Blu-ray distributors Shameless describe ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ as Dario Argento’s lost masterpiece despite most fans agree that it is in-fact the weakest of his ‘Animal Trilogy’ – the name given to the first 3 of his films.
I am definitely in there with the latter group.
Whilst ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ is far from a poor film, its garbled plot and weak core characters are only saved by some experimental camera work and some outstanding suspense scenes, both of which would become synonymous with the director’s style and form the backbone of his later masterpieces.
For now, though, whilst masterpiece it is not, there are some takeaways from ‘Flies’ which we should discuss.
The plot opens strong. We see a musician stalked by a mysterious stranger who, in a fateful twist of events ends up the victim as our hot-headed drummer confronts then stabs the guy in a struggle. Unfortunately, the event didn’t go un-noticed as a 2nd voyeuristic stalker peers from the darkness, camera in hand to document the whole event. Later on that evening the musician finds himself, and anyone who is close to him, becoming victim to the maniac’s taunts and murderous intentions.
Naturally then, with the police out of the question, it’s up to our lead and private investigator to try to solve the mystery and out the killer before they all end up dead.
Whilst the opening sequences, set, and context start the film off strongly, the plot takes some serious trips round some roughly edged bushes before regaining consistency towards the end. Whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the plot per-se, what is a little ‘off’ are both the characters and rationales for them being as flamboyant as they are. If you’ve seen Argento’s previous two films ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ or ‘Cat O’ Nine Tails’ then you’ve seen all the character tropes already. There’s the private eye, there’s an informant a love interest and of course an artist-turned-detective as a lead character; none of which there is anything wrong with, however in ‘Flies’ the private eye is almost offensively gay (and by that I mean a less than flattering caricature of homosexual stereotype), an informant who is a bum who only eats fish and a lead character who is not only essentially a murderer himself (accident or not, he didn’t report it) but is absolutely obnoxious to a fault.
Too much quirky, not enough consistency. Throw that in with some iffy acting and some strained dialogue and you have a bit of a left field set of characters through which to deliver what should be a tense and fraught plot.
Yet, somehow, the film manages to hold it together, and despite my reservations with the above, ‘Four Flies on Grey Velvet’ contains some of my favourite scenes of the directors earlier works.
It’s fairly common knowledge that Argento doesn’t particularly like ‘Cat O’ Nine Tails’ owing to its tailoring for an American market, and whilst both his previous films had some really nice locations (‘Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ especially) and are obviously competently shot it’s very clear Argento intended to make up for lost time. Not only are the scenes must more vibrant and ‘alive’ for want of a better adjective, but there a more deliberate use of colours to reflect the mood. Along with this there are a couple of stalk and slash segments which, when coupled with an outstanding score by Enrio Morricone, really add that extra umph delivering some sequences which are oozing with atmosphere and tension often culminating in genuine scares. Whilst the kills are not quite up to the directors’ brutal best, they are definitely a notch above those found in the previous two films, which are actually quite restraint.
Overall, whilst there are components that I feel that the previous films did better, with certainly the characters and story having more credibility, there are some elements which make this film worth at least one watch. The film borrows heavily from the plot of ‘Bird’ and then a psudo-science ending from ‘Cat’ but manages neither better. That said, as a fan of Argento’s movies in general it was really cool to see him experimenting with a number of elements which would later be perfected across his career bests.