Four Flies on Grey Velvet

11/30/2021 10:50

Film: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 mosche di velluto grigio)

Year: 1971

Director: Dario Argento

Writer: Dario Argento

Starring: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer and Jean-Pierre Marielle



This is one of the last horror/giallo films that I hadn’t seen from the great Dario Argento. I decided to finally seek this out when looking through Letterboxd for the most popular horror film from Italy that I hadn’t seen yet for Italian horror month. I’ve now given it a second watch at the Wexner Center for the Arts on the big screen.

Synopsis: a musician is stalked by an unknown homicidal maniac, who extorts him for the accidental killing of another stalker.

We start this movie off getting a chance to meet our lead. He is a drummer for a band and they’re rehearsing. His name is Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon). We get to see that he is being stalked by Carlo Marosi (Calisto Calisti). They have a confrontation in an abandoned theater. Carlo is shocked by Roberto and tries to pretend like he hasn’t been following him. This is staged though. Someone on the top level turns on lights and takes pictures as Roberto accidentally stabs Carlo to death.

Roberto goes home to his wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer), who knows something is up. They have a party, but her husband is a bit in his own head and for good reason. He gets spooked though when he finds a picture of him killing Carlo hidden amongst the records. It is during this party that a guest tells a story of how they execute people in a different country. This haunts Roberto’s nightmares.

Like the the synopsis states, Roberto gets odd phone calls from the person who saw his crime. There is more to this story though. Nina wants her and her husband to just leave, but he can’t. This causes him to seek the aid of his friend Godfrey (Bud Spencer), who introduces him to The Professor (Oresto Lionello). Godfrey recommends him go see a private investigator as well as hire The Professor to watch his house. Amelia (Marisa Fabbri), who is the housekeeper for the Tobias family, notices something and decides to try to extort this person as well. She knows who is behind it.

Nina cannot take it anymore as this person continues to come into their home at night. Roberto is determined to stay though. Things get complicated even more when Nina’s cousin, Dalia (Francine Racette), shows up and stays with them. Roberto must figure out who is extorting him and what they want before it is too late. The truth of what is going on here is much closer than he realizes and not everything is as it seems.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie and where I want to start is that I find it interesting this movie is a bit harder to find. I watched this on YouTube, but I did figure out it is also on Plex. When I was searching for ways to watch this, it is out of print for a physical copy and is a bit of a ‘lost’ film. An update there is that there is a 4K restoration that is out there now. This shocked me is that Argento is such a big name and this is part of his ‘animal’ trilogy with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails. Both movies I’ve seen multiple times before seeing this one.

To get into this, we have an interesting giallo film here. We are following Roberto, who was the target of this plot, but it becomes bigger than that. Whoever is extorting him doesn’t provide what they want in return. We have Roberto trying to get to the bottom of that. The police are here a little bit, but he has left them out and for good reason. He is afraid that he will be booked for murder. It isn’t until Nina reaches out to them or they seek her out that they get involved. There is Gianni Arrosio (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who is looking into things as well as The Professor, but there isn’t much investigation done by Roberto.

Now I’m not going to spoil this, but I did want to delve into the mystery a bit more. A troupe of movies in this sub-genre tends to have trauma causing our killer to attack. That is something that we get here. There were little things that I picked up on and I thought I figured out the reveal but ended up being wrong. That is something I judge these types of movies on so I’m glad that I didn’t find it too obvious. The reveal makes sense to things that we learn. I’ll give credit to Argento here, except the reveal was a bit too villain twirling their mustache to give away why. It is something I come to expect for this genre as well though. It wasn’t as big a deal for this second watch. I remembered so I was piecing together things so I can appreciate this even more.

One last thing for the story is the troupe of someone who isn’t a police officer doing the investigation. It makes sense here. Roberto is afraid that he’s going to go away for murder if he goes to them. That causes him to seek out Godfrey, The Professor and then Gianni. The latter at least is a private detective. That makes sense for why Roberto needs to solve this case as his freedom is in the balance. Another troupe from Argento is pseudo-science. I’d say that the movie Wild Wild West borrows from this with the last image of a deceased person is burned on their retinas and if a procedure is done, it can be seen. I thought that added charm here.

That should be enough for the story so I’ll move to the acting. I thought that Brandon was solid as our lead here. He doesn’t have much in the way of personality it seems, but from the beginning he thinks he killed someone so I chalk that up to his brooding. More a baseline would help. Farmer is solid in her smaller role as well. The best performances for me are Marielle along with Lionello, Racette and Spencer. I’ll also give credit to Calisti, Gildo Di Marco and the rest of the cast. They don’t stand out, but there is comedy that is brought in and they fit.

All that is left then would be filmmaking. I’ll start with the effects. This has violent scenes, but I think it does well in hiding it at times. The effects were practical, which is good. There were a couple of slow-motion things that don’t necessarily work. What I found more interesting was the cinematography. Argento and his director of photography shot the heck out of this. If there are any gripes, they go too experimental with things. It doesn’t look bad so I don’t think I’ll take off points. Then the last thing would be the soundtrack. It was done by Ennio Morricone, so it is good. It isn’t his best, but it is still up there. The sound design like with the whispers of the killer worked too.

In conclusion, this is one of the more obscure Argento films, but I still enjoyed it. We are getting an interesting giallo here. The story isn’t great. It doesn’t necessarily need to be either. It kept me interested until the final reveal. The effects were good along with the cinematography. If anything, they were a bit too experimental and that’s classic for this director. The soundtrack and design work as well. I have nitpicked here and there, but this is a solid film for sure. Not my favorite from Argento, but it is better with a second watch. I’d recommend to fans of him as well as to those of gialli or of this era of filmmaking from Italy.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10