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February 25, 2009

Four Flies on Gray Velvet

four flies on gray velvet 1.jpg

4 mosche di Velluto Grigio
Dario Argento - 1971
Mya Communication Region 0 DVD

I first saw Four Flies on Gray Velvet in February 1973, at a Portland, Oregon movie theater, playing in a double feature with Peter Collinson's Innocent Bystanders. I was enthused by what I saw that I saw Deep Red and Suspiria soon after they opened theatrically. Since then, I've seen all of Argento's films, some of them multiple times. The good news is that after thirty-five years after its initial release, Four Flies on Gray Velvet has been made available on DVD. The bad news is that the film has not aged very well.

In retrospect, the film appears to be a trial run for ideas that would be explored both better and more savagely in Deep Red. Both films have musicians as the main characters, there is the use of large dolls that seem to appear out of nowhere, and both even have sight gags involving dilapidated cars. Whatever tension and excitement I had the first time was not found in a repeated viewing. Four Flies is for me also less visually interesting than several of Argento's later films.

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Something I missed the first time out was the "joke" of having Michael Brandon and Mimsy Farmer living on a street named after "F. Lang". While the film is not an obvious homage to Fritz Lang, it could be said to be Langian in the sense of paranoia developed by Brandon. People are observing each other or listening in to conversations. Brandon is photographed killing someone inside a theater, a kind of double joke about a murder being staged and observed. Detective Jean Pierre Marielle emphasizes the "private eye" of his trade with door knobs that look like eyes in his office. The identity of the murderer is based on creating a photo from the last image seen by the murder victim.

Unlike Deep Red or Suspiria which set up the audience to be edgy with the creepy music from Goblin, Argento used silence quite a bit in Four Flies. A maid, with incriminating information regarding Brandon, is alone in a park. We hear music, we see children playing, and a pair of lovers somewhat hidden behind some foliage. The music suddenly stops, and the maid sees that the other people in the park have disappeared. The sun fades away, and the gated park seemingly becomes smaller, with no place to escape from the unseen killer. In another scene, Brandon gets out of bed to explore his house in the dark, certain that someone may be waiting for him. Argento presents the fear from the smallest sounds emanating from unseen sources.

Four Flies also defies certain expectations by being the least graphic of Argento's films. The audience sees the maid's hand scratching against a stone wall, but her murder is otherwise heard but not seen. Not to be confused with the current so-called family friendly rating, but Four Flies was rated PG in the U.S. Were the film to be re-rated, it would be for the glimpses of Francine Racette's breasts as she shares a bath with Michael Brandon. Four Flies revisited appears as a transitional work, with Argento thinking he was to leave the giallo genre, but instead playing with certain themes and visual motifs that he would instead rework. As a genre piece, Four Flies on Gray Velvet can be seen as part of a shift that took place most notably with Psycho and Night of the Living Dead when horror shifted from what was hidden in the dark, to the revealing of things sometimes left better to the imagination.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 25, 2009 12:28 AM


Great review. It is fantastic that after so long (30 or so years?!), this film has finally been released on DVD. i agree with you that it acts as a sort of bridge between Argento's Animal trilogy and Deep Red. its true the film seems a tad more subdued in its violence. I think Argento even works in a few references to the work of Val Lewton, and that particular filmmaker's preference to suggest certain things rather than show them explicitly. the scene where the maid waits in the park only to discover she has been locked in is something of an extended homage to Tourneur's The Leopard Man.

Posted by: James at February 25, 2009 06:02 AM

How wonderful to see those clear, colorful screencaps now that FOUR FLIES is back in the house.

Posted by: Arbogast at February 25, 2009 06:51 PM

Having only seen it once about 20 years ago, I think it has enough good things in it to make it worth checking out ... if you're an Argento fan.

You're right about it seeming like a trial run for DEEP RED. Great opening. The basic premise (retina retains image of the last thing a living person sees) is preposterous.

Posted by: C. Jerry at March 2, 2009 10:07 PM

I'm italian, and i wouldnnt buy the dvd.. can you tell me if i can found this last release on emule, or another torrent searcher ?

Posted by: Candido at June 27, 2009 12:46 PM