Four Flies in Grey Velvet

Quattro_mosche

Say you’re a drummer in a rock ‘n roll band. You have a stalker, a mysterious older man who follows you everywhere. Instead of going to the police or arming yourself with a weapon, you confront your tormenter in an empty movie theatre. The man pulls a knife, and before you know it he falls to the ground, seemingly dead. But, wait: a second stalker takes pictures of the entire incident! Do you: a) go to the police; b) suspect someone is setting you up; c) go home and try to forget it ever happened?

Roberto – the main character of Four Flies in Grey Velvet – is the biggest damsel in distress I’ve ever seen in my life. He is utterly without agency. When it turns out that the second stalker is a homicidal maniac who wants to ruin his life and then kill him, he does nothing. Roberto refuses to talk to the police, but tells no less than three people –he doesn’t even know one of them! – his sad tale. After hiring a private eye who hasn’t cracked a case in years, Roberto tries to get on with his life, even after someone breaks into his home (too many times to count), threatens to strangle him, leaves murder photos at his dinner parties and kidnaps his cat.

Soon Roberto’s wife Nina can’t stand anymore and leaves. Nina’s cousin Dalia stays, and pretty soon Roberto – whose philosophy seems to be this – is in the bathtub playing footsie with her. In the meantime his pet homicidal maniac is having a grand ole’ time, going on a murder spree.

Four Flies in Grey Velvet is mediocre Argento, which means it’s still better than 90% of the horror movies out there. The plot is sketchy, throwing is some silly pseudoscience, and I found Roberto to be an unlikable hero. There’s a point at the end when the killer is happily chewing the scenery, and the dubbing ends and I didn’t understand half the monologue. That’s okay, because – spoiler alert! – the killer is crazy, which is all you need to know. I’ve noticed that Argento recycles plot elements in his giallo, so parts of this movie were familiar. However, Four Flies in Grey Velvet is stylishly shot and the movie itself is quite entertaining. The final scene in particular is great. Early Dario Argento is always worth a watch.

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Inferno

Inferno

First things first: this is not a review of Tom Hanks’ Inferno. Since I review horror movies, it’s obvious I’m talking about Dario Argento’s Inferno, the sequel to his masterful Suspiria. Inferno isn’t as good as Suspiria, but you’ve got to admire him for trying. As horror movies go, it isn’t bad.

The Three Mothers are a trio of witches who live in buildings in New York City, Rome and Freiburg Germany. So says the book of the same name purchased by poetess Rose Elliot at the creepy antiques bookstore in New York City. Taking her cue from Nancy Drew, Rose investigates. She ends up in a basement, where she drops her keys into a flooded underground room. Watching her dive fully clothed into the brackish waters, I sensed she might not be long for this world.

Rose writes to her brother Mark, a music student in Rome. Mark is so bewitched by the sight of the lovely woman in his music class he leaves her letter behind. His lady friend Sara takes the letter and soon finds a copy of The Three Mothers. Sara sort of wanders into this movie, which happens a lot in Inferno. Her long-term prospects aren’t good, let’s put it that way.

Mark travels to New York City only to find his sister missing. He doesn’t contact the police, instead opting to investigate on his own. Mark is no Sherlock Holmes – think Inspector Clouseau’s dim-witted brother – but he’s the best hero this movie has. He wanders around while people are murdered to dramatic music in increasingly creative ways. Argento’s New York City features a Central Park teeming with man-eating rats and psychotic hot dog vendors. It’s a place where a woman who writes poetry can live in a spacious apartment complex that looks like it would cost five figures a month to rent.

Will Mark’s investigations bear fruit? Since we already know what happened to Rose, there’s no mystery involved. Like Suspiria, Inferno has plot elements but no plot. But who cares? This is a visually stunning movie with great death sequences, so just sit back and enjoy the show.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage introduces us to Mr. Argento’s visually striking style and fascination with voyeurism. Stuck between two panes of glass like a trapped fly, Sam – an American writer in Italy – witnesses an attempted murder at an art gallery. Soon he’s pursued by the killer, as well as an Inspector Clouseau type cop, through a grimy-looking Italy.

