Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Dario Argento is generally held high on the shoulders of horror fandom for the vibrant visual palette he brings to his horror films, particularly his series of giallo films. FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET was his third film, considered "lost" due to its long absence on DVD, and it's a crazy ride into many of the visual themes and cues he would use to later effect in more classic films like DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA.

It's interesting that DEEP RED came only a few years and one film after FOUR FLIES, which was originally supposed to be Argento's goodbye to the giallo genre. You can watch the two in sitting (as I did) and really see FOUR FLIES as a kind of workprint for what Argento would do cleaner and more impactful in DEEP RED. Because for all its wonderful moments, including an amazing rock and roll soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, beautiful use of colors and moving cameras, and some excellent ahead of its time POV shots, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET is an absolute mess as far as story is concerned. Essentially, it's about a drummer in a rock band (Michael Brandon) named Roberto who is being stalked by a mysterious man in black, with a glorious, full and bushy mustache (I bring this up because it was a bad-ass mustache). Roberto confronts the gentleman in an abandoned playhouse, a struggle ensues, a knife comes out, and the stalker crashes to the stage, seemingly stabbed by mistake in the struggle. High above in the balcony, a figure wearing a mask shaped like a doll's head snaps pictures. Soon Roberto is terrorized by the new stranger, and as he attempts to figure out what's going on, one by one those who attempt to help him are murdered.

Don't bother trying to figure out what the dreams of decapitation mean, or the whirling scenes that take place in a padded cell. Forget the obvious and sometimes hysterical homosexual under (and over-) tones of the characters and just revel in how masterly Argento controls the action on the screen. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and when you find out who the killer is, you'll probably be as stumped as I am with trying to understand why they went through all of the trouble of doing what they did in the beginning if they only wanted to kill Roberto in the end. Even the scene that finally explains the title of the movie: wonderful to look at, really inconsequential in the grand scheme of the story. Argento basically directs the hell out of a movie that's light as a feather, but watched in conjunction with DEEP RED, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET gets better when you think of it as a sort of proving ground for what he would accomplish in the later film.

All in all, nice to finally have it out on DVD, but I think this one is more of a curiosity for those who want to catch all of Argento rather than anything like a lost classic.

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