Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971)

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Four Flies On Grey Velvet is the final entry into Dario Argento’s ‘Animal’ trilogy. This film yet again demonstrates Dario Argento’s talents through the film’s beautiful cinematography, imaginative story, visceral psychedelic imagery and a tense, lingering atmosphere. However, Four Flies On Grey Velvet stands out amongst The Cat O’ Nine Tails and The Bird With The Crystal Plumage because Four Flies On Grey Velvet is the only film in the ‘Animal’ trilogy that received negative reviews and scalding criticisms. Story-wise, Four Flies On Grey Velvet is much more basic than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage or The Cat O’ Nine Tails, but Four Flies On Grey Velvet is quite an interesting look into Dario Argento’s style, and some of the techniques that were first used in Four Flies On Grey Velvet would go on to be utilized more efficiently in his later works.

Like The Cat O’ Nine Tails, Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a Giallo film that tries to balance an atmospheric, evolving mystery with character based storytelling. In my opinion, Four Flies On Grey Velvet is much more balanced than The Cat O’ Nine Tails due to the story being a mystery that’s deeply personal, allowing the characters and the plot to support one another instead of focusing on the plot or the characters separately. The supporting characters in Four Flies On Grey Velvet are better utilized than in Dario Argento’s previous work, as they have a much greater bearing on the overall story, and the main character himself is young, naive, but very relatable in the struggle with his own paranoia and victimization.

However, what truly makes Four Flies On Grey Velvet stand out amongst the other entries into the ‘Animal’ trilogy, is the fact that the film gives an audience an insight into the killer’s psyche. This was the first Dario Argento film that shows events from the killer’s past in order to help a viewer understand the killer’s motivations as the story evolves. Throughout Four Flies On Grey Velvet, this technique is used very sparingly, but it’s a very powerful storytelling technique that helps develop the killer instead of reducing them to being a faceless monster. This is a technique that Dario Argento would efficiently utilize in his later works, and it’s something that would have definitely made his previous movies much more interesting/thought provoking.

However, there’s no hiding the fact that Four Flies On Grey Velvet suffers from some major issues. Firstly, the film has a strange focus on comedy. Dario Argento’s previous films have had hints of comedy with the inclusion of subtle sequences and odd characters, but Four Flies On Grey Velvet contains an egregious amount of comedic sequences that are very distracting. The story that the film tells is one that is very serous, and one that I feel has to be taken seriously, but the film’s comedic aspects diminish the film’s impact: such as a flamboyantly gay private eye, a character called God who is introduced via ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, and a writer whose stories are explicitly exploitative, Thus, the comedy leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth when the film eventually delves into it’s serious subject matter such as child abuse and psychiatric treatment.

Also, the film’s ending is absolutely terrible, and I can’t deny that it ruins the entire experience. The final act delivers: a sequence that, even by the film’s standard, is really stupid and factually incorrect, a terrible reveal that leaves a lot of plot-holes and unanswered questions, a lot of forced exposition that ruins not only the suspense, but the integrity of the film’s antagonist, and a final death scene that makes the protagonist’s journey entirely meaningless. I don’t know how Dario Argento, a great cinematic writer, come up with such a terrible 3rd act. It feels like it was just rushed. It’s a poor attempt to try and justify having a killer with a backstory, but it felt like he didn’t know how to handle what he was trying to do, and in the end, we end up with a film that starts strong, grows stronger, but g it gets clumsy near the end, and finally delivers a messy ending with, in all honestly, one of the most beautiful death scenes put to celluloid. The final death scene is frankly amazing to witness, it’s just a real shame that the sequence beforehand were incredibly poor.

All in all, Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a decent flick, at least until the 3rd act derails the film’s impact. In all honesty, Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a flawed film that has it’s ups and downs. It definitely not one of Argento’s worst films, but by far it’s not one of his best. Four Flies ON Grey Velvet is overshadowed by The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails, leaving the ‘Animal’ trilogy on a disappointing note. In conclusion, I feel that Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a very ‘mixed bag’ type of film: it has it’s good points, it has it’s bad points, and it’s very evident, after watching his later films, how Four Flies On Grey Velvet helped develop a lot of what made Dario Argento a great film-maker. In the end, I would say that Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a very tentative recommendation.

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