15 March 2009 | SJSondergaard
Glad to Be Grey
As with the previous two entries in the unofficial Animal Trilogy, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is short on explicit gore but brimming with atmosphere and artistic ingenuity, with set-piece murders primed and mined for maximum tension. It was with this film that Argento began to cement his particular style and is something of a crucible for future ideas. The murder of Roberto's maid in a local park foreshadows John Saxon's fate in Tenebre, and with its sudden lapses in time and attempted escape through the cobwebbed space between two buildings (to a soundtrack of whispers and sighs) it also sows seeds that would flourish in Suspiria. Other visual motifs (crimson curtains, extreme close-ups, inanimate objects suddenly wielded by a seemingly maniacal camera) would be repeated or re-jigged in Deep Red, Phenomena and Opera.
Argento's original intention was to have a gay protagonist and though the character of Roberto is still open to such a reading - his victimisation being as a result of a fear of being outed (as a murderer) has obvious correlations (note also Brandon's shaggy mane v Farmer's gamine crop or the rather tame bathtub scene with Francine Racette which sees Roberto playfully seducing his mirror image) - the more overt references are passed to Jean-Pierre Marielle, who brings immense likability to a small role and whose swish factor is tempered by a steely determination to finally cracking a case. A frosty Farmer acquits herself well, though Brandon is merely okay. Argento's fascination with weird science (here ludicrous by design but ingenious in execution) gives the film its animal-themed title, and the finale boasts one of his greatest sequences - a stunning, slow-motion shot of a car impacting with the back of a lorry, which marries chillingly beautiful aesthetics to Hollywood folklore, scored with Morricone's haunting "Come un Madrigale".
Four Flies is a solid giallo and an important entry in the Director's canon which bears repeated viewing, blurring gender roles and sexual identity, adding subtext and hit and miss humour, asylum flashbacks, well-executed deaths and a recurring nightmare in the form of a sun-bleached, public beheading - the significance of which turns out to be twofold. It also has in spades what a good Argento giallo conveys like no other, that chilling feeling of something wholly alien on the loose in human form.