Four flies on Grey Velvet

Year: 1971



Previously in this series we discussed the first film in Dario Argento’s Animal trilogy, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Now, with this next instalment, we’re looking at the final entry Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Although past the heavily stylised violence, amateur detective plot, and the animal names in the titles there is little connecting the two films. Four Flies... is a far looser entry from Argento, drawing on the bohemian life of a musician in place of the bourgeois seen in ...Crystal Plumage, and contains several innovative tweaks to the Giallo formula that Argento had already impressed audiences with previously.

The counterculture have never been well represented in Giallo, either used as eccentric signals of moral corruption (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) or sinister plot devices (Deep Red). This makes it all the more surprising that Argento’s Four Flies has a counterculture protagonist. Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) is a rock drummer who is framed for a brutal stabbing that plagues his every waking moment as a mysterious figure stalks and blackmails him. The switch from having the lead witness some vicious crime to being the accused perpetrator of the act brings a far more malicious edge to proceedings, only heightened by the choices made by Roberto in response. Rather than trying to prove his innocence, he digs himself deeper by attempting to eradicate any evidence of his wrongdoing; a move which places his wife, Nina (Mimsy Farmer), and anyone who becomes involved in the case in grave danger.

By the time Four Flies was released, Argento was enjoying more popularity than he’d previously encountered when making Crystal Plumage, or The Cat O’ Nine Tails (the second in the Animal Trilogy), and, as such, was able to take more risks stylistically. There is no attempt to make Roberto a likable lead, instead his actions place him solely within anti-hero territory. In fact, whilst humanising creatives more than other Gialli, the film still presents them as pseudo intellectuals whose vanity and narcissism fuels their every move. They’re not simply annoying to make their death scenes more palatable, as is so often seen in other horrors, but rather treated with a genuine coldness by Argento’s script.

In Troy Howarth's So Deadly, So Perverse (a fantastic guide to Giallo), it’s argued that this dismissive attitude is because Argento was more focused on creating a film that technically impressed and consequently left characterisation at minimal levels. This focus on the visual presentation shows clearly through the film’s experimental opening crawl depicting the band playing through a multitude of angles as well as the numerous instances of slow motion that fixate upon the film’s brutality. However, the film is also notorious for having caused a rift between Argento and his long-time collaborator Ennio Morricone. Argento had allegedly wanted to use Deep Purple for the film’s score after Morricone’s score failed to impress him. But scheduling conflicts meant this wasn’t possible and Argento was left directing Morricone’s unfinished score after he’d “walked out in disgust”.

Four Flies is far from a perfect Giallo, with a mostly unlikable cast and uneven music. Yet, it’s enthralling due to the level of experimentation within its presentation and how much of a progression it would mark for Argento’s later pictures. It’s a notable advancement in his visual style and the levels of experimentation he would undertake with future Gialli plots. While by no means a perfect starting point, this is an under-appreciated entry in the genre that highlights the potential for creativity.

Further Reading

Dario Argento: The Man, The Myths & The Magic by Alan Jones


Patrick Dalziel

Patrick Dalziel

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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