Judge Daniel MacDonald sees what all the buzz is about.
For your own good we urge you not to see it alone!
Just in time for Halloween, 20th Century Fox has released a fine set of three horror classics, and recognized the influence of Vincent Price—co-star of two of these films—in the process.
Facts of the Case
Inventor and scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison, Live and Let Die) has nearly perfected his latest breakthrough, one he imagines will do great things for society and the world at large: a machine that can break matter down to its atomic form, transfer it through space, then reassemble it somewhere else. After a few failed tests (one assumes he wasn't particularly fond of the cat anyway), and with the encouragement of his brother Francois (Vincent Price, Edward Scissorhands) and wife Helene (Patricia Owens, Hell to Eternity) he forges ahead. But when he decides to try the machine on himself, an unnoticed fly turns Andre into a hideous hybrid of man and insect.
Return of the Fly
After the funeral for his mother, Andre's son Philippe Delambre (Brett Halsey, The Godfather: Part 3) unwisely decides to restart his father's research into matter transference with the help of keen lab assistant Ronald (David Frankham, The Great Santini). Unfortunately for Philippe, Ronald plans to steal and sell the technology to the highest bidder, and in the process Philippe ends up becoming an even bigger pest than his dad!
The Curse of the Fly
Fresh from the mental institution, Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray, Island of Terror) meets, falls in love with, and marries dashing scientist Martin Delambre (George Baker, On Her Majesty's Secret Service), who just happens to be the grandson of fly-headed teleporting pioneer Andre Delambre. Before long, Patricia starts to notice bizarre goings on in the family estate, and discovers that Martin has inherited the family obsession.
Mention The Fly, and most people today will think of David Cronenberg's goopy 1986 remake, featuring a bravado performance by Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), who we thought was just pretending to be that hyperactive, and dazzling feats of rubber and KY jelly. But to revisit the original and its immediate sequels is to journey back to when horror had a more innocuous definition, and to see—at least in the first picture—how a story well told can overcome even the most ridiculous literal concepts.
1958's The Fly is a real treasure for horror and science fiction fans, with an intriguing premise, deliberate pacing, serious-minded acting, and an ending that'll knock your socks off. It plays more line a tragic drama than a horror film for most of its running time. We become well acquainted with the characters involved long before the bizarreness of the third act strikes, making us much more likely to continue to be invested in Andre's plight after he starts seeing through multi-lensed eyes.
Grabbing us right off the start, The Fly opens with Andre being crushed to death in a machine press and Helene confessing the crime to Francois (funny how this Montreal-set picture features characters with distinctly French names, yet only the occasional supporting character has so much as a trace accent…). The only question is why she did it, and that's a question she's most reluctant to answer.
Once she gets talking, Helene describes her husband's invention and increasing obsession; the science is explained in an almost plausible manner, enough anyway for us to suspend disbelief as Andre transfers an ashtray, champagne, and a guinea pig to the adjacent room. We're even given compelling rationale for why Andre's work is so important—imagine if food could be instantly teleported to starving nations, what a world that would be.
When the inevitable occurs and Andre becomes a mutant fly, a long stretch is played out with Andre's head covered by a sheet, his claw in his pocket, drawing out the suspense of what this creature will ultimately look like—and sure, it ends up being somewhat hokey by today's standards, but the attention to detail in Al Hedison's performance is admirable as he flits around in jumpy movements, fighting the fly side of his body and trying to protect Helene. The fly head itself embodies undefined menace with plenty of eye-catching elements. It's a genuinely sad moment when Andre comes to the inclusion that he and his invention must be destroyed, lest someone else follow in his unfortunate footsteps.
The heart of The Fly is surely Vincent Price, who imbues his role with pathos and kindness. Price expertly balances his concern for his brother with his excitement about the fiscal opportunities inherent in the invention, as well as an unrequited romantic love for his sister-in-law. Price is a big part of what makes this such a pleasing film to watch.
