Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – By Neil Mitchell

Horror and Giallo icon Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, the final part of his ‘animal trilogy’, following on from The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Cat O’ Nine Tails, is the subject of a 40th anniversary DVD and Blu Ray release from Shameless Screen Entertainment. This early career entry, coming before the run of films that would see the Italian cement his reputation as one of the most visually distinctive genre directors of the period with Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno and Tenebrae, may be rough around the edges, possessed of a clumsy narrative and unsatisfactory climax but it’s still a lot more fun than many of Argento’s lacklustre contemporary efforts. Boasting a suitably bizarre cast – Michael Brandon (better known to UK television audiences of a certain age as one half of 80s crime fighting duo Dempsey & Makepeace), Bud Spencer, Mimsy Farmer, Donald Sutherland’s current wife Francine Racette and French actor Jean-Pierre Marielle – Four Flies is a typically Giallo tale of murder and psychological torment played out to the strains of an Ennio Morricone score.

The catalyst for the narrative sees the life of rock drummer Roberto (Brandon) turned on its head one night in an abandoned theatre when he confronts, and accidentally kills, a mysterious stranger who has been tailing him over a number of days. To Roberto’s additional horror a strange masked figure hiding in the balcony takes a series of compromising photographs of the incident. Deciding against telling his wife Nina (Farmer) or the police about the situation, Roberto is subsequently subjected to psychological taunting as the unknown photographer,seemingly bent not on blackmail but on emotional and mental torture, ratchets up the pressure on the increasingly fraught drummer.

To try and unmask the assailant Roberto ropes in his larger than life friend ‘God’, amusingly played by Spencer, his scruffy, Bible quoting friend ‘The Professor’ (Oreste Lionello), and Gianni (Marielle), a homosexual private eye with no crimes solved in 84 attempts. These warped Three Stooges, along with a bumbling postman and a sub-plot involving Swedish porn magazines, bring a left field, comedic touch to the increasingly delirious and violent storyline, replete as it is with narrative revelations, odd incidental characters, fantastical plot developments and even an early example of bullet time photography. Argento mirrors the off-kilter onscreen action by employing split screen and slow motion scenes, expressive framing, extreme close ups, vivid colour contrasts and fetishised murder sequences.

Four Flies is as weird, chaotic and enjoyable as it sounds and Argento’s still developing stylistic approach makes up for the lapses in narrative cohesion. The central mystery remains intriguing up to the somewhat rushed denouement which also explains the film’s title, paving the way for the more overtly horror genre themes the director would go on to embrace.