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The Fly (1958)
Director: Kurt Newmann

Return Of The Fly (1959)
Director: Edward Bernds

reviews by Rob Marshall

"Fetch me a bowl of milk laced with rum." You ought to know the plot of this old movie. The Fly features a scientist who accidentally swaps heads with an insect after tinkering with a teleportation machine in his basement. The first 25 minutes play out like a murder mystery, as the Delambre family struggle to come to terms with the death of husband and father, André (Al Hedison). The scientist's brother and business partner, Francois (Vincent Price), tries to comfort the grief-stricken widow, Hélène (Patricia Owens), but she's the main suspect in what seems to be, at the very least, a case of manslaughter.
   One of the most eerie moments in this anti-technology SF horror on the loss of humanity involves the unexpected disappearance of a cat. Used by André as a live test subject, the unfortunate pet vanishes into the ether with a ghostly whine, and is never seen or heard from again. This chimes with the fate of another feline test animal in H.G. Wells' novel, The Invisible Man. In that book, obsessive scientist, Griffin, succeeds in making a cat invisible before trying his process on a human, but the cat slips out of an open window and is gone forever. In both cases, there is no comment on the innate cruelty of disposing of felines by advanced but unreliable science! Cat lovers everywhere may have a fit at the Delambres' lack of guilt or concern.
   The final scenes of The Fly, in which dodgy visual effects reveal a tiny human face on the fly's body crying out for help because it's stuck in a spider's web, have passed into genre legend as the epitome of high camp, and are often parodied.
   "The murderous brain of a fly!" A sequel, Return Of The Fly, appeared in the following year. It centres on the efforts of André's grownup son, Philippe (played by Bret Halsey), to repeat his father's experiments - but this time with an unlikely happy ending. Although terribly uneven (the man/rat hybrid is quite ridiculous!), this is a watchable thriller with a robbery and espionage plot. Phil continues his dad's research with a lab assistant who tries to steal the invention's blueprints to sell. So, greed and betrayal are added to already tragic circumstances, which see the creation of another fly-headed monster.
   Price is back as the concerned uncle, reluctantly agreeing to support and fund his stubborn nephew's experimentation with matter transmission. But unlike its predecessor, this shorter and ironically less ambitious film was shot cheaply in black and white instead of the colour used on the original. A further sequel, The Curse Of The Fly was produced in 1965.


The Fly (1986)
Director: David Cronenberg

The Fly 2 (1989)
Director: Chris Walas

reviews by Christopher Geary

As the original 1950s' version of The Fly was set in Montreal, it was appropriate that Canadian David Cronenberg was chosen to co-write (with Charles Edward Pogue) and direct a new adaptation of the story.
   Cronenberg's The Fly is an intelligent revision of a much-loved yet cheesy SF monster movie, which dispenses with the flashback structure of the 'classic' film and opts for linear storytelling. It's a romantic triangle that can only end in tragic death, with an extraordinary central performance by Jeff Goldblum as reclusive scientist Seth Brundle, who becomes involved with journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) after she agrees to document his work.
   Instead of the fairly silly makeup effects seen in previous Fly movies, the new script focuses on Cronenberg's familiar theme of biological mutation and body horror, so the transformation of man into monster (Brundle into 'brundle-fly') is accomplished slowly, mimicking the grotesque symptoms of a leprous disease, explained as changes made at the genetic level during the teleportation procedure. (The instantaneous jump from one 'telepod' to another has spliced human DNA with that of a fly!) At first, Seth appears to have been improved by the experiment but, soon enough, his newfound athleticism is found to be only the initial stage of his disturbing mental and physical degeneration. Somewhat amusingly, the onset of his passion for sugary foodstuffs coincides with his increased (virtually Olympian) sex drive.
   Cronenberg also explores various stages of the psychosis that so frightens poor Veronica, especially on the discovery of her pregnancy. Apart from addressing the issue of pro-choice for abortion, The Fly also tackles irrational anxieties about AIDS, in a memorably poignant scene where Veronica unhesitatingly embraces Seth's grotesque body to comfort him.
   Before long, the ultimate inhumanity of grossly lumped brundlefly becomes apparent, but not before Cronenberg indulges his sense of humour in a crassly obvious dream sequence - as a doctor delivering Veronica's wriggling grub-like offspring - and Goldblum delivers his tour-de-force monologue on the hitherto unexplored subject of insect politics. He admits to his former lover: "I'll hurt you if you stay," and, even under thick layers of makeup, Goldblum's fearfully darting eyes and faltering voice reveal not only that Brundle's conscience and compassion is slipping away, but that he knows it's happening. It's a powerful scene of human horror that ranks highly among the best genre movie performances of all time, yet Goldblum was shamefully overlooked at the Oscars.
   When it comes to Hollywood sequels the often-repeated blunder is to highlight the shocks and effects, while casually forgetting about the characterisation, acting and dramatic conflict that made the money shots so effective in the original. With The Fly 2, making this very mistake was all but assured when they let a special effects man direct. Perhaps this decision was inspired by the relative success of Stan Winston's engagingly atmospheric Pumpkinhead (1988), but they could not have seriously expected lightning to strike twice in the monster movie field in so short a time.
   Eric Stolz (from Mask) plays Brundle's mutant son Martin. Daphne Zuniga (of Spaceballs fame) plays his girlfriend. Together they are trying to escape from the depraved clutches of industrialist Bartok (Lee Richardson), who prompts Martin into continuing with his father's work. Objects and animals get teleported, but no people. Eventually, Martin's genetic heritage reveals itself and things get messy in the biological sense. The resulting creature takes a graphic revenge on Bartok and his security men...
   Despite some impressive effects work, and seemingly increased production values, The Fly 2 is as predictable as the lunar cycle, and a wholly pointless sequel lacking in the poignancy and imagination of Cronenberg's film.

previously published in VideoVista #35
The Fly + Return Of The Fly

see also: The Fly
remake + sequel
reviewed below




















The Fly + The Fly 2

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