Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet

Dir. Dario Argento

Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Bud Spencer, Daria Nicolodi

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) is a drummer in a rock band who has noticed a man following him for the last several days. Angered by this, he confronts the stranger in an abandoned theater to find out what he wants. The man claims he does not know what Roberto is talking about, and pulls a switchblade. The two struggle, and Roberto accidentally stabs the man, who falls into an orchestra pit, lifeless.

To make matters worse, someone in a bizarre puppet mask has been hiding in the upper wings of the theater and takes incriminating photographs of Roberto holding the bloody knife. Roberto flees, but the next day he receives the dead man's ID in the mail. It becomes apparent that the masked figure has no interest in going to the police, and instead wants to drive Roberto mad with fear and paranoia. But why?

So, anyone who knows me will realise what a shock it is that it's taken me SO long to finally write something about Dario Argento... well never one to let people down I thought it was about time one of my obsessions was made public... Gialli! Some of you may be asking "What the hell is he going on about now?", well there the term giallo derives from the series of mystery/crime pulp novels first published by the Mondadori publishing house, starting from 1929, entitled Il Giallo Mondadori, taking their name from the yellow cover background. Published as cheapish paperbacks, the success of the "giallo" novels soon established the word giallo in Italian as the widespread translation of the English "mystery".

The film genre that emerged from these novels in the 1960s began as literal adaptations of the books, but soon began taking advantage of modern cinematic techniques to create a unique genre. These films, particularly such 1970s classics by directors like Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento or Mario Bava, are only defined as "gialli" in the English language usage of the term; in Italy they are usually described as thrillers or, as a genre, "Thrilling" or "Giallo all'italiana".

Out of the aforementioned directors Mario Bava was the true originator with such classics as Blood & Black Lace [1966] and Black Sunday [1960] but the true genre master will always be Dario Argento. With Four Flies on Grey Velvet, plus his two earlier gialli The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Cat 'o' Nine Tails Argento not only brings to an end his 'animal trilogy' but also closes the door on his traditional giallo roots and moves into things more supernatural and horrific with such classics as Suspiria, Deep Red and Phenomena.

Now to take this movie out of context of Argento's canon of work would be dismissive and misleading Four Flies is by no means a masterpiece, but then again with tiny budgets, and average equipment his early films were never going to be cinematic epics, but what he has always lacked in budget and script he more than makes up for in tight plotting and unique visuals. Argento is more concerned by form over content, the aesthetic over the linear and what appears on screen usually leaves anyone, with even a modicum of understanding in the constraints of cinematography, quite frankly breathless. The camera is used as a tool to describe the killers compulsion and modus operandi so effectively that the viewer is drawn into the killers world and starts to experience it from the protagonists perspective. Naturally this tends to leave the actors with not much to do in terms of script, and non more so than Michael Brandon, who is wooden and lacking any power as Roberto, thankfully full credit goes to a truly understated performance by Mimsy Farmer as Roberto's beleaguered wife Nina. With a strong supporting cast (including comedy genius Bud Spencer, in a rare straight role) and some plot twists and McGuffins that would make Hitch proud it all adds up to a solid traditional psychological thriller... the difference being... this Argento, which means flowing camerawork (way before steadicam), snappy editing and a glorious score by Ennio Morricone.

For anyone who has not watched an Argento movie before I encourage you to dig into some of his later work first, maybe Suspiria or Opera, but for any true Argento fan this has been a 37 year wait to finally get a transfer that is worth watching, so don't hang around go out and buy it now... no I mean it... DO IT!

Review copy kindly supplied by

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