Blu-ray Review: FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET

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Blu-ray Review: FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET
Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet is a film with a strange hold over horror film fans built mainly upon the fact that for a very long time it has been very difficult to get a hold of. It wasn't until the last two or three years that the film finally arrived on DVD, and even then, it was not in the greatest condition. Recently, whatever legal entanglements that have hamstrung this film's journey to home video have begun to clear and both the UK's Shameless Screen Entertainment and Germany's Koch Media have announced Blu-ray editions of the film to hit the European market. First out of the gate is Shameless with their 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition, and I must say, it is pretty impressive for a film with such a long and complicated history.

This missing integral piece of Dario Argento's canon has long been sought out by collectors who've never seen a decent home video release. The film has been cut and mangled by various nefarious forces for the last forty years, so whenever it did turn up on VHS or DVD, it was invariably missing some footage, at least 40 seconds, and at most, who knows how much. Four Flies on Grey Velvet is the third piece of Dario Argento's Animal Trilogy, which consists of the masterful The Bird with Crystal Plumage and the solid Cat 'O Nine Tails, and leads into what may be his most celebrated giallo offering, Deep Red. In all of the conversations about the availability of the film and the missing footage and other Four Flies minutiae, rarely is the question asked, is it really any good? The answer is probably not what you would hope.

The film opens on an ecstatic montage of rock music scored by Ennio Morricone showing a rock band layin' down some sweet tracks. The cutting during the opening credits sequence really gets the juices flowing and indicates that we'll be in for quite a ride, unfortunately, this is really as good as it gets, and the momentum only drops from here on out. Drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) leaves the recording session only to be followed by a creepy old man who he accidentally kills during a confrontation in a seemingly abandoned theatre.  However, he soon realizes that he's been caught in the act by a masked man, who then proceeds to blackmail him with photos and evidence from the murder.  Who is this masked man and why does he have it out for Roberto? We spend the next ninety minutes trying to figure that out.

This seems pretty reminiscent of several of Argento's other plots, which would be fine if it was well executed, but it isn't. Roberto is given no real background, the characters around him are all very one dimensional, he is shown as a philanderer, and Argento seems to have used up all of his creative visual juice in that opening sequence.  With his other '70s gialli, Argento's leads are well-rounded, they are given flaws and foibles, they have humorous, human moments that helps the audience to relate, but Four Flies on Grey Velvet seems content to drop this unknown and unknowable character into the middle of a tragic situation and expect the audience to react as though they care.  Thankfully, this is not a scenario Argento went back to for future works, as it really doesn't grab you.

That being said, the film isn't a complete waste.  The actors aren't given much to work with, but it is the characters on the periphery that really earn their pay. Roberto Tobias' is really sort of an anti-hero, but not in the cool tough guy way, but more in the borign unsympathetic way.  His wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer), is a much more electric character who gets a few chances to shine, and she takes advantage.  Farmer's genre performances are delightfully subdued when required, but she can get crazy with the best of them, and I always love seeing her in films. There are some great kills, there are a couple of sexy sex scenes, and there is one very memorable sequence during the film's climax.  The sad thing is that there is an awful lot of aimless piddling that goes on between the fantastic opening and closing sequences.  The slow motion euphoria of the climax is breathtaking and holds up well against any Argento reveal.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
is probably the weakest of Argento's '70s output, though I haven't seen The Five Days, so my assessment is somewhat incomplete. The film lacks the emotional involvement with the characters that forms part of the strength of his other giallo works of the decade. I'm glad I've seen and now own Four Flies, but if I'm in the mood for top shelf giallo, I've got a stack of other films I'm going to reach for first.

The Disc:

The good news is that after the disappointment of Shameless' Cannibal Holocaust disc, they come back strong with a remarkably good Blu-ray of Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Where Cannibal Holocaust lacked detail, Four Flies is bursting at the seams, there are solid strong colors throughout and natural grain when appropriate.  Considering the condition of the archival materials, the HD restoration is nothing less than a revelation. The missing forty seconds are included on this disc, making it the most complete home video version ever made available for purchase. These forty seconds are presented in SD, seamlessly branched into the main feature. The quality of these inserts is pretty terrible, but it at least matches the proper aspect ratio, and you have the option of viewing the film with or without these brief snippets, though the editing without them is awfully choppy.

Another fantastic "get" for Shameless is the newly remastered original English dub, which sounds fantastic and significantly stronger than the Italian dub. As I've mentioned before, Italian films up though the '80s were all post synced, and so there is typically no "original" audio track, which makes one dub as valid as another in my opinion. In this case, the combination of the English speaking star, Michael Brandon, and the strong dubbing, makes the English the easy choice.

There is only one extra on this disc, and that is a roughly twenty minute interview with frequent Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi. Cozzi appears on nearly every recently released Argento Blu-ray, as he seems more eager to talk about his involvement than Dario, himself. This is another good peek behind the curtains of an Argento film, though hearing Dario talk about this film, of which he's not terribly fond, would have been interesting.  

All in all, Four Flies on Grey Velvet on Blu-ray is very good. Argento completists out there, and we are legion, will want to have this in their collection. Recommended.

Shameless Screen Entertainment presents Four Flies on Grey Velvet on REGION FREE Blu-ray

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Dario ArgentoLuigi CozziMario FogliettiMichael BrandonMimsy FarmerJean-Pierre MarielleBud SpencerCrimeHorrorMystery

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TJFebruary 15, 2012 7:21 AM

"t if I'm in the mood for top shelf giallo, I've got a stack of other films I'm going to reach for first."

having a strong sympathy for the genre, even though rarely any of them imho holds up as a whole (and are interesting because of individual set pieces).......which ones would you reach for?

Ard VijnFebruary 15, 2012 9:18 AM

Have your say!
If this is a general question and if I am one of the people who is allowed to answer it, I'd go for "Deep Red" or "Tenebrae".

And I agree with your remark about individual set pieces, which is why I wil be picking up this disc.

RyanFebruary 15, 2012 7:31 PM

I just finished watching this disc and while I agree that it is impressive for the most part, I have to take issue with this review for not pointing out the flaws of the disc. Just because it's the best available release of the film so far does not mean the bad stuff should be glossed over. It's important for the fans to know and it's also important so the company can learn from its mistakes.

The transfer is extraordinary for much of the running time, however, I noticed banding during some of the darker scenes. The aspect ratio of the extra scenes do not quite match up and the black bars have a greenish tinge which really make them stand out more than they would have despite the low quality (I'm not sure why they couldn't re-crop those scenes to make the bars black like the rest of the film). The audio is very good, but I found that some of the music and effects were louder than the dialogue, and during the speech at the end, when it shifts to Italian with subtitles, there is some crackling. The car crashing and exploding resulted in a very sharp hiss that is clearly not supposed to be there and scared the crap out of me.

Other than these issues, I found the disc to be wonderful, in particular the interview with Luigi Cozzi, which made me see the film in a somewhat new light. I now appreciate the dark cinematography more than ever; it's really exquisitely shot, though not the same way as Suspiria or Inferno, of course.