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"Four Flies On Grey Velvet" is surely an odd, truly bizarre film, even by
Dario Argento standards. In my opinion however, it most definitely is not a
bad film, much less one of Argento's worst. Much of what is said about the
film, by critics and fans alike, seems (to me) to wrongly condemn it. I
definitely can understand why one might be frustrated by this film, but I
don't believe that's a reason to reject it completely. Some may feel the
acting and/or story isn't all that good. I would respectfully disagree. I
feel the acting is strange and aloof, but I believe that it works in favor
of the film; and the story is confusing, but that is typical for an Argento
film, and as a viewer, I appreciate not being handed all of the answers on a
platter. Perhaps what repels many viewers is consistently being displaced
espacially within the film context; that is to say one (the viewer and/or
characters) doesn't necessarily always know where one is within the
"reality" of the film or how one got there. Here, in what is perhaps
Argento's most abstract film to date, the director makes some very bold,
disarming choices with editing; choices I believe serve a greater purpose
and add chillingly to the effectiveness of the film. For instance, the
sequence in which the protagonist (Michael Brandon) is driving to the office
of a private investigator. Shots of him driving in his car to the office are
quickly intercut with gliding POV shots approaching the office building,
going up the stairs, nearing the office door. The effect is that of feeling
as if he is literally driving up the stairs and down the hallway to the
office door, creating a tense and strangely humorous sequence of events.
This editing technique, prevalent throughout the film, is surely a forceful
presence and I suppose could turn off some viewers. Regardless of the
editing, the atmosphere and visual punch of the film is pure Argento, albeit
an Argento who was still developing his technique and discovering his style.
There are many beautiful and stunning visuals to be appreciated, including
the violent, shocking ending sequence and a very creepy chase scene in an
otherworldly city park. My favorite visual flourish in this film is the
reoccuring nightmare had by the protagonist, in which a Middle Eastern
execution is taking place in a bleached out desert dreamscape; thoroughly
chilling. A frantic, highly enjoyable score from the master Ennio Morricone
adds greatly to the proceedings as well. I really like this film, despite
whatever flaws it may have, and have but one question for anyone who thinks
"Four Flies On Grey Velvet" is (one of) Argento's worst... "Have you seen
"The Five Days Of Milan" or his "Phantom of The Opera"?
Definitely not for everyone's tastes, but a certain must for any Argento fan, Euro-horror fan, or anyone who just really wants to be daring and see something totally different.
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.
As with the previous two entries in the unofficial Animal Trilogy, Four
Flies on Grey Velvet is short on explicit gore but brimming with
atmosphere and artistic ingenuity, with set-piece murders primed and
mined for maximum tension. It was with this film that Argento began to
cement his particular style and is something of a crucible for future
ideas. The murder of Roberto's maid in a local park foreshadows John
Saxon's fate in Tenebre, and with its sudden lapses in time and
attempted escape through the cobwebbed space between two buildings (to
a soundtrack of whispers and sighs) it also sows seeds that would
flourish in Suspiria. Other visual motifs (crimson curtains, extreme
close-ups, inanimate objects suddenly wielded by a seemingly maniacal
camera) would be repeated or re-jigged in Deep Red, Phenomena and
Argento's original intention was to have a gay protagonist and though the character of Roberto is still open to such a reading - his victimisation being as a result of a fear of being outed (as a murderer) has obvious correlations (note also Brandon's shaggy mane v Farmer's gamine crop or the rather tame bathtub scene with Francine Racette which sees Roberto playfully seducing his mirror image) - the more overt references are passed to Jean-Pierre Marielle, who brings immense likability to a small role and whose swish factor is tempered by a steely determination to finally cracking a case. A frosty Farmer acquits herself well, though Brandon is merely okay. Argento's fascination with weird science (here ludicrous by design but ingenious in execution) gives the film its animal-themed title, and the finale boasts one of his greatest sequences - a stunning, slow-motion shot of a car impacting with the back of a lorry, which marries chillingly beautiful aesthetics to Hollywood folklore, scored with Morricone's haunting "Come un Madrigale".
