AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 104 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Roberto, a rock musician, is being stalked by a man in dark glasses. When he finally confronts him in a deserted theatre he accidentlly kills him and the killing is seen by someone else. From that moment his life is a misery; photographs of the murder appear in his house, his cat winds up dead and bloody, and somebody with a mask like Mr Potato Head appears every now and again to kill off cast members. Can a gay private eye solve the case while married Micheal starts an illicit affair with his cousin?….
Four Flies On Grey Velvet isn’t quite the lost masterpiece I’d hoped for. It’s certainly not in the Deep Red/Suspiria league [although my favourite Argento movie has always been Opera]. However, it is a solid, entertaining Giallo, very much in a similar vein to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat O Nine Tails which it immediately followed. Therefore you have a fairly complex plot that goes off on tangents, some odd and quirky characters which provide bits of humour, a weird Ennio Morricone score that helps the suspense no end, some killings but not much blood, etc. In fact the relative lack of bloodshed could be the biggest disappointment for some, I reckon the film could almost get a 12 rating if released now in the UK. That doesn’t mean the murders, with stuff like bludgeonings and drug injections, aren’t effective; they are, it’s just that Argento tends to cut away where you would expect him to linger for a bit.
Nevertheless, there are some great set pieces. One early scene has a woman sitting in a park, waiting for someone who is obviously the killer. She watches kids play and light music is pumped out by a speaker. Then suddenly, after quite a while, the kids and music are gone, as if she’d drifted off, and it’s now getting dark. She’s locked in the park. Morricone’s scary suspense music comes on, ‘we’ become the killer, and the woman starts to flee. She screams for help infront of a wall and outside the park, by the other side of the wall, a couple try to help, until she is stabbed. Argento brilliantly creates suspense in this sequence and than turns it into sheer terror. Another great sequence has Micheal’s mistress alone in the house and realising the killer is in the house. Hitchcock or De Palma could not have created as much long drawn out tension as Argento does here. Then there’s that great climactic slow motion car crash, an oddly beautiful sequence accompanied by one of Morricone’s typically haunting lullabies.
Micheal Brandon, who appears to have been chosen because he looked like Argento, is no great actor but is an enjoyably grouchy, unsympathetic hero and Bud Spencer is fun as a wisdom-spouting buddy of his, but Mimsy Farmer is woefully inadequate as his wife. With some really bonkers camera stuff including a shot from inside a guitar [!], some really odd rock music from Morricone which is either really terrible or really groovy [“we’ll so far out, who’s gonna notice” says one band member], one truly silly plot point [apparently after somebody’s died, the human eye retains what the person last saw for a few hours], and brief dream and flashback bits which look forward to Deep Red and Tenebrae, Four Flies On Grey Velvet most definitely has enough interesting elements to be recommended.
The Retromedia DVD is obviously a bootleg. Nevertheless, I’m just glad that somebody released this film on DVD in something resembling a half-decent version. The print is very scratchy but it’s certainly watchable, and a million times better than the video copy I had and could only watch a bit of! However, four or five brief scenes are not in good quality at all and the contrast is jarring. reckon that the DVD producers found that the print they had wasn’t quite complete and had to source the missing footage from an inferior source. The cuts were pointless anyway and don’t change the film at all. I reckon it’s just about worth getting, as it doesn’t seem like the film is going to get a legit release some time soon.
APPENDUM This review was written a while back. Since then, this movie DID come out on DVD in the US from Ryko, but, despite the decent picture quality, is apparently missing some footage and lines of dialogue during scene transitions and has bad sound. Perhaps the Retromedia DVD is the best bet!