There are moments where I love Dario Argento ("Deep Red", "Suspiria", and "Phenomena") and then there are also these little moments where I just don't ("Inferno"). He's a divisive fellow, and to my surprise, there are some people who seriously hate this guy. I could never do such a thing, for "Deep Red" is one of my all-time favorite films, and "Suspiria" is a great film when I need some simple surrealistic pleasures. But not all of Argento's films are reminiscent of his best, and this is why he was only, for an instant, a great filmmaker; although he may come back to us one day.
However, maybe it's just a matter of finding the right script, the right twists, and the right team of movie-makers to match his style. I like Argento when he's allowed to stretch his creative limbs. One of his earlier efforts, "Four Flies on Grey Velvet", has all the imagination and inspiration the world; but little of the ambition and the goodness that we've come to expect out of Argento. Of course, this was before "Deep Red" and "Suspiria", but it was also after "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage". Therefore, something this bland, and this mediocre, just isn't acceptable.
The film starts out on an entertaining note; with an opening credits sequence involving radical rock-and-roll and plenty of interesting camera angles to set the mood. We meet Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), the drummer in the rock band that produced the said radical rock-and-roll, who sees a creepy man peeking in on him and his band-mates during rehearsal. I guess this isn't the first time he's seen the man, because Roberto eventually gets pissed off enough to follow the guy into an abandoned theater and accidentally stab him with his own switchblade.
Now here's the problem; there was a witness to the accidental killing of this strange man, who we never hear of or care about again, and for (possibly) good reason. The witness of the incident donned a silly and creepy puppet mask, and took pictures of the crime. Instead of going to the police with the evidence, it becomes clear that the villainous puppet-man would rather torture the hell out of our hero and drive him to the edge of insanity, although the question remains: why? Why is the villain doing this? What is his/her motive? We learn about that more through the film's twist ending, which is maddeningly derivative and lame.
The movie has some suspenseful scenes; the kind that I like to see out of Argento. He plays with our "fear of the dark" a little, but never to the extent that the film is actually scary, but what's that word mean to anyone these days anyways? This might as well be more of a thriller than a horror film, thus, it does not need to be particularly frightening; just thrilling. But even then, it doesn't meet the standards. It doesn't completely fail, and I wouldn't call the film bad, but for a movie that thinks this much and tries so hard, there wasn't enough to like. Argento didn't embed enough scenes with his stylistic flare into it, and when he did, it was fun; entertaining, even. However, these scenes are so scarce, so brief, and so forgettable. This leaves "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" to be a full-on bore with a few impressively staged scenes, an engaging and stylish soundtrack (courtesy of Ennio Morricone, a collaborator of Argento in his earliest - and I mean earliest - days), and many other qualities that may appeal to some hard-core fans of the filmmaker, but not to me. By all means, I don't recommend it, but some seem to find it engaging and rather great, so maybe you shouldn't take my advice. By no means would I tell you to distance yourself from the film; I just found it aggressively disappointing.
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