultographies series, described as “individual studies into the analysis of cult film,” range in subject from hits like Blade Runner to semi-recent indie successes like Donnie Darko to lesser-known classics like Quadrophenia. The inclusion of Deep Red in the series shows the commitment to exploring films with true cult followings. Deep Red isn’t director Dario Argento’s most famous film and its release was marred by a broken model of international distribution that saw different cuts of the film being released under a variety of names in various parts of the world. But author Alexia Kannas, an Australian film professor, understands that these factors are part of what make Deep Red such a worthy subject.
The book is an immediately inviting read as Kannas starts off personally rather than academically. She speaks about how, as a young girl in Australia, she discovered uncensored Italian giallo films playing on television and how this whetted her appetite for more, which led her to experience Argento’s 1975 classic Deep Red with an open mind when she later discovered it on VHS at a friend’s house. This personal, semi-geeky introduction allows those less inclined to scholarly reading to enjoy this book just as much, if not more so, than those with a more academic interest in film studies.
Kannas keeps this vibe up throughout. Though she frequently cites academic papers and occasionally admires the film from a detached, scholarly distance, she gives herself the space and freedom to let pure, cinema-loving enthusiasm show. It is an inviting and important style, because rather than writing about Deep Red’s fans as if looking at them under a microscope, Kannas speaks from within that crowd.
And while the tone is friendly and conspiratorial, the analysis remains thorough and highly insightful. Kannas manages to be specific with regards to certain subjects—a comparison between Deep Red and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is particularly fascinating—while also placing Deep Red into a broader global and historical context. Even when she approaches lesser-known subjects like “video nasties” and films far more obscure than Deep Red, Kannas keeps her analysis tangible and intriguing.
Where the book struggles a bit is in analyzing Deep Red so broadly that it doesn’t spend enough time on some important details while completely ignoring others. Though the book offers a compelling look at wide range of topics, from Deep Red’s marketing to the cultural and historical significance of its Roman setting, Kannas neglects deeper analysis of more complicated dynamics like this film’s simultaneously progressive and regressive feminism and its complicated treatment of homosexuals.
While there’s a tendency for film writers to overanalyze or to wildly speculate, Kannas does neither. She keeps her analysis grounded in fact and her enthusiasm based upon tangible, relatable factors rather than gut feelings and loose connections. This clear-eyed style makes Kannas’ book a stealthily educational experience.