Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Shameless BD)
Director - Dario Argento
Cast - Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer
Country of Origin - Italy
Discs - 1
MSRP - $14.99
Distributor - Arrow Films
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (3.5/5)
I was late to the Dario Argento party, only discovering his work about 10 years ago around October 2001. I was on my way to a Slayer concert in Jacksonville, FL., when the person I was carpooling with stopped off at her apartment to grab a few things, and showed me the impressive 3 Disc set of Suspiria (this would become my first DVD months later). She talked it up like it was one of the greatest horror films of all time, and I knew I had to see it.
A few days later I wondered into the Movie Gallery on University Parkway in Sarasota, FL., and found a VHS of the film begging to be rented on their shelf. I picked up immediately, and that night found myself converted to an Argento disciple. As fast as I could get my hands on them, I went through as many of his films as I could find pretty much catching everything from Bird with the Crystal Plumage through The Card Player. A few films that were accessible remained unwatched until last year, but pretty much within 6 months I had caught up with his entire "golden" era body of work. That is with one notable exception, Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet for those who are not aware has had what can only be described as a spotty release history on home video, and since I have a tendency to avoid bootlegs and grey market releases I have had to miss out on viewing this for quite some time. The other main reasoning behind this is because the rights to the film were held by Paramount Pictures in the U.S., and I was delusional enough to believe that a studio like Paramount would realize the cult value of such a title. I was wrong.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet has never actually had an official home video release stateside. The closest to official we have gotten is the Mya Communications DVD from 2008, which can be considered grey market (no pun intended) at best. That's why it was quite a shock to see Shameless Screen Entertainment release the film not only on home video, but a Region-Free 40th Anniversary special edition Blu-ray release.
I have mixed things about Four Flies on Grey Velvet over the years. It is generally not considered one of Argento's finest giallos, and yet the clips I have seen in various documentaries about Argento over the years have practically teased me with some secret greatness. I will admit that I attempted to go into Four Flies with some sort of tempered expectations, but after my prolonged wait to see the film, my expectations were quite high. That being said, I found the film actually quite excellent. No, it is not as good as Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, or even Tenebre, but it is a ripping fun time and is further evidence of Argento as a master of the giallo.
The film stars Michael Brandon as Roberto Tobias, a drummer for a rock band. As the movie begins he finds that he is being stalked by an older gentlemen, after a good while of this he gets fed up and angrily confronts the man. During the confrontation the old man draws a knife, which ends up being taken away by Roberto. During the struggle the old man accidentally gets stabbed by the knife and dies, as it turns out a creepy figure in a mask is with in the same empty theater snapping pictures of the incident, and uses these images to torment and blackmail Roberto. Roberto unable to go to the police, and paranoid about being caught mounts his own personal investigation into the identity of the blackmailer, who then begins to kill those closest to him.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet falls squarely into typical giallo territory. Argento has brought some neat directorial flourishes to a few sequences most notably the opening 10 minutes which include a musical number by Roberto's band, a scene at a park at night, and some of the films closing moment, but for the most part Four Flies feels like the director trying to outgrow the genre which he helped to popularize. At times it feels like Argento on autopilot, but there are more comedic moments strewn about the film as if Argento was trying to say, I know I can scare you, but I can make you laugh as well. Of course, many of these moments feel ill-timed with the plot, but they do help to create a unique vision. It is also no surprise that after this film the young Argento, would further try and spread his wings with the historical film The Five Days of Milan.
Aside from the always superb direction from Argento (when he's not dialing it in). The film has other high points, an excellent score by the always dependable Ennio Morricone, and some great performances by the cast. Michael Brandon plays Roberto as sort of tough guy version of 70's rock drummer, and while he is far from a sympathetic character he manages to keep you interested while on screen. The real winner here is the always dependable Mimsy Farmer, having only seen her in Autopsy (Mache Solari), and the recent Raro DVD release of the Perfume of the Lady in Black, I am used to her playing a more dialed down character. Four Flies on Grey Velvet truly gives Farmer a character to become fully absorbed with. It allows her to play to her full range of subtleties, and allows her to go over the top in a manner which actually elevates the material that she is given to work with.
Overall, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is not exactly top shelf Argento. It shows a director still looking to find his creative footing, and experimenting with his developing style. It is an interesting enough film to warrant a place in any Argento-philes collection, and offers a great deal of entertainment even if it does stand at the top of the director's filmography.
Shameless Screen Entertainment have done an absolutely fantastic job bringing Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet to Blu-ray. The film is presented in it's original 2:35:1 aspect ratio in a nice AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The film is absolutely gorgeous, and as far as transfers go falls somewhere between Blue Underground's Inferno and Deep Red transfers as far as Argento films on Blu-ray.
The level of detail on display here is simply excellent, the colors pop, and flesh tones are largely accurate. The black levels are completely solid, and although there are some minor issues with flickering a few minutes into the film these quickly pass, and leave only a few minor soft spots through out (mostly external). The film has had the infamous missing 40 seconds integrated back into the film, unfortunately, these were sourced from an SD print, and a badly damaged one at that so when these few seconds play it is quite noticeable, that being said it is in the same aspect ratio as the regular footage, so it not as daunting as Kino's recent Complete Metropolis Blu-ray.
The disc was 4 Audio Options 2 English and 2 Italian the tracks are DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks, and Dolby Digital 2.0. I stuck with the Italian language tracks for my viewing, even though I know that these features were shot largely without on set sound recording, I still have a preference of hearing a film in the native language of the region it was shot. The Italian language tracks fares quite well, dialogue is completely audible throughout. The music and effects are mixed well together, there is a slight bit of popping and hissing on the track, but they do not affect the overall listening experience.
The extras on the Shameless Screen Entertainment Blu-ray of Four Flies on Grey Velvet are fairly slim. We have the English and Italian trailers, an alternate credit sequence, and a photo gallery. The most notable director is a 42 minute interview with Four Flies co-writer and assistant director Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH!!!) Cozzi gives an interesting amount of insight into the production of the film, his comments are interspersed with a few minor comments by director Sergio Martino (Torso, Mountain of the Cannibal God) who claims that Argento was influced by his Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh for the films standout park murder sequence. Overall, it is interesting interview, and a welcome addition to this release. I only wish Argento himself would have spoken about this himself.
An interesting early effort from Dario Argento. Four Flies on Grey Velvet has gone far too long without a decent official home video release, and that has now been corrected by the fine folks at Shameless Screen Entertainment. The A/V is excellent, and while the extras are slim it is really awesome having a quality version of this available for purchase internationally. Recommended for Argento fans and Giallo junkies!