31 Nights Of GIALLOWEEN: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

We hope you are enjoying GIALLOWEEN...wherever you may be. For tonight's selection...we discuss Dario Argento for the first time this season. Have I mentioned how much Dario Argento means to me? Let's just say...that if I could come back as anyone in the next life...in any time period...it would be Dario Argento.

Master is thrown around pretty loosely these days. Make a couple of great horror films and you are suddenly crowned "Master of Horror"...which is fine and all...just not realistic. Pretty much anyone can be a "Master" these days. However, when you really wanna stop fucking around and talk about true masters...there are only a few that embody that word. Certain filmmakers that truly created brand new paths that never existed before. Filmmakers that experimented with brand new concepts and pushed the limits further than anyone before them. When I think of the word "Master" I don't think of any contemporary filmmakers. No, sir. I think of a select few...and, quite honestly...I don't even think of the word "Master"...I think of "Maestro". Because...the Italian forefathers are the true masters of this genre. And out of those Maestros...there is no one quite like Dario Argento. Tonight...we take a look at the third film of his "Animal Trilogy"...Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet  is such a cinematic masterwork. There is so much going on...behind and in front of the camera. So much innovation. For example...the opening of Four Flies  is so offbeat and unique...it seriously knocks you on your ass the first time you experience it. The groovy drum solo...leading into the heartbeat of the title screen...such iconography that was, most likely, completely different than anything anyone was familiar with back then...especially in a horror film. That wasn't the first time...nor the last...that Argento utilized artistry to go along with his storytelling. And from there...we set up for the very first kill sequence...which, incidentally, manages to be far different than anything one might expect.

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) is the one playing the drums in the beginning. While jamming out with his band, he notices a suspicious-looking fellow with dark sunglasses...and begins to tail him once his session is over. Once Roberto follows the man into an abandoned opera house...this is where we are placed back into the world of giallo. The man is "accidentally" stabbed onstage and suddenly the spotlight shines on Roberto and photos are taken of the act by a masked figure in an upper balcony. Roberto is framed...beginning a game of cat-and-mouse that spirals into the brink of insanity.

Mimsy Farmer plays Roberto's wife Nina...who may...or may not be hiding a few things of her own. Honestly...I could probably talk for day about how absolutely brilliant this film is with all the great oddball performances and the downright creepy maze scene. And best of all...Argento gives you a narrative that actually works...right down to the tragic finale. Apparently, this was to be the Maestro's giallo swan song...until his dramedy, The Five Days of Milan, bombed big time at the box office...disappointing his fans who were hungry for more of his brilliant genre work. Still...had it not been for this particular low-point in Argento's career...we might have never gotten his later masterpieces. So, perhaps we should thank the powers that be that he attempted a comedy film.

I should mention that Argento had sort of a falling out with his go-to film composer at the time, Mr. Ennio Morricone. First of all...Dario planned on having Deep Purple score the entire film...but, they couldn't do it because...well...who the hell knows why anyone would turn down an opportunity to be a part of an Argento film. That shit is way beyond my comprehension level...so, Morricone ended up scoring the film. Evidently, the two had a huge argument over which tracks were going to be used for the film. Argento didn't want some of the music for his film...and Ennio got all butthurt...so, the two didn't work again until much later when Argento made The Stendhal Syndrome...which was also one of those "Thank Jesus" moments in Argento's career. Because had these two talents not fought over which music to use...then, who knows? Maybe we would've never heard of Goblin.

Kind of crazy how much Four Flies  has helped to shape the giallo landscape in many of its indirect ways. And not only specifically for the genre but, it is a film soaking with ingenuity in ways not seen before. The slow-motion bullet scene was shot with a high speed camera that produced a thousand frames per second. Pretty much the first time even done for a film. And, Goddamn...what an amazing scene! The car crash scene for the climax was also innovative and comes across so beautifully, not unlike a balletic work of art.

Back to Mimsy Farmer for a moment. I just wanted to mention how left-field of a choice it was to cast her in the particular role of Nina. I mean...there's so much character exposition that she is shouldering in the film. Once we see the final reveal...it is a casting choice that both baffles the mind...as well as intrigues it. I've always wanted much more of Nina's character once I watched her entire arc for the first time. Grant it...that might have revealed way too much...way too early...but, I dunno...it just feels like we are short-changed of this great character and left holding our heads once the climax is over. Maybe this was the Maestro's intention all along. To reveal just enough to leave us gasping for breath once it all fades to black.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet  was said to be, at one time, missing. An Argento masterpiece lost to the world. Can you fathom that concept? Well...it wasn't until Shameless Screen Entertainment stepped in and released, possibly, the best version of the film that exists today. Well...technically, a French company put out a VHS long ago. But, still...Shameless did such a great job with their release that I feel it to be the best one. And shame on Paramount for owning the rights to this gorgeous film...but, never having any intention of releasing it. Because, seriously, how could you deprive a gialli fan of not seeing this amazing film?

Thanks for reading,

Peter Neal