Deluxe giallo from writer-director Dario Argento, with a presentation so stylish it threatens to overwhelm the plot. Dedicated husband and drummer for a rock band angrily confronts a mysterious man who's been following him; they scuffle and the stranger ends up stabbed with his own knife. No one is around to help the shaken musician, but there is one witness: a person in costume with a camera. This isn't a blackmailer--they don't want money--but the musician is quickly taunted with photos and notes...and soon, the people closest to him start dropping like flies. Argento shows an uncanny grasp of character here, and his roster of victims and suspects is delicious (there's also a scripture-quoting con-man who acts as a lookout, a terrified postman afraid of delivering the mail and a gay gumshoe hired by the protagonist who hasn't solved one case in his last 87!). Argento is a cinematic madman; his screenplay might not hold up under close scrutiny, but it's hard to nitpick with the small details when the end results are this tantalizing. *** from ****
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Crime / Mystery / Thriller
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Crime / Mystery / Thriller
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Roberto, a drummer in a rock band, keeps receiving weird phone calls and being followed by a mysterious man. One night he manages to catch up with his persecutor and tries to get him to talk but in the ensuing struggle he accidentally stabs him. He runs away, but he understands his troubles have just begun when the following day he receives an envelope with photos of him killing the man. Someone is killing all his friends and trying to frame him for the murders...
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Experimental early Argento
Four Flies on Grey Velvet is Dario Argento's rarest genre film. It completes the Animal Trilogy and is the movie that preceded the magnificent Deep Red. Having never been officially available on video or DVD, Four Flies remains a bit of an enigma. It's fair to say that it is not an entirely successful movie – it has serious flaws in story and acting – however, it showcases early stylistic experimentation by Argento. And, as such, is an important entry of giallo cinema.
The story involves a rock drummer who accidentally kills a man and is drawn into a web of murder by a masked assassin who appears to have a vendetta against him.
The opening credit sequence is a memorable affair, incorporating pounding drums and close ups of a beating heart. This title sequence, however, is a good indicator of the inconsistencies of the film we are about to see, as included within this impressive opening is a silly section involving a fly that irritates rock drummer Brandon. The inclusion of this nonsense is an early example of one of the films major weaknesses – the comedy. It is never funny. We have a completely unfunny postman, a guru fisherman God who says absolutely nothing of interest at any point and a man with a moustache who tells a succession of abysmally unfunny stories to an audience of giggling women. Argento has never had flair for comedy, it's just not his arena and this film shows why. Imagine how bad a giallo directed by Woody Allen would be, well that's how bad comedy directed by Argento is.
But onwards and upwards. Thankfully he handles the suspense scenes very well indeed. We have the bizarre opening murder in the theatre witnessed by a highly creepy masked figure. A scary scene involving a girl hiding in a cupboard while the killer stalks outside. A sleazy episode in the underground. And, best of all, an excellent set-piece where a woman suddenly realises that she is alone in a menacing empty park that was previously filled with children and haunting carousel music playing over the tannoy. Four Flies is predominantly an exercise in suspense as all of these well handled sequences testify. The violence is restrained even for giallos of the period. Argento more than makes up for this with stylistic flourishes like the nice camera pan of the phone wires leading to the location of the killer, the shots of Michael Brandon driving his car quickly edited together with his subsequent POV approach to the private investigator's office and the deranged asylum flashback scenes. The movie is well shot with a number of inventive jump edits and unusual angles, giving a taste of Argento's films to come.
However, all of these excellent elements are strung together by a somewhat ridiculous plot. There are certainly holes here, for example, how could the newspapers report finding the body of the dead man if he's not actually dead?! And as for the 'four flies' revelation near the end, well I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the movie but it really is quite ridiculous. And the killer's motivations are, to say the least, uneven. The acting, too, is not helpful. Sadly, Michael Brandon resembles a plank of wood for the majority of his screen-time. His acting range stretches from 'a bit bored' to 'quite annoyed'. He certainly doesn't help draw the viewer in. And where Brandon under-acts, Mimsy Farmer over-acts. It makes for quite unusual viewing when they are on screen together. There is a lack of chemistry here for sure. In general, the exposition scenes are a bit clunky throughout the movie. And we even have a bit of unintentional humour in the exchanges between Brandon and the homosexual private investigator. If you turned the movie on at this point you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching Carry On Giallo.
The music is variable. This was the first movie where Argento incorporated rock music. From here on he would use it extensively. Similar to the rock music provided by future collaborators Goblin, the rock music here is strange, except here it is not strange in a good way. The vocalist sounds like a deaf man trying to copy Robert Plant. It's grim. And it's by Ennio Morricone so it's a bit of a shock but fortunately he also provides some good avant-garde jazzy compositions too. Much better.
Overall, despite its short-falls, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is too interesting a giallo movie to be disregarded. It is a key experimental work in Argento's cannon. It may be flimsy of plot and misguided of humour but, as is the way with giallo cinema, these elements have to be weighed against the more sensory aspects – the visuals, the music, the atmosphere. And happily, there is more than enough good to outweigh the bad.
Rare And Quite Different Argento-Giallo
"4 mosche di velluto grigio" aka. "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" is the last film in Dario Argento's animal trilogy, which also includes the brilliant "Bird With The Crystal Plumage" (1970) and the very stylish "Cat o' Nine Tails" (1971). This is certainly Argento's oddest film, and also by far the least widely known of his Gialli. While certainly not one of Argento's masterpieces, this strange, and highly interesting flick is nonetheless more than worth tracking down, for a variety of reasons.
When rock drummer Roberto (Michael Brandon) wants to take a guy to task who has been following him for days, the guy threatens him with a knife, and in the subsequent scuffle, Roberto accidentally stabs the guy to death. The incident is photographed by a masked psychopath, who subsequently begins to stalk Roberto and people close to him... Sounds like the beginning of a typical Giallo, but, apart from the typical formula of a mystery killer, murders from the killer's perspective, etc., this film differs from Argento's other Gialli in a variety of aspects. This is partly a very comedic Giallo, that, in some parts even features absurd slapstick humor. Several characters are purely satirical, such as a (very) gay private eye, or a sarcastic writer who likes narrating bizarre short stories. Another supporting role is played by none other than the ass-kicking cult actor/comedian Bud Spencer! The superb score by maestro Ennio Morricone is one more reason to watch this film. Dario Argento is one of my all-time favorite directors, and while "For Flies On Grey Velvet" is certainly not one of his highlights, it is definitely a weird and highly recommendable film that my fellow Italian Horror fans should not miss!