Return of the Fly, released just one year later, pales in comparison despite a handful of inspired choices. Having Andre's son pick up where he left off is the obvious way to go with a sequel, and the set-up for Philippe to do so is well done—we're thoroughly caught up on the past events and revisit locations from the original film with a mixture of nostalgia and melancholy. Once Ronald starts cooking up his scheme to steal the technology, however, the picture starts to weaken.
Instead of focusing on character motivation like its predecessor, Return of the Fly exists mostly to show the audience the ugly results of combining different creatures in the transference machine. Further, a quick line of dialogue sort of explains a new hitch in the process—gigantism—that leads to a ridiculously large and ungainly fly creature going on a killing spree.
Not that Return of the Fly isn't fun: indeed, its unlikely twists are frequently quite entertaining, but in a campy, inconsequential way. Vincent Price, who appears in a diminished role here, apparently agreed to the film after reading an early script that he loved, calling it better than the first film's; by the time the cameras rolled, the script had changed dramatically and Price was reportedly quite disappointed. The movie feels cobbled together with a tacked on happy ending, and is of significantly lesser quality than the original.
But Return of the Fly was successful, making another Fly film inevitable. So six years later came The Curse of the Fly, notable for a couple of reasons: it is the only film of the series not to include Price, who had a contract with a different studio by this time, and it does not actually involve any sort of fly creature. Instead, The Curse of The Fly takes the idea to its logical next step, and, set thirty years or so after Return of the Fly, finds the Delambre family with a fairly advanced version of Andre's crude technology. Now a man can be transported instantly between Montreal and London, or to any other city with the proper integration devices. The Curse of the Fly deals directly with the consequences of scientific experimentation and examines head on the dark side of the greater good. Its tone is a darker continuation of the first film's, with some truly disturbing scenes and an unstable protagonist. The Curse of the Fly is a fitting end to the series that approaches the first film in terms of originality and seriousness.
All three pictures have been given a significant amount of love from 20th Century Fox with this box set. Picture quality on The Fly is the best of the three, despite it being the oldest film appearing clean and sharp with colours as natural as any movie from the 50s; Price's green eyes nearly pop out of the television set. There is the occasional speck of dust, some choppy ends on the dissolves, and one instance of shimmering, but overall the image is impressive. Return of the Fly, in black & white reportedly to give an artier look, has dark blacks and crisp whites, but also a few more specks of dirt and one long scratch about twenty minutes in. The Curse of the Fly has more of the same. On the audio side, The Fly gets a 4.0 surround mix, although there's little in the way of sound design, while the other two are in stereo. Regardless, all three have intelligible dialogue and crisp music.
A fourth disc included with the set houses an excellent episode of Biography on the late Vincent Price, which is a real eye opener for those familiar only with his horror work, and will be a real draw for genre fans. There's also a short featurette touching on all three movies with interviews from key players, and collections of still galleries and marketing materials separated by movie. The Fly has a lively audio commentary with actor David Hedison and film historian David Del Valle that's packed with trivia and will be appreciated by fans of the series; Del Valle does well to prompt Hedison on what to speak about, and the two survey movie production from a bygone era. Finally, a 12-page color booklet surveys the development and reception of all three films, which is an appreciated touch that I wish more box sets would include.
Each disc is housed in its own slimline case with a postcard-sized reproduction of the theatrical poster inside, yet another classy detail.
Spanning from 1958 to 1965, The Fly Collection offers some fairly meaty food for thought to go with its increasingly explicit special effects, and while the original is by far superior to its sequels, all three are solid entertainment and nostalgic fun.
The Delambres are guilty of messing with nature, but this excellent box set is free to go.
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Scales of Justice, The Fly
Perp Profile, The Fly
Distinguishing Marks, The Fly
• Audio Commentary with David (Al) Hedison and David Del Valle
Scales of Justice, Return Of The Fly
Perp Profile, Return Of The Fly
Distinguishing Marks, Return Of The Fly
Scales of Justice, The Curse Of The Fly
Perp Profile, The Curse Of The Fly
Distinguishing Marks, The Curse Of The Fly
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