While some directors spend their entire lives chasing the success of their first few films (Tarantino comes to mind), the career of Dario Argento has been more of a “slow burn”, with a trilogy of comparatively light gialli released in 1970-71 eventually giving way to the explicit, imaginative, and jarringly scary movies of the late 70s/early 80s, movies that would come to define his legendary status as one of the most revered horror film directors of all time. Four Flies on Grey Velvet, the conclusion to his “Animal Trilogy” (which also includes The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails), has finally received a DVD release from Mya Communications, and although this early entry in the Argento canon isn’t the most revered film in his extensive oeuvre, it remains a highly coveted release for lovers of Italian horror.
Exploring a handful of the techniques and images that Argento would perfect in later years, Four Flies begins as our protagonist Roberto, a musician laying down a (supremely lame) track in the studio, becomes increasingly frustrated with a mysterious man in sunglasses and an overcoat who has been stalking him for the past week. Forcing a confrontation in an empty—and beautifully depicted—old theater, Roberto accidentally stabs his stalker and watches him fall into the orchestral pit as a looming figure in a creepy bug-eyed mask photographs the violence from up in the balcony. Yep, it looks like poor Roberto has been framed.
After discovering that the murder has been reported in the next day’s newspaper, Roberto enlists the help of a pair of shady hobo friends: Godfrey, a bearded fisherman who looks like he doesn’t smell too good; and The Professor, a hammock-loving eccentric sporting a pair of horn-rims and a sloppy beard. The Professor is instructed to watch Roberto’s house over the next few days, and to report “anything strange, like murderers, blackmailers, and the like.” But even The Professor’s (admittedly limited) protection skillz can’t prevent Roberto’s cat from getting stolen, and his maid from getting whacked. So Roberto is forced to turn to a gay Private Investigator (imagine a more flamboyant version of Kilmer’s “Gay Perry” from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) for further assistance in capturing the masked villain. Four Flies is packed with ill-advised attempts at flat-footed humor, a weakness that Argento obvious discovered and curbed while making subsequent films.
Predictably, the dialogue sucks, the plot is practically incomprehensible, and the acting is patently wooden. But hey, it’s Argento. As a P.O.V. shot parts thick red velvet curtains during an early scene, a technique that he would later repeat in Suspiria, you can feel your heart swell with the kind of warm familiarity that only a thick, rich Dario Argento movie can provide. The film is brilliantly shot and edited, it features a top-notch stalk and kill sequence, and the flashback scenes, while brief, are picturesque and haunting. Four Flies is a worthy experimental effort from the Master, a bizarre and slightly whimsical giallo that’s too memorable to miss.
DVD Extras: The feature film is preceded by a message from Mya Communications stating that around a minute of footage had been originally cut for US distribution, but that those scenes have been added back into the film for the DVD release (subtitled instead of dubbed). The missing seconds occur near the end of the movie, during the final explanatory scene. It’s hard to tell why those particular moments were excised for U.S. distribution, although I thought I caught a vague reference to incest buried in the reinserted dialogue. The print looked good, but the sound was occasionally crackly, and a few of the scene transitions seemed choppy (although I’d never seen the film previously on VHS like many B-D readers, so I can’t say for sure). Extras include a sizeable photo gallery and a couple of trailers.