This is indeed 180 proof, distilled giallo. I have to admit, my education in the genre is lacking. I've seen a handful, but far from most, of the big hitters - Twitch of the Death Nerve, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, etc. If you'll allow me a bit of heresy - something that may well get me excommunicated from Horrorsquad - I've never really appreciated them. Giallo just hasn't done it for me. Much of it seems like a thriller without the thrills, specifically with Argento. Sure, there are all manner of horrible murders and spooky goings-on, but it never has really grabbed me. While Four Flies... may not be the best of the breed, it certainly is a manifestation of everything I've come to expect from Italy circa 1971. The bizarre intro immediately pulls you into Argento's world. You're a little caught off balance by it, only to be kept reeling by the accidental death, which is as immediate as it is clumsy. None of it is jarring, though. Argento slowly dips you into the foggy world with strange edits and scene transitions. Backed by tunes from his pre-Goblin collaborator, Ennio Morricone, everything feels surreal and dreamlike, without ever slipping into Fulci-esque nonsense. As the masked villain goes from menacing to murderous, you feel like you're running through Elmer's glue in an opium soaked fugue. It works to the film's advantage in that it establishes itself as something of a mood piece, especially since no one highlights the beauty of their native country like Argento does with Italy. Unfortunately, the performances of the characters are languorous to the point of feeling false. Not until the end do you feel that these people are genuinely worried that there's a killer wearing a freaky puppet mask.
Argento does knock it out of the park with the most eccentric menagerie of weirdos this side of the Cohen brothers. Roberto has surrounded himself with some truly unique individuals, like the flamboyantly gay detective, a homeless sage nicknamed 'God,' and porno-'stached raconteur. These oddballs are fuel for some of the more distracting asides. They're interesting, but some of them, particularly the bare-chested guy who sits around in Roberto's living room telling morbid stories, don't seem to have much of a purpose. There are recurring and rather drawn out sequences that don't add anything to the film as a whole. Even Roberto's pet cat is the subject of lingering shots so conspicuous that you're wondering if the cat was going to be revealed as the killer. After seeing Phenomena, I'm prone to outbursts of "Monkey with a razor! Monkey with a razor!" So a homicidal housecast isn't out of the question. Despite the story swimming out of focus at times, the plot does thicken in its own circuitous way. It culminates with an inexplicable bit of sci-fi and some feeble, Freudian justifications for the killing spree.
If you can stay invested in a rather unconventional thriller, there's a payoff in a frenetic ending that's punctuated with violence as satisfying as it is surprising. Far from being aimless, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is still a quirky, aloof experience. It's vintage giallo with Argento's macabre sensibilities. It may not be spectacular, but it certainly is interesting.