Roberto (Michael Brandon) is a young handsome drummer playing in a rock band. For the last week he has been stalked by a mysterious guy with dark sunglasses. Roberto decides to put an end to this and follows his stalker in a deserted theatre. He confronts the man and accidentally kills him.
At the same time, another mysterious stalker, with a weird mask, appears and takes pictures of the accidental murder. For Roberto and his girlfriend Mina (Mimsy Farmer) it’s the beginning of a nightmare, and more murders will ensue soon.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet is the last film of Dario Argento’s so called “Animal Trilogy”. Beside being a true classic of the Giallo genre, this is by far the rarest of Argento’s movies, since it had never been officially released before, in any form anywhere.
4 mosche di velluto grigio 6.5
eyelights: the car crash.
eyesores: the screenplay. the film’s construction.
Well, here’s another of those middling Dario Argento films: not exactly great… but not exactly terrible either. Could’ve been worse. And thank goodness for that, because I’ve been on a terrible streak of late, what with ‘Ti piace Hitchcock?‘ and ‘Trauma‘; an especially bad one might have broken me at this point.
But ‘4 mosche di velluto grigio’ is decent enough. It was originally intended as Argento’s farewell to the giallo genre, but his next film, ‘Le cinque giornate’, a dramedy, failed miserably so he returned to his roots permanently afterwards. As the third part of this so-called animal trilogy (bird/cat/fly), though, it leaves a little to be desired.
Ultimately, at its core, there is a decent enough idea: A musician gets into a confrontation with a stranger who’d been following him for days and kills him by accident. Someone else is witness to the involuntary manslaughter and decides to use this knowledge to play mind games with the musician, who doesn’t know the identity of the tormentor.
In that light, it sounds promising. The problem is in the way that every part is set up, in how the story is constructed.
As is common to Argento films, character motivation is frequently questionable, if not outright implausible, and situations are contrived or are loosely held together, flying in the face of basic logic. Succinctly put, most of what happens in this -and many- Argento picture is extremely unlikely, if not simply impossible. And, to me, there’s nothing worse than a clever idea marred by stupidity.
Right from the beginning, we know that we’re going to be privy to some dumb-@$$ storytelling:
Roberto, our musician, sees a stranger show up everywhere, in the unlikeliest of place no less, clearly stalking him and yet he waits forever to do anything about it – by which point he’s obviously lead on a wild goose chase through deserted spaces and into a decrepit theatre. Despite the likely danger he still follows this mystery man (who moves faster than sound, apparently, given how far ahead of Roberto he gets). As if.
Then there is the matter of the conflict between them, wherein the stranger pulls a knife and, somehow Roberto decides to lunge at him anyway instead of backing off. All he wanted to know was what this guy wanted, but he ends up attacking him for no real reason. Then he happens to stab the man, of course, and assumes that he’s killed him – as if all knife wounds are instantly fatal. He easily could have called for help and saved him.
But then he turns to discovers a masked person in the balcony section, taking pictures of the incident. Now, given that this was a downtrodden cinema, the coincidence that someone just happened to be there would normally be too much: it would seem obvious to almost anyone that they’re being set up. So why didn’t Roberto wonder about the stranger’s death? Why didn’t he check the body? And. while we’re at it, why didn’t he just call the cops in the first place?
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Mind you, the whole script is simplistic and somewhat risible.
Case-in-point, the motive: an insane woman wants to exact revenge on her dead brother, so she marries a man who looks just like him, bides her time until some random day on which she decides to set him up and make his life miserable.
Really? Someone would do this? That’s totally crazy. And yet she showed no signs of being nuts beforehand to anyone, not even her spouse? Hmmm… that’s not very convincing. Not at all.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Not that I care anyway; all logic in ‘4 mosche di velluto grigio’ is questionable. And not only does Roberto come off as an idiot, our “hero” is a sleazebag as well: the moment that his spouse leaves, he hits on her cousin. What an @$$hole! And, bizarrely enough, that scene is played out as though it were a natural thing for him to do and it goes so far as to (d)evolve into a romantic lovemaking sequence. WTF?
Argento certainly didn’t make his “hero” likeable: to make matters worse, Roberto is also extremely erratic. The perfect example is when he assaults the mailman, thinking that it’s the stranger (whom, it should be noted, he thinks that he’s murdered!). There’s no real reason for it: the mailman looked nothing like the guy – he only happened to be there, a rain coat covering his face. So the hell was Roberto thinking?
I think that the mailman (whose ineptitude was featured in a couple of previous scenes) was supposed to be comic relief, and that Roberto’s beating was perhaps supposed to be funny. I’m not sure; it’s unclear. Maybe Argento had something against the postal service in his neck of the woods, but it was very strange to see the comic character get a solid drubbing from the supposed hero. What was that about?
All in all, most of the humour in ‘4 mosche di velluto grigio’ was ill-suited to the piece. I’m not sure why it was even in there, but it was crude, unsophisticated, and poorly-delivered. For instance, what was the point of the woman who keeps getting her neighbour’s illicit materials, other than to paint the mailman as a loser who can’t do his work? I mean, neither characters showed up anywhere else in the film, so they clearly weren’t essential…
And yet there were some interesting moments, such as the satirical coffin convention sequence. For reasons that remain completely unexplained, another character asks Roberto to meet him there to discuss the case, and then we spend a large amount of time watching all these salespeople peddle their unusual post-mortem encasements, going so far as to have passers-by try them out. It was an amusing take on car shows and other such things, even if it was totally random.
Speaking of random, another startling element of the film is its pseudo-science, something that was also somewhat problematic with ‘Il gatto a nove code‘. In this one, there’s this new technology that permits forensics experts to lift an image off of a cornea – that is, the last image recorded before death. It’s an intriguing concept, but it comes off as a comic book invention – like the corny science in old school superhero comics. Still, as ridiculous as it is, it paid off reasonably well in the end.
On a technical level, ‘4 mosche di velluto grigio’ was constructed in a jagged fashion: sometimes scenes just popped in and out with no real coherence. As well, the dubbing was especially poor – nothing like martial arts films of yore, but the lip-synch was off and the audio quality was stellar. This particular presentation of the film was supposed to be a remaster, but it didn’t appear like it one bit. I would highly recommend avoiding MYA’s release of this film.
If there’s anything that really impressed me in the whole picture, it was that whole ending sequence with the car crash. I loved the way that it was shot, in slow motion, with a focus on the breaking glass. This will be a familiar approach to fans of ‘Phenomena‘, and it was one of the only truly interesting parts of that film. Why Argento decided to rip off his own effect over a decade later is beyond me (perhaps he was already running out of inspiration?).
Essentially, ‘4 mosche di velluto grigio’ feels like a forced attempt at making a popular horror movie but without the focus and cleverness needed to make it work. The writing is far too loose and the intrigue is too ill-conceived to really grip the viewer. It was intended to be Argento’s final foray in the giallo genre but I’m glad that it wasn’t: it would have been terrible farewell. Thankfully, he redeemed himself with ‘Profondo rosso‘.
Date of viewing: February 18, 2013