Halloween White Elephant: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Posted by Noah Lee - October 26th 2011 @ 1:19 pm

From Brian Salisbury–“Knowing Noah’s proclivities as well as his blind spots, I continued with the theme of Italian horror. Noah seems to know Fulci pretty well, but that’s about it. I don’t blame him, Fulci is my favorite as well and Argento can get a little flowery with his more supernatural stuff. But his giallo films are fantastic and I wanted to expose Noah to that side of him as a filmmaker.” 

If you’re a horror fan you’re almost instantly required to be a fan of Dario Argento. Well, that seems to be the general consensus in conversations I’ve had. Unfortunately for my status, I’ve never really found his movies to be all that compelling. I believe the man produces some beautiful looking films and his influence on how horror films are shot is undeniable. I’m also a fan of the music he chooses for his movies, whether it’s working with Goblin or Ennio Morricone, the soundtracks are nearly always a treat. And to be fair the man helped to write The Church, which I already stated is a favorite of mine. However, when Argento delves into the realm of gialli he loses my attention completely. To be fair, I’ve really not seen a compelling giallo as of yet. I’ll keep looking.

When Brian assigned me Four Flies on Grey Velvet, I knew this was another attempt by friends to finally enlighten me to how amazing gialli can be. Surely, this would finally be the movie that turns me around and shows me how great they can be, right? Well, no not really. Four Flies on Grey Velvet follows the drummer of a jazz ensemble who, one night after practice, sees a man who has been following him and pursues him to confront him. Once he’s lead to an abandoned opera house, he accidentally stabs the man when he pulls out a knife. A spotlight is shone on the man, Robert (Michael Brandon) and it seems a puppet masked figure has been taking photos of the encounter and subsequent murder. From then on, a series of unbelievable and absurd torture tactics unfold from Robert’s masked surveillance.

Let me get this out of the way, there are some things I did like in Four Flies. For as boring as the plot and pacing are, the camera work and locations are equally as beautiful. There’s also some creative camera work including a stunning, for its time, slow motion bullet shot in the final reel. Also, the protagonist’s puppet mask is beyond creepy. Its dead eyes and plastic face are nothing short of terrifying when shown. But none of this really makes up for just how plain dull this movie is. After the initial murder we have to suffer through nearly an hour’s worth of plodding nonsense and one off-screen murder before we even get around to anything semi-interesting. If you’re a fan of watching hippies run around town and talk to people for an hour, this is your movie. I never felt like anything was driving the plot, like he was ever in any sort of danger, nor were the people around him. For every semi-ominous camera shot, it’d be replaced by some establishing shot of a street that made me wonder if we’re supposed to be seeing things from a killer’s view or if Argento is just showing off. When we’re finally given a clue to what the four flies are in the title, it’s such an out there, absurd idea that anyone with half an education wouldn’t even believe it.

And finally, I won’t spoil it, but once we get around to the ending, the reveal of the puppet faced stalker is so wholly underwhelming that I actually exclaimed incredulously out loud. Even though I don’t like the movie, I won’t spoil it. But the final act is revealed so poorly and lacks any sort of shock or impact that I can’t imagine that even crowds back in 1971 were captivated by it. There are certainly some slower paced thrillers out there that I find captivating but so far, Argento has yet to deliver one I thoroughly enjoy. Maybe someday I’ll find a giallo that compels me but Four Flies on Grey Velvet is not it.

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  1. jenna haze
    December 1st, 2011 | 1:37 am | #1

    this movie was good!! i just bought 2 rad horror movie shirts today off ebay. heres the link. they have alot of good stuff.


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