Four Flies on Grey Velvet, the third and best film in horror maestro Dario Argento’s thematically united “Animal Trilogy,” stands apart from other lurid “gialli” murder mysteries in that it’s not a whodunit, but a why-happened-it.
In the second scene, prog-rock drummer Roberto (Michael Brandon) accidentally kills Carlo (character actor Calisto Calisti), a mustachioed, trench-coat-clad stranger. Roberto then seeks answers from a masked blackmailer who witnessed, photographed, and maybe even orchestrated Roberto’s crime. Roberto, tellingly, doesn’t look for proof of his innocence, but rather context for his actions.
Four Flies is stylistically characteristic of the gialli screening alongside it at “The Killer Must Kill Again,” Anthology Film Archives’ second comprehensive giallo retrospective, especially its Hitchcockian p.o.v. camerawork and diverting private-investigator subplot. The latter genre staple is the film’s only misstep, since P.I. Gianni (Jean-Pierre Marielle) is a flamboyant and ridiculous gay simpleton who wastes no time in propositioning Roberto (“I don’t suppose you’ve ever had — a homosexual experience?”).
But even that ill-advised tangent confirms Four Flies‘ novel theme: Knowledge is not power, and there is no closure that a senseless act of violence cannot spoil. Argento is at the height of his ghoulish powers when he’s disorienting viewers with trompe l’oeil photography and nasty set pieces, especially Carlo’s murder and Roberto’s recurring dream of a public beheading. Possessed camerawork, elliptical editing, and a discordantly playful score (by Ennio Morricone!) conspire against viewers and establish this as one of Argento’s most suspenseful efforts.