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.