The Italian Giallo genre had a creative renaissance in the 1970s, and Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet is regarded as one of the absolute best and most transformative entries during that period. The film is incredibly rare to home video, being relegated to subpar transfers with VHS inserts for years, but Severin Films has corrected that error with a loaded four-disc (4K, BD and CD) release. Boasting truly marvelous 2160p presentations of both cuts and a massive amount of newly produced features, this is a Must-Own release!
There’s a reason both critics and audiences are so partial to Dario Argento’s 1970s output when compared to other decades; it was a time of great artistic development and experimentation for the filmmaker, using the Giallo genre to explore violence and voyeurism in both lurid and meaningful ways. But when it comes to deciding upon the greatest work from that period, his Four Flies on Grey Velvet is rarely brought up. This could be for a multitude of reasons, like how the film doesn’t offer the kind of consistent shocks that The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’ Nine Tails both offered in abundance. With time, the heart (and mind, in this case) has grown fonder to recall Four Flies on Grey Velvet as Argento’s best in his so-called Animal Trilogy, a self-reflexive thriller that racks up suspense with incredibly detailed set pieces, propulsive camera work and a discordant Ennio Morricone score!
As with most of Argento’s 1970s output, Four Flies on Grey Velvet offers the kind of playful suspense we associate most with Giallo entries, but the Italian horror maestro takes all that a step further with his usual bewildering and inquisitive style. To Argento, an act of killing reflects the deep-seated compulsions that drive someone to murder. And even more, an act of killing can be indicative of family trauma from the past coming back to roost. The story, much like other Argento efforts from that period, concerns a character wrapped up in a wicked web of murder and deceit. But what separates this one from the pack is how it’s less about finding out who did the crime and more about searching for how the main character’s fate will be sealed. By shifting the rules a bit there, we’re treated to something that’s freed a bit from the normal Giallo conventions.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet follows Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), a drummer in a rock band who murders someone in self-defense, and the blackmailing photographer who catches him in the act. Roberto is also having nightmares about being beheaded and being sent blackmail notes from the doll mask-adorned photographer. Will Roberto be able to figure out what’s going on, or will he end up as yet another dead body?
It makes sense that this one is a bit more derided by critics and audiences alike, as it may be one of Argento’s most narratively light efforts, yet there’s a deeper point to that assessment. Argento uses the light narrative to employ some of the nastiest work in his entire career. What smacks as goofy and unmoored upon first watch has developed into admiration for something as weird, surreal and odd as this ends up being. Even the sci-fi elements hit luridly and actually give some thematic weight to the whole theme of trauma from the past. Four Flies on Grey Velvet is precisely the anxious thriller I wish we got more of from Argento, as the filmmaker is constantly turning convention into theme-connected beauty in ways he never did again.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Four Flies on Grey Velvet is presented triumphantly by Severin Films with a four-disc release that comes housed in a black plastic amaray case with a limited-edition slipcover over it. Inside the case is a 4K (BD100) disc, one BD50 disc for the 1080p presentations and bonus features, one BD25 disc for additional features and a CD of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack. Each disc (except for the CD) boots up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, set up audio and play bonus features.
Note - this was an exclusive Black Friday weekend sale from Severin and is currently no longer available on their website and only through the grey market, it's likely Severin will offer this title again in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, we just don't when or what that release will look like. Also, as of this writing we haven't been able to pull images or a video sample from the 4K disc, we aim to do that as soon as possible.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet has long been unavailable in a decent HD transfer, with Shameless UK’s 2012 Blu-ray release having a litany of issues with both the transfer and encoding. That’s why it’s my absolute pleasure to report that the new 4K restoration sourced from the original 2-perf camera negative corrects all those issues and results in an absolutely stunning 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR. This is without a doubt the best-looking 4K release from Severin Films, with the very sturdy HEVC encode bringing the most out of the transfer.
There’s a note before the film starts that Argento prefers the film to be viewed in complete darkness, and you can immediately see why in key sequences. It’s not that he didn’t light certain sections well enough, it’s that he was fascinated with how shadows and darkness engulf what’s on screen. So, with that said, it was a treat to see terrific black levels and depth of detail throughout the presentation. The Dolby Vision HDR color grade is a great match for the strong, bold primaries that frequently pop up in Argento’s films and the giallo genre in general. The blues on Roberto’s shirt and red on a beating heart pop like never before without being clipped or overwhelming other elements.
As for damage, some specks and bumps do show up, although I was very, very impressed with just how clean the transfer is throughout. Both skin tones and film grain are dialed in just right, with the HDR really putting in work to show off the variations in shadows and black levels from scene to scene. No edge enhancement or noise reduction are present, too. This is a beautifully filmic image that enhances Argento’s bold use of color and violence just right. A huge improvement over previous transfers.
Severin Films pulled out all the stops for the audio options, too, with English and Italian mono audio tracks available for both the Director’s Cut and English Language Cut. No matter which DTS-HD 2.0 track you choose here, you’ll be treated to a clean and well-balanced soundscape that handles dialogue, sound effects and Morricone’s staccato score with care. Hiss isn’t present and again, I was taken with how little damage showed up on each track. The option to watch the full Director’s Cut in Italian or English with Partial Italian Audio is a nice touch, although I’m always partial to the original Italian audio on films like this.
Severin Films packs this release with special features, including newly filmed interviews with both Dario Argento and co-writer Luigi Cozzi. The former interview runs for about 30 minutes and Argento reflects on the events in his life that were unconsciously incorporated into the film and his desire to separate himself from the Giallo genre at that point in his career. The interview with Cozzi runs over an hour and is filled with anecdotes about the film, playing as an in-depth dissection of the film and a nice companion to Cozzi’s own book about Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
As for the commentary with Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth, it’s characteristically enjoyable and filled with information that you’ll want to hear. I’d even recommend turning on the track after you watch the film for the first time, as it reveals so much about the production.
Disc 1: Ultra HD
Disc 2: Blu-ray
Disc 3: Blu-ray
Disc 4: Soundtrack CD
Four Flies on Grey Velvet is Dario Argento’s most underseen work and Severin Films has done an incredible job at upgrading this Giallo to 4K Ultra HD with a four-disc Black Friday exclusive release that’s loaded with features to enjoy. The stellar 2160p presentations of both cuts aided by Dolby Vision HDR make this film sing like it never has before at home. Here’s to hoping that Severin puts this Must-Own release back up for sale, as you absolutely don’t want to miss out on it.