From Bonnie and Clyde to Badlands to Natural Born Killers, to dozens of other films before and after, Hollywood has long displayed a fascination for stories about lovers who love to kill. The cinema can't get enough of this amour fou stuff - that burning love without limits or logic, beyond good and evil - and how better to illustrate this quaint notion than with a story about a relationship forged in a killing spree?
Even when they don't consciously glamorize their anti-heroes, most of these movies portray their lover-killers as young and beautiful - but not so in Arturo Ripstein's quintessential killer-lovers movie, Deep Crimson. In Ripsteins's 1996 film, the lovers are ridiculous and as borderline grotesque physically as they are psychologically. They are also, by all accounts, accurate representations of the real-life characters upon whom they were modeled, a notorious couple who roamed across America in the late '40s conning and killing lonely widows - a true crime story that also inspired Leonard Kastle's 1970 cult favorite The Honeymoon Killers.
Deep Crimson is essentially a remake of Kastle's film, with the action transposed to Ripstein's native Mexico, and with a darkly comic tone that is even more biting and deliriously perverse than the original. Ripstein's film lunges into motion when plus-size morgue attendant Coral (Regina Orozio) answers the personal ad of a seedy weasel named Nicolas (Daniel Ginienez), and is immediately smitten. Nicolas is a dull-witted bottom-feeder with a fake Spanish accent and a bad hairpiece, but no matter. Coral shows up at his doorstep declaring her love and seals the deal with the rabidly child-phobic Nicolas by promptly dumping her kids at the nearest orphanage. From there, it's a short step to traveling around the country, seducing, robbing and murdering a series of victims who, as Ripstein tells it, are often as delusional, self-pitying and deserving of ridicule as their victimizers.
It's a conundrum worthy of the master surrealist/subversive Luis Bunuel, under whom Ripstein once apprenticed, and Deep Crimson is suitably ironic while assigning guilt to both predators and prey. There's nothing particularly romantic about the movie's take on humankind or mad love, but there's a lot that's funny about it - in ways both deadpan and hysterical - and Deep Crimson sometimes seems like some mutated version of a Mexican soap opera where all of the characters exhibit monstrous pathologies. The film disappoints slightly with an ending that is perhaps a bit too shocking and abrupt for its own good, but Deep Crimson remains a singular offering from a filmmaker who, although far too infrequently seen here, has been pumping out dozens of excellent films since the mid-'60s.
The Home Vision DVD of Deep Crimson presents Ripstein's film in an extremely nice-looking widescreen anamorphic transfer, with exceptionally vivid and stable colors and a virtually unblemished print that makes watching the movie's striking compositions and fluid camerawork a pleasure. Extras are limited to a rather bad theatrical trailer and a rather good essay (by Jorge Ruffinelli), but that's no reason not to rush out and discover for yourself this curiously compelling diamond-in-the-rough from one of Mexico's finest filmmakers.
Deep Crimson, Home Vision Entertainment, www.homevision.com.