Four Flies is a solid giallo and an important entry in the Director's canon which bears repeated viewing, blurring gender roles and sexual identity, adding subtext and hit and miss humour, asylum flashbacks, well-executed deaths and a recurring nightmare in the form of a sun-bleached, public beheading - the significance of which turns out to be twofold. It also has in spades what a good Argento giallo conveys like no other, that chilling feeling of something wholly alien on the loose in human form.
Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), a rock guitarist married to a
beautiful and rich wife, is being followed by a peculiar man in dark
glasses. Roberto decides to confront the stranger, but unfortunately
for him he ends up killing him in an opera house with a masked
individual making photos of the whole debacle. After deciding to hide
the matter he starts receiving weird phone calls, letters and pictures
of the murder show up in his house during a party. Someone he knows is
trying to blackmail him, but unable to seek help from the police he
involves Godfred (Bud Spencer), a quirky fellow living life in solitude
and poverty on a diet of fish. He in turn has Roberto hire a gay
private investigator. All to find out the identity of the mysterious
As triumphant a movie as all his other three animal movies Dario Argento hit a home run with his artsy murder mysteries. And I must press that Argento really has made murder and death into art - I believe no one ever has made such telling and beautifully terrible death scenes as the master. Add to that the relatively good dialogues, acting plus some very odd humour (focused on a select bunch of weirdo characters populating this thriller) and this is movie that is a must see for any horror fans. Two killings are of extreme note - the first murder in the garden and than the final death scene.
Naturally as always not all is well with the Argento movie. Some of the acting is off and the plot/script has a lot of holes with much room for improvement. Also character building is almost non-existent as Argento typically for him focuses on the atmosphere (to great effect). The camera is as always stylish plus we have some great score from Enrio Morricone to really punctuate the whole feeling of the movie.
"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
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!
The most elusive of Argento's films has become more legendary than most
simply because of the fact that it's been nearly unobtainable in a
decent version. Most have had to do with very-below average bootlegs
that render some of the film nearly unwatchable, and therefore pretty
hard to judge. Recently an above average bootleg was released in terms
of visual quality and a lot of scenes come to life and one is finally
in a position to judge the film as a whole.
Story wise, Four Flies on Grey Velvet doesn't win any awards but it's a good set up for a thriller. Drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) accidentally kills a stalker and is photographed while doing so. The masked fiend who snapped the shots starts threatening Roberto, and his wife (Mimsy Farmer) is very worried for her husband. As it turns out, the man who Roberto thinks he killed is very much alive, but not for long. Roberto hires a gay private investigator to find out the truth. Say more and I've ruined everything for the viewer.
If you look at Argento's work as a whole, Four Flies fits in very nicely. You can clearly see a young Argento experimenting with visual tricks that he would later do even better in later films. Story wise, the film is similar to some of his later works and even a bit of a rehash of his earlier ones. Some fundamental psychology concerning repressed guilt and anger (a very recurring theme in Argento's work) and once again the central character is an artist who's thrust into a dangerous world of lunatics and murder. This would be perfected in his next thriller Deep Red.
It's just that the film doesn't have enough material to keep the viewer on the edge of his seat. It drags on too long, many scenes (and not to mention some characters) are almost completely pointless. What's Bud Spencer doing here? He serves no narrative purpose but I'll admit it's fun to see the guy.
Plot wise, this is slim pickens. Argento and fellow writers were lazy this time around. The film has a dynamic start and immediately you're interested. If you've seen The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, my guess is you'll have the culprit here figured out before half time. Plus, there aren't many red herrings here and a lack of suspects make the guess that much easier.
But on to the good things. Certain sequences are very impressive. Brandon's encounter with his stalker in the beginning is beautifully filmed and stylish as hell. A murder that occurs in a park is masterfully realised. Very suspenseful, dreamlike and stylish. Not that dissimilar to Stefania Casini's chase sequence in Suspiria. Another murder sequence that sets up the film's title is also quite impressive. Last but not least the knockout ending (which can finally be appreciated now that there's a decent version available) deserves all the hype it's already gotten. An Argento film is never a complete dud (not even Phantom), it always has some things going for it.
