Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
Roberto (Michael Brandon) is an accomplished drummer in a rock band. After accidentally killing a man he believed to be a stalker, Roberto is tormented by a masked figure who witnessed the crime…..
One of Argento’s most Hitchcockian efforts is a sublime but mostly experimental picture woven around some elaborate murder sequences. These set-piece death scenes are perfectly executed, drawn-out and dripping with an intensity rare in movies to this day. Two such scenes are clear homages to “The Birds” (1963) and “Psycho” (1960). The first involves a woman stalked menacingly in a children’s park after dark and the latter showcases a woman being slashed, stabbed and falling backwards down some pretty hefty looking stairs.
It’s interesting that there is no-one the audience really connects with in this film. Michael Brandon’s character is portrayed as nonchalant and aloof as well as both morally and sexually ambiguous. We aren’t meant to care for him too much. The dark cinematography often revolves around our protagonist, standing alone in his apartment knowing his tormentor is standing in the shadows, for what appear to be entire minutes at times. In many respects, the play on what may be lurking in the darkest parts of our homes is the key focus of Argento’s movie.
Quirky and interesting supporting characters shower red-herrings all over the place; the best of which is a homosexual private detective whose camp improvisations are nothing short of hilarious. The’ reveal’ at the film’s climax is brought about by a frankly ridiculous plot-device – apparently the retina stores the last image someone sees directly before they die – but when it comes, is a palpable surprise and despite what Roger Ebert and others say, there actually are hints as to the real identity of the killer. Not that it matters in the end, Argento’s movies aren’t true murder-mysteries despite what the critics seem to think.
Ennio Morricone’s minimalist score is a long-way from the pounding Simonetti soundtracks which so many of Argento’s later films run off; and for once, it’s the silence in an Argento film which actually grabs you.
The editing technique employed is heterodox – the camera’s gaze is sharply cut to and from different times and places – this sometimes works fantastically well whilst in other instances it falls flat on its face. But, more annoyingly perhaps, Argento doesn’t get the balance right between humour and suspense at times. But these are minor gripes with a film that bowls you over time and time again until a final scene which must surely remain one of Argento’s finest moments.
If you’re looking for a bizarre horror-thriller, or if you like watching a juvenile but immensely talented director paint your mind with the colour of kooky suspense, then you cannot go wrong with this film.
The great thing is that Argento never did know how to tell a story – but he’s that good it just doesn’t matter.
hotdog rating: 8/10