FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET Review. [A Year in Film]

Posted by Brian Salisbury - August 27th 2009 @ 2:11 pm

Written and Directed by Dario Argento, 1971


Welcome back to AYIF.  I have often lauded the questionable merits of Italian cinema as it pertains to my penchant for shitty post-apocalyptic knock-off films, but the truth is that there are some really fantastic Italian films.  Sure, for the film snobbish among us, we could quickly cite the likes of Fellini and Antonioni, but for me the horror genre is really where it’s at for great Italian films.  Sure, like my beloved knockoff post-apocalyptic films, there are better examples than others and there are the stinkers that are watchable in spite of themselves.  But there are also some truly exemplary titles that horror aficionados talk about ad nauseum; for good reason.  There are directors whose names get bandied about with word like legend and genius.  One of those names is Dario Argento, and today I will be watching his FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET.

FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET is about a young drummer named Roberto who begins to notice a strange man following him everywhere.  The stranger, an old man with the fashion sense of a Blues Brother, appears at his band rehearsals, outside clubs, and putting along behind him in what will go down in history as one of the slowest car chases ever filmed.  Finally, Roberto reaches the breaking point and confronts Mario Creepypants in a deserted opera house.  A couple of painfully awkward dance steps later, Creepypants ends up stabbed and also dead while Roberto is left trying to figure out the logistics of the apparent murder.  All of this is being captured on film by a freaky-faced cherub in the balcony.  What follows is a terrifying tale of blackmail, fear, and blood.

FFGV is quite a decent slasher film.  More than that, this is Argento’s attempt to make a bloodier Hitchcock film.  One of the things that is so amazing about an Argento film, just like a Hitchcock film, is watching him play with angle and perspective; with color and shadow.  He is playful and experimental and the result is typically some of the most interesting cinematography in horror.  I especially loved the shots of Roberto chasing the moustache man through the curtains of the opera house.  It was disorenting but also fascinating and gave the scene a heightened sense of foreboding.  Other classic Hitch elements are at play here, but with a twist.  We have the cat-and-mouse mystery game, but the ordinary man caught in the extraordinary situation is only ordinary by the standard of the time.  No, he doesn’t sell insurance or operate a punch press in a factory, but he IS a drummer in an aspiring rock band.  Being a rock musician in the 70’s would be as commonplace as someone who makes a living from the Internet these days; not at all a rarity.

Much like other Argento films, there is an overwhelming dream-like quality to FOUR FLIES.  It is definitely giallo, with the masked killer whose hands are often the only identifiable feature in frame.  But there are also whacky homeless detectives and bizarre music cues.  There are moments in this film that are so weird that they defy conventional storytelling.  It is no rarity that while watching an Argento film I have to shake the suspicion that I have fallen asleep and the remainder of the film is simply playing out in my subconscious.  But that is part of the fun of his work and this film was no exception.  The dream-like quality adds to the the disorientation and therefore to the overall sense of mystery.

If I had one complaint with FOUR FLIES it would have to be the “killer reveal” scene.  When the slasher is unmasked, the curtain is pulled back and the motive lain bare, the audience is left scratching their heads.  Not because it is deeply introspective and heavy with philosophical weight, but because it doesn’t make any fraking sense.  I won’t spoil anything, but it’s just plain insulting.  The amends for the stupidity, however, is one of the coolest car crash sequences ever captured on film.  It makes the absurdity of the ending well worth it.  Huzzah!

That does it for today’s AYIF.  Brian’s rating: B

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  1. August 28th, 2009 | 11:10 pm | #1

    you know its funny but when i was a kid if Dario Argento’s name wasnt on it i wouldnt rent it lol

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