The one thing that is not mentioned on this release of seminal director Dario Argento’s third movie by Shameless is just what a coup they have pulled off getting it out there. Back in the days that video were an emerging phenomena and cult horror and Italian genre cinema films were first being viewed by people, some films were still impossible to see. This was partly due to obscurity and in many cases at the time, as the video nasty phenomena spiralled into moral panic, due to censorship. Dario Argento was a collectors dream and at the time we scrabbled around trying to get hold of shoddy nth generation prints of his films from shady dealers or even better the official releases themselves. Of these purchases eagerly grabbed included ‘Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ on Stable Cane Video, ‘Inferno’ on CIC and ‘Suspiria’ on Thorn EMI (a tape I still lovingly have signed by the director). It did not matter at the time if the films were slightly trimmed, it was the only way we could see them and we would take what we could. Two early Argento classics eluded us completely, dealers at movie fairs shrugged shoulders and cinema clubs which were another great source of seeing the films (such as the Scala in Kings Cross) failed to get prints. These features were the director’s second and third movies which loosely followed as an unconnected trilogy of ‘animal giallos’ which had started off with Bird. The second of these films ‘Cat o’ Nine Tails’, was hard to get hold of until it was eventually released on video and updated to DVD in due course but ‘Four Flies’ was still impossible to find. Finally the film was released byUScompany MYA but was still missing 30 seconds of footage and it is only now with these missing elements reinstated by Shameless that the film can finally be seen on DVD in a legitimate version. This is should be pointed out is a mere 40 years after the film was made!
The giallo film was a popular form of Italian cinema and simply put they are basically whodunit movies, based on the lurid yellow covered paperback films that flooded the market. The audience was challenged to guess the killer as they generally followed the unwitting sleuth (often with female sidekick) to both get to the bottom of things and survive till the end credits rolled. The Italian film makers often tried to outdo themselves with inventive titles, often with animals in the title. Examples include Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Cavara’s Black Belly Of The Tarantula and Martino’s ‘The Case Of The Scorpions Tale, which literally came in a flood in 1971 (although it was Mario Bava that many consider starting off the genre as far as the Italians were concerned way back in 1963 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much.)
Whether it is due to having seen all of Dario’s films and countless other giallo movies or not, I was fairly surprised to find the plot of Four Flies fairly easy to follow. Having said that I am also sure I will pick up more on further viewings. It centres around rock drummer Roberto who flips out as he thinks he is being followed and inadvertently kills his pursuer after confronting him in a lavish theatre (shades of Opera). The murder us viewed by a strange creepy masked figure (which reminded a bit of the manikin in Deep Red) from the balcony who photographs what happened and drives poor Roberto rather insane, manipulating him in all conceivable ways. Roberto and his wife Nina are drawn into a game of cat and mouse and many other people crop up in the game before it ends in a twisted dénouement, which should have kept you guessing all the way through the movies running time.
Tobias is played by Michael Brandon (John Lennon was once mentioned as a possibility for the role) and it is interesting seeing the character who would later be super sleuth Dempsey looking so young. Mimsy Farmer as Nina is well known from similar output such as Fulci’s Black Cat and Francesco Barilli’s ‘The Perfume Of The Lady In Black’ and is a natural in her part and is also a lot livelier than the somewhat woodenBrandon. There are plenty of others including Western genre icon Bud Spencer as God(frey) and Nina’s sister Maria played by the simmering Laura Troschel, who weave in and out of the narrative leaving you guessing whether they are bait or prey. Music is provided by Ennio Morricone and is rather slow burning compared to the more frantically paced orchestrations of Goblin. Add to everything a deliriously daft plot contraption based around a persons dead eyeball retaining the sight of their killer and a barmy ending and you have a greatly entertaining film.
However it is by no means a masterpiece and at times Argento is almost seemingly trying to inject a sense of comedy and slapstick into proceedings. We have a daft postman who is simply there for comedic relief and we are left at times off radar from what the director is best at and left wondering just what he is trying to achieve. Visually there are some clever touches such as a flight through red velvet drapes in the theatre and the following of a telephone conversation down the wires and these parts act as creative voyeurism with the viewer drawn into the cameras gaze and following its roving eye.
Four Flies is by no means Argento’s most satisfying piece, certainly not compared to ‘Profondo Rosso’ (Deep Red) which would follow it but of course it is better than anything he has done recently and if you are a fan of his movies it is essential (this had been purchased before a review copy had found its way to us).
Shameless should also be commended for the excellent 40 minute documentary with assistant director Luigi Cozzi. He really does go right beneath the skin of the film telling us where lots of plot conventions come from and how many of the effects were achieved (some of which I could have cheatingly peppered this review with but would not want to spoil your enjoyment of watching the feature). As is usual with Shameless and their art department the jump off the shelf lurid yellow box comes with a reversible cover. The front piece is not a bad interpretation of a new idea to illustrate the film whilst the reverse stays true to the original design. I suspect that many new to films such as Shameless bring out will leave it as is but older enthusiasts will quickly reverse the sleeve for the original art.
Perhaps the only thing Shameless can do for the Argento fan now is to do as the director did and go off tangent and release his little seen Le cinque giornate ‘Five Days Of Milan’ although I can’t see sales of that going through the roof. So now as we wait with anticipation and severe trepidation to see the auteur’s Dracula 3D and hang heads at the shameless (no pun intended) extremes of ‘Giallo’ the film, grab yourself a copy of this and remember the time when Argento really was a great film maker.