Saturday, March 26, 2011

Four Flies on Grey Velvet

[AKA 4 mosche di velluto grigio]

This is certainly going to be the slimmest write-up of any of this week's Argento films. I'd seen Four Flies... before but I could remember almost nothing about it, something which is very rarely a good sign!

To be fair to Argento, before I'm critical, this was only his third film as director. Following in much the same vein as Bird with the Crystal Plumage, this is a film that is far more closely linked with more traditional crime and mystery films than with the tense horror he went on to make. Four Flies... shows many early versions of what would become Argento tropes; it treads a line somewhere between murder mystery and actual horror but is always slightly unsure of where it really lies.

Several of the elements that came to be used so potently in future films - suggestions of the occult, witchcraft and magic - are present but in much more basic forms, forms which occasionally work but often don't. By way of example, (and although I would never invest too much hope in an Argento plot), the use in Four Flies of a radical new science technique that captures exactly what the eye saw before death is not supernatural, it's just silly. This is the kind of thing that undermines a film, especially a film of the kind Argento produces; suspension of disbelief can be carried a long way (especially when we're enjoying ourselves!) but when something strikes the viewer as being silly, all tension is lost.

This is, much like the other criticism/faint praise this week, not to suggest that Four Flies is a bad film. It's not. It's enjoyable, it has a couple of good murders in it. It leaves you guessing for much of its duration. It is not, however, a great film. It is, to my mind, a far cry from the 'classic' Argento and, although we might excuse it for being a formative exercise in style, it doesn't stand on its own legs as a powerful or memorable film. One to watch in a spare moment but, if you've never seen an Argento film, not a great place to start.

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