Sam decides to play detective, enlisting the help of gal pal Julia (Suzy Kendall). I am not sure why anyone sane would do this, but people did all sorts of bizarre shit in the 70’s. Shrugging off the attempts on his life, Sam’s amateur investigation leads him to a ghoulish painting. His visit to the artist is one of the highlights of the movie. While Sam’s away, the black-glove-wearing serial killer decides to play, threatening Julia in a plot development anyone who’s ever watched a thriller can see coming. Speaking of which: a few of the plot developments are ridiculous, but who cares? This movie holds together very well.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is well-worth watching, if you can find it (I watched it through my Fandor subscription). Since this is a giallo, there is a whodunit? element and a fiendish plot twist at the end. Be warned that Mr. Argento’s Deep Red, a better movie, is almost a remake of this film.

 

Deep Red

Deep Red is a Giallo, an Italian horror/thriller/mystery directed by Dario Argento. Despite Deep Red’s availability in the video stores of the early 80’s, this is yet another movie I missed. As a kid I subsisted on a diet of American slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and thus missed a lot of great horror movies.

The plot: famed psychic Amanda Righetti witnesses a murder in front of a packed auditorium. The catch: the murder occurred decades ago, and the killer is in the audience. Amanda doesn’t seem bothered by that second fact, which is a big mistake. Cut to Marcus and his drunken buddy Carlo, who are hanging outside a bar. Marcus witnesses Amanda’s murder through her apartment window.

Marcus rushes into the psychic’s apartment and finds her body; too bad she didn’t foresee her own death. When the police arrive he tells them he thinks the murderer took one of the many creepy paintings hanging on the walls. Feisty reporter Gianna pastes Marcus’ face all over the front page of the newspaper with the headline EYEWITNESS TO MURDER. This turns out to be yet another big mistake. Later that night Marcus is in his den when we see bits of plaster fall on his piano. The killer is walking on the roof. And then a children’s song starts to play. It’s an eerie, creepy scene, one of many in this gem.

The kiddy song leads to an urban legend about a murder house that turns out to be true. Marcus follows the killer’s trail because – really, I have no clue why. There are a lot of things in this movie that don’t make any sense. Unlike Argento’s masterful Suspiria, Deep Red has a plot, but boy oh boy do the characters do some stupid shit.

Marcus finds the murder house, which has been deserted for years. The realtor’s daughter likes to impale lizards and is a future candidate for the Tanz Academy if I ever saw one. In the house Marcus finds a child’s drawing buried beneath the plaster depicting a brutal murder. In the meantime the killer has been busy. Will Marcus be the next victim?

The body count of Deep Red isn’t high, but Argento makes every death count. Highly choreographed, these murders are works of art. The other thing that impressed me about Deep Red is the ending. I figured out the part about the painting because I have access to the rewind and pause button, so I thought I had the murderer pegged. I was wrong.

Highly recommended!

Helloween Day Seventeen: Suspiria

Suspiria is a 1977 Italian horror movie directed by Dario Argento. I watched the English language version, which I’m guessing was dubbed. I’ve heard a lot about this movie over the years – it’s on a ton of best-of lists – but I’ve never seen it. To tell the truth, I wasn’t crazy about the Dario Argento movies I’d sampled, and certainly didn’t expect this one to knock me on my ass (spoiler: it did). I borrowed Suspiria from my local library, because I couldn’t find it streaming for free.

The plot: Suspiria doesn’t have a plot, but here goes. Suzy, a young dancer from America, joins a prestigious German dance academy. Suzy arrives during a downpour in the middle of the night and witnesses a fellow student fleeing into the forest. She never returns. The Tanz (which means Dance, no points for originality) Academy looks like the palace of an evil queen. Suzy’s fellow students are all right, but the instructors – led by Miss Tanner – are a bit off. We get the sense something’s wrong with them, although it’s hard to tell what. In fact, the plot revolves around the question ‘where do the instructors go at night?’

That’s the basic plot. What follows is a pastiche of vivid images, knives, pierced hearts, barbed wire, mad dogs, crazy bats, maggots, an undercurrent of Technicolor sadism surfacing suddenly and then slipping away. There are scenes of people flying…just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real. With murders as finely choreographed as any ballet, Suspiria bursts with bright, pastel colors; the reds are so very red. The eerie soundtrack, composed by the rock band Goblin, heightens the effect.

Suspiria is an evil fairy tale. Perhaps ‘old school fairy tale’ would be the better way to put it. In the unexpurgated version of Little Red Riding Hood the wolf eats the girl. Much of this movie’s imagery reminded me of The Shining, which makes sense because both movies are obsessed with fairy tales. I was surprised by how much I liked Suspiria, even on a second viewing.

Highly recommended!