Four Flies on Grey Velvet

On his commute home after a session with his band, drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon (Dempsey and Makepeace, “Captain America”) spots a stalker lurking in the shadows. He gives chase and winds up accidentally killing the man in a deserted opera house. To add further mystery to the catastrophe, he spies another figure wearing a chilling cartoon mask taking photos of him from the upper wings, suggesting he has been set up. Confused and riddled with guilt he returns home to his wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer – “The Black Cat”), torn between confession and suppression.

Soon afterwards he starts finding blackmail notes and photographic evidence around his house, leading him to believe that the photographer is someone he knows. Friends and acquaintances start getting murdered and so, on the advice of a close mate (Bud Spencer – “They Call Me Trinity”) he hires a private investigator (Jean-Pierre Marielle - “The Da Vinci Code”) to help him solve the mystery. The killer, however, has other ideas.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet - on Blu-ray & DVD“Four Flies” is one of the less well-known of Argento’s giallo horror movies, and prior to the issuing of this remastered release it was difficult to get hold of on DVD, especially in the UK. It is thanks to Shameless, then, that it is being given a new lease of life with previously missing footage carefully re-inserted.

Argento’s third film shares many of the same traits as his other classics. The murder mystery plot slowly unravels, interjected with sudden, bloody acts of violence that are stylishly and inventively depicted, often by closely tracking the murder weapon with the camera. There is plenty of cat and mouse action as the killer masterfully pursues their quarry, and a particularly tense scene where the PI endeavours to return the favour first onboard an increasingly packed tube train, and then in a suddenly deserted underground station.

Argento proves once again that he is a master of suspense and tension, and whilst the deaths are generally less bloody than in some of his later works, they are still fairly graphic. To offset the horror he makes deft use of some entertainingly odd and comedic characters, such as a postman who is attacked by Robert in a case of mistaken identity and never lets him forget his error in later encounters. Marielle’s deliciously camp PI is a work of brilliance. Having never solved a case in all his years in the business despite his avowedly acute scientific methodology, he deduces that now simply must be his time to succeed.

The acting is generally good, though the character of Roberto is by definition a bit insular and unengaging. The other characters shine more brightly as a result. Farmer is particularly good as the troubled wife who cannot bear to be around her morose husband, especially when it seems that their lives are in mortal peril.

Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is a great mixture of funky rock and jarring horror notes. Deep Purple were originally engaged to provide the rock tunes but politics meant that Morricone had to rework their contribution to ensure the film had enough Italian involvement to merit government subsidisation.

The end result is a very good example of the genre which, whilst it does not offer anything particularly new and sometimes leans on horror staples such as hissing cats, sabotaged light switches and tempestuous weather, it does deliver a twisting story, great chase and death scenes and a zany final shot that will knock your block off.

The Blu-ray edition’s remastered picture lacks the ultra-sharpness of brand new films but the image is very solid and the textures and colours stand out. The makers were worried about how low the lighting was in some scenes, hence their advice on turning off all the lights when watching the movie. Ironically, the touched-up HD material is bright enough to render that suggestion null and void, though it goes without saying that most horror films are naturally spookier when watched in total darkness!

The bonus content on this latest Argento release includes:

  • Introduction to the film by Luigi Cozzi
  • New, exclusive and extensive recent interview on the making of Four Flies On Grey Velvet with writer and assistant director Luigi Cozzi
  • Original English audio remastered in HD exclusively for this Shameless release from the original magnetic soundtrack and available for the first time since the film’s original theatrical opening in the 1970s
  • Shameless re-build edit of the complete version of the film including four inserts of previously missing footage known amongst Argento fans as the legendary “missing forty seconds” (the inserts are in Standard-Definition quality). The Blu-ray will allow for seamless branching of the four inserts giving viewers two versions of the film: one all HD without the re-inserted scenes and one longer version including the inserts
  • Restoration of all individual damaged frames, most notably with respect to the removal of the black diagonal frame line (caused by the film jumping the high speed camera gate) in the final car crash sequence
  • Optional Italian audio version in HD with English subtitles
  • Italian and English trailers
  • Alternate English opening and closing credits
  • Shameless Trailer Park (Blu-ray only)
  • Reversible sleeve

This list sounds more impressive that it actually is, not least because there is no input from the director himself. Having said that the interview with Cozzi (co-writer) is more animated and interesting than those included in previous Argento releases. He gives some great anecdotes about the obstacles encountered during the film’s production, such as frustrations with a cutting-edge high speed camera that kept jamming because they were unwittingly using the wrong type of film, and using a lo-fi, heated-up wire in place of a laser beam. The influences on Argento and Cozzi apparently included Raymond Chandler, Sergio Leone (whom Argento had previously worked with) and Frederic Brown’s ‘The Screaming Mimi’. Lastly, you will have to watch the film to discover the reasoning behind the superb title. All will be revealed, in ingenious fashion!

“Four Flies on Grey Velvet" (1971) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Shameless Screen Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 99 minutes approx, carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £15.99 on DVD and £24.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

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