Four Flies On Gray Velvet (1971)

After The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’Nine Tails, Argento had one more movie left in his “Animal Trilogy.” Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) would both write and assistant direct the film and the results are…interesting. It’s a lot funnier than his other giallo and was considered his swan song to the genre until his movie The Five Days failed at the box office.

Rock drummer Roberto Tobias is being stalked and as he finally catches up to his pursuer, the man pulls a knife. A struggle ensues and Roberto accidentally stabs the man while another masked figure laughs and takes photographs.

The next day, Roberto reads about the man’s death — Carlo Marosi — and gets a letter with a photograph of him murdering the man. He begins having reoccurring dreams that he’s being decapitated. Even worse, he wakes up to a masked man attacking him, who tells him that he won’t kill him because he isn’t finished with him.

Roberto’s wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer, Body CountAutopsy) returns home and he confesses the murder to her and tells her that he can’t go to the police to stop the harassment. He does turn to his artistic friend “God” Godfrey (Bambino from They Call Me Trinity) and a con artist named the Professor (Oreste Lionello, The Case of the Bloody Iris and the Italian voice for Woody Allen) for help.

Whoever is behind Roberto’s stalking and harassment is a troubled soul who had a horrific childhood and spent some time in an insane asylum. Roberto’s maid Amelia knows who it is, but she pays for it with her life, as the killer uses a straight razor to slice her apart.

Later that night, Dalia (Francine Racette, Donald Sutherland’s wife, so well done Donald) comes to stay with Nina and Roberto, despite him wanting her not to be there. It also turns out that our hero never really killed Carlo, who has been working with his blackmailer, who dispatches him with razor wire.

Roberto then hires Arrosio, a flamboyant investigator who has never solved a case, but hopes that this is the one that he will solve. Amelia’s murder has been discovered and the cops are on the case, so Nina says that she’s leaving town, feeling unsafe in her own house.

It turns out that Dalia has always loved Roberto, so they have sex. As you do. Look, it’s a giallo. Other strange things are afoot, like Roberto’s cat getting kidnapped and beheaded, Nina getting an inheritance, strange photos of Nina and Dalia’s family and more nightmares.

That’s when giallo science intrudes: the killer was in a mental institution called Villa Rapidi, where they were considered dangerous until their father died. This knowledge — and discovering the killer’s identity and finally cracking a case — leads to Arrosio’s death.

Dalia then notices that Roberto and someone in a photo with his wife look quite similar. Just as she puts it all together, she’s stabbed and killed.

Ready for more giallo science? The police perform an optographical test that takes a photo of the retina to show the last image that Dalia saw before she died. Even Argento — a man who made a movie about a girl who can physically speak to insects and becomes friends with an orangutan — thought this idea was stupid until Carlo Rambaldi showed him how the special effect would look.

The last image that Dalia saw? Four flies on gray velvet. No one knows what this means.

Roberto waits for the killer to come for him but then Nina arrives. He tries to get her to leave because the killer is coming when he notices her necklace: a fly. As it swings, he sees it: four flies. In true giallo fashion, the killer is someone who we obviously didn’t ever consider.

A fight breaks out and she repeatedly shoots her husband as she explains how she was placed in the asylum by her abusive stepfather — who raised her as a man — and was only cured when the man died. When she met Roberto, what she felt wasn’t love, but the madness that her stepfather caused within her. She finally would get her revenge by using Roberto as the replacement for the man she couldn’t get back at.

Nina runs away as Godfrey arrives to save Roberto, but she rams the back of a truck. She’s decapitated as the car explodes.

Deep Purple almost did this movie (several members of the Beatles were considered for the role of Roberto), but their schedule didn’t allow it to happen. Ennio Morricone, who worked with Argento on The Bird with the Crystal Plumage worked on the film, but had a huge argument with the director about the score. Goblin would come in and work with Argento for the first time here. Morricone and Argento finally reconciled and worked together on The Stendhal Syndrome.

This film wasn’t commercially released for the home market until 2009, other than an incredibly hard-to-find French VHS version. That’s because the rights to this film in America are owned by Paramount Pictures, which had chosen not to release it. Shameless did put out a UK release that is all region a few years back.

This is one strange giallo. The ending car crash took twelve cars to get right and combined with the music in the scene, it’s really unsettling. This is also one of the first movies to use high speed cameras to shoot bullet time, years before Hong Kong movies and The Matrix. I love the killer’s rant at the end of the film, particularly because big chunks of it are still in Italian! This might be hard for you to find, but it’s worth tracking down.

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