Special nod must also go to Argento for taking things up a nodge and taking some risks. Feeling that the Giallo genre was drying up, Argento comes up with unique ways to keep audiences interested. That special camera, for instance, that captures the last image seen by a deceased person. Well, I've never heard of it and it's quite an idea. You gotta give Argento props for trying new things, even though they don't always work out.
It must be said that Argento should have gone with a different leading man. Michael Brandon is remarkably lifeless in almost every scene he's in. Mimsy Farmer fares better as Brandon's wife and that gay detective provides a few chuckles. That said, most of the comedy here is pretty silly and a little distracting.
But, as said above, this is Argento experimenting with visuals, editing and writing and his later films were better realised. I doubt this film will appeal to very many people but for fans of Argento there's plenty here to savour and enjoy.
Excellent early thriller from Italian horror master Dario Argento was a
strong finish for his "Animal Trilogy" giallo films.
Musician accidentally kills a mysterious stalker, now someone is black mailing the poor guy, as well as murdering anyone who interferes with his deadly vendetta.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet was Argento's third and final entry in his fine trilogy of animal-themed giallo thrillers. Four Flies is one of the better films of the trilogy, second only to Argento's great debut film Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Four Flies is classic Argento that flourishes with beautiful visual style and spooky vibes. It has an intriguing storyline with plenty of tight suspense sequences, bizarre atmosphere, and a rather dark sense of humor. The mystery element is kept quite high too and the plot remains compelling throughout. Ennio Morricone's lovely, haunting music score is also a welcomed addition.
The cast is also good. Star Michael Brandon makes for a likable and sympathetic hero. Mimsy Farmer is also a highlight as Brandon's fragile wife.
A unique film on all levels, Four Flies on Grey Velvet remains one of Argento's best pre-Deep Red (1975) films and it serves as a great omen to the stylish masterpieces that the director would follow with in the coming years.
*** 1/2 out of ****
I saw this on the big screen when it first was released in 1973 as a teen and later in 1992 at The Film Institute where it was shown with an unedited Susperia and Dario Argento himself was there to introduce both films and to discuss with the audience his craft after their showings. There must be something with this film since it was chosen for this unique seminar over all his other pre 1992 works. Upon the second viewing of this film, I still find it scary and spellbinding and the secret behind the title is quite chilling. Gives me the creeps just thinking about it. The stylish camerawork and storyline is pure Argento "black glove" period and this is my 3rd favorite film (tied with Deep Red) of his right behind #1 Susperia and #2 Tennebre. Why this film was never released on DVD or at least, after all these years, on VHS is a mystery in itself. I for one will be the first in line to purchase this if Anchor Bay or another reputable DVD distributor releases it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After having been gripped by Dario Argentos stunning first film: The
bird with the crystal plumage,I instantly went searching for his next
film,which I found out was call The Cat 'O Nine Tails.Almost as soon as
the DVD had landed in my post box,I rushed to watch it right away.
Sadly,from about the 30 minute mark,I had to stop playing the film,due to the appalling sound,and the picture looking like someone had chucked a yellow (giallo!) can of paint over the film.Not giving up to easily on Argentos films,I went looking to find the film he had made after Cat,and happily this led me to finding a very good DVD,of this stunning, sadly forgotten film.
After having finished a recording session with his band,drummer Roberto Tobias leaves the studio feeling pretty happy with how the sessions are going.Almost as soon as he has left the studio last few day.Aproching him,the stalker makes a run for it,which leads to him entering an empty theatre.When Roberto tries to confront the man about why he has been stalking him,the man suddenly pulls out a knife.During the struggle to free the knife from the stalker,Tobias ends up accidentally stabbing the man.
