Four Flies On Grey Velvet


Dario Argento has been dubbed the master of horror more times than I’ve had hot dinners – and I’m not usually known for skipping too many of those – but when people cite their favorite example of his work, it’s usually the same titles that get put forward. Suspiria, Deep Red, Tenebre and Opera are all a given and I’d even happily except a vote for Inferno or Phenomena simply for the fact they’re both as mental as sack of Gary Buseys – however, after his magnificent debut with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, there seems to be precious little love for his other two entries in his unofficial “animal” trilogy.
Both The Cat O Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet may have impossibly resplendent titles, but, alongside the majority of the director’s post-80’s efforts, tend to be regarded as lesser efforts from the God of Giallo. A fair statement or a gross underestimation? Only one way to cut straight to the core of the matter.


While Roberto Tobias goes about his life as a professional drummer, he stops jamming with his longhair bandmates long enough to notice a man following him and after a couple of days of this, chooses to confront the stalker with nightmarish results. It’s bad enough that Roberto’s run in with the man ends up with the mystery man accidently stabbed by his hand, but as he stands over the body, a voyer in a cartoon mask snaps photos of him as he just stands there like a gormless idiot.
If Roberto was bothered by his first stalker, this one works overtime in order to make his life a living hell; leaving photos of the murder in random places and even going so far to throttle him to the point of unconsciousness in his own apartment. Utterly terrified and unable to go to the police lest he be arrested for the stabbing of the first stalker (which, if we’re being honest, he’s totally guilty off), Roberto first confesses to his wife, Nina, and then seeks aid in the form of boisterous friend, Godfrey, and flamboyant private eye Arrosio who start looking for clues within the drummer’s social circle.
However, things aren’t exactly plain sailing for the masked stalker either as they are forced to kill again and again to either ward off a blackmail attempt from Roberto’s maid, or simply to throw off suspicion by bludgeoning the odd accomplice to death.
But still the question remains; who in Roberto’s inner circle is capable of such heinous acts and what twisted past has led them to commit such brutal acts of insanity? Salvation may yet be at hand when an experimental forensic technique allows the last thing the most latest victim ever saw to be projected straight off the eyeball – however the image, which resembles four flies crawling over a piece of grey velvet is seemingly nonsense… Or is it?


Four Flies On Grey Velvet seems to see Argento in something of a playful mood. Still red hot from the success of his debut movie, he seems to be finding himself as a filmmaker, easing off on the super-vicious violence he’d soon cement his name with thanks to the one-two masterpiece combo that was Deep Red and Suspiria and thus Flies has a somewhat fluffier feel to what you might have been expecting. Oh there’s still murders, sure – and there’s still that sense of the grandiose that the auteur of arterial spray brings to the party, but there’s a very real sense that his more extreme impulses are merely idling here, merely keeping the engine running until his later films spectacularly hit the gas.
However, even if Argento’s flair for extended, Hitchcockian, murder sequences and haunting sream logic is noticably muted, he still manages to break out some memorable stuff that resonates with his usual themes. The concept of the killer as a voyeur is nicely represented here as the accidental murder that kicks everything off is eagerly recorded onto film as the masked antagonist snaps numerous photos of the incident and the fact that Roberto’s stalker has engineered the whole thing just to watch him writhe in panic like a fish on a hook is nicely perverse. Also, in a neat turn, instead of murdering the people around him in a way a usual slasher operates, the killer only starts taking people out in order to keep their own house in order, slicing up blackmailing housekeepers and fellow conspirators in order to desperately keep their anonymity. However, those waiting for Argento to break out the type of stunning murder sequences that made him famous, may feel a little short changed as a lot of the deaths are either off-screen or far weaker that what we’re used to – after all a bonk to head and an injection of poison is hardly a substitute for any of the kills from… say, Inferno. Still, Argento still does out the goods when he needs to such as a bullet lazily drifting into a shoulder rendered in super slo-mo or the spectacular final moments where the fleeing killer is artistically obliterated in a stunningly shot car crash while Ennio Morricone’s weirdly soothing score reaches a crescendo in the background.


Though Argento may not hit the gory heights of his other work, the reason seems to be that he’s way more focused on character this time round, with Roberto being surrounded by eccentric supporting characters that include an openly gay private detective who is impressively shit at his job (84 failures and the one case he manages to figure out is the one that gets him killed), a bourgeois writer who won’t stop banging on about a story that concerns a rapist Frankenstein’s Monster and our leads weird-ass country friend who’s humbly shortened his name from Godfrey to God – unfortunately, the result is that Roberto (played by Dempsey And Makepeace’s Michael Brandon) ends up being horribly dull by comparison.
Weirdest of all, though, is that you’d think that Argento, with all his love for bizarre detective work, would have made more of the titular vision that comes from the movie’s wildest concept, but instead of hinging the entire movie around this premise, it doesn’t end up surfacing until 18 minutes before the end, thus making it feel oddly tacked on despite it supplying the movie with it’s awesomely baroque title.
However, despite the rather restrained nature of the piece, I do have to say that the killer’s ultimate motive is one of my favorite from the twisted motives that usually spring up in your average Giallo because, in true Giallo fashion, it’s nicely fucked up while simultaneously not making a whole load of sense as we find that Roberto has been targeted because he’s the spitting image of the killer’s abusive father.


Hardly one of the maestro’s best, it nevertheless contains enough of Argento’s signature moments to be worthy of devotees that believe, he who Darios, wins.


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