As the blood pours out of the now deceased stalker,Roberto hears the click of a camera, hidden up at the podium of the stage.Tobias spots that there is a masked person,who is taking photos of him with the knife.Fearing that something very bad is happening,Roberto makes a run for it.
Later on that night,whilst he is trying to peacefully sleep in his bed,with his girlfriend by his side Tobias experiences an extremely strange dream,which involves him being beheaded in a public execution.The next day Roberto decides to discuss the dream with some of his friends,who have come over to spend some time with the couple.
Near the end of the night,Roberto gets in the mood of putting some music on for him and his friends.Just as he is about to finish getting the record out of the sleeve,the passport of the man he killed suddenly appears!.Later on in the night,Tobias suddenly gets a tight rope wrapped round his neck.Whilst he tries to free himself,the masked aslant steps out of the shadow to announce that,although they could kill him right now,it would really ruin all the "fun" that they went to put Roberto through.
Fearing for his life,Roberto goes to meet an "adviser" who lives on the outskirts of the town called God (although God keeps pointing out that he would much prefer if people called him by his full name:Godfreey.)With Godfreeys help,Roberto gets in contact with a privet detective who feels that luck is now on his side,due to having failed to solve any of his last 80 cases!.As the detective starts digging round for the person that is trying to blackmail and terrorise Roberto,he begins to gather evidence that the killer might be closer to Roberto then any of them could have imagine.Although the detective himself does not realise that along with Roberto,the masked psycho is also spying on him..
View on the film:
For the film,writers Dario Argento and Luigi Cozzi (with uncredited writing of the story also including Edgar Wallace and Mario Foglietti) brilliantly extend on all of the story element that were in Argentos first film,which helps to give the film a strong sense of a confident and natural progression.Right in the middle of the movies running time,Dario and the writers deliver a twist that almost everyone else would have kept to use as an ending.
Instead,Dario smartly uses it to make everyone realise that no one is safe at all in the film,and it also helps to make the audience feel Robertos increased sense of paranoia and fear,as the masked murderer gets more aggressive in the attempts to terrorise him.One of the things that I was very surprised to discover with the films plot,was a very intriguing off-centre almost supernatural undertone to the film,With Dario smoothly inserting a character that he had left out for his adaptation of the Screaming Miiime (God) into this film,who seems to have a stunning amount of wide- ranging knowledge.
Whilst the device that is used to unmasked the black mailer/serial killer is completely impossible to use in the "real" world,Argento is able to pull it off amazingly well.And he also uses the clue it discovers to really crank up the tension,and turn the ending of the film into an edge of the seat,thrilling Giallo.With the directing,Argento shows a stunning increased level of creativity with his camera moves and pace.Whilst some of the first-person murder scenes have a little bit of an "awkeward" feel to them,the short comings in those moments are easy to over look,due to a strong sense that Argento is really pushing himself,to try some very different things with this film.
The other major thing that really surprised me about Darios directing, (along with an astonishingly filmed final scene) is that whilst he mostly used "basic" camera work for the investigation/talking scene in his first film.Here,he goes into the complete opposite direction,with a lot of the investigation scenes being filmed as tracking shots,which massively help to create a strong feeling of adrenalin- drenched tension,as Roberto has to constantly try to prepare himself for the masked black mailer/killers next horrific outburst.
Final view on the film:
A stunning Giallo with a fantastic twisting mystery and brilliantly creative directing from Argento
As a fan of Argento's early films, I have been waiting for this to be
released on DVD for years. "4 Flies" is the the only film from his
golden era that I had not seen. Although there have been other ways to
see this film, I have been stubbornly waiting for a DVD release. It was
worth the wait and I was very entertained.
Some of the scientific/medical content of the crime investigation is silly. Besides that, I have very few complaints. It kept me guessing about the identity of the killer.
On a side note, I read a review that complained the movies is homophobic. That's not true. I think the gay character is presented as admirably honest and ultimately heroic. Considering this film was made in 1970, it was daring in that respect.
I have been continually disappointed by most of Argento's films after"Phenomen"so it was nice to travel back in time to when he was able to make a film like this
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