George Langelaan's short story "The Fly" appeared in Playboy Magazine it 1957. It was first adapted to the screen in Kurt Neumann's low budget classic The Fly (1958) starring David Hedison as Andre Delambre, the garage-scientist who has developed a teleportation device; Vincent Price as his brother Francois Delambre, who is the primary observer of how badly the experiments go wrong; & Patricia Owens as Helene Delambre, the wife who must rise to the horrific heroic occasion of putting her husband out of his misery.
Langelaan's original story is not in & of itself considered a great work, & is mainly only read today by collectors of anthologies of horror tales that were turned into movies. The film however was an immediate success on two continents, one of the most memorable monster movies ever made. The director, alas, died just before its release, & would never know The Fly was his greatest success.
Though it's a 20th Century Fox film, it shares in common with the early Universal horror films a grand sense of tragedy, complete empathy with the monster, an attitude a lot of modern creature features would do well to re-adapt.
The story via the film is now so well known it hardly seems necessary to outline it, but here goes anyway: While testing his teleportation device, a fly gets into the chamber with Andre. He comes out the other side with one arm & his head now those of a fly.
For much of the rest of the film he has to communicate by writing, while trying to hide himself from his wife & brother, sending out instructions to find the fly with the white head. Only if he can go back through the machine with the original fly has he any chance of restoring his original body.
If one looks too long at the fly-head & the fly-arm, it's certainly not a convincing creature costume, but the story is so powerful it did not require pyrotechnics of special FX to convince, & even the tightly fitted full-head mask becomes terrifying.
Even knowing the story by heart, the film remains compulsively watchable. It has so many peaks & points of climax, like that moment when Helene first sees her husband's head, gads.
Patricia Owens was not permitted to see the design until that very moment, & she was cast in part because she had a genuine phobia about insects. Her response to the fly-head as captured on film was her real reaction.
The biggest of the several fine moments are when Helene puts her husband out of her misery, having given up on ever finding "the fy with the white head," plus Francoise's last-minute coda/climax in finding the very fly in a spider web, that last haunting whining cry of "help me. help meeee" being one of the great shivery awesome moments in the history of horror cinema.
This is the stuff that children's nightmares are made of & which linger in memory the rest of one's life, & upon which every young viewer of the past half-century has based the decision to be a lifelong horror film fan or to avoid such terrible experiences at all cost forevermore.
Yet the original The Fly at the same time comes dangerously close to being accidental comedy. Really the "help meeeee" scene is funnier than all hell, which is probably why the film's highest ratings come from viewers who first saw it as children & will never forget what it was like to find that itty bitty primitive animatronic fly & be convinced by it rather than with an adult's amused gaze.
Vincent Price remembered long after that it took several takes to get the ending right, because every time he saw the fly in the web wiggle it's tiny little human arm, he burst into laughter. Too bad we don't have that on an out-takes & bloopers reel!
Sequels & remakes would either fall into the humor pit, when unsuccessful, or play into it, when successful. None would ever quite provide the shock of the original.
The first film was in technicolor, at a time when most horror was still noirish black & white. Return of the Fly (1959) is in black & white. Andre Delambre's son Philippe (Brett Halsey), fifteen years later, picks up where his doomed father left off experimenting with the matter transfer device. Vincent Price reprises his role, providing doleful warnings which his nephew disregards.
The performances are quite good but the story already seems a cliche even before it's been done to death. Everything that evaded being comical in the original becomes just a little more laughable in the sequel.
Still, there is no lack of entertainment value. Whether one accepts it as dramatically harrowing, or just a bit goofy, depends entirely on how willingly one suspends disbelief. Either way it's a bit of fun.
And again, whoever saw it as a kid just might grade it highly in the shivers department. At least I can recall seeing it as a "Friday night horror" in the days when just about every city in America had a station that showed classic horror films on Friday night, & when that guy got put through the transporter with a guinea pig, I was truly grossed out.
The man with guinea-pig hands (John Sutton), & the guinea pig with human arms, good gravy that was creepy. But as an adult viewer, when the foot comes down on the back of the guinea pig & those wee human arms are waving out the edge of the shoe, good gravy that's funny.
For me even as a kid, Guinea Pig Man provided the real climax. The poorly made fly costume was less effective than in the first film & just never stopped seeming like something you could buy at Champion Costumes for Halloween.
We're also invited to believe "the brain of a fly" is inherently murderous by nature. I would've thought poop & sugar & laying eggs in rotting corpses would've been more in the way of fly-obsessions than murder, but hey, who'd make a film about about a monster who keeps breaking into outhouses & sugar factories. John Waters maybe.
Philippe's horrid fate is due to the greed & murderous criminality of a man he trusted (David Frankham). Rather than the inherently murderous brain of a fly, it seems more credible that what remains human in Philippe sets out on a mission of revenge.
The important distinction between this film & the original is that the fly-creature really is a menace this time, not exclusively a victim of experimentation gone awry.
Despite being a comparatively shallow, hastily concocted sequel with a much lower budget, rushed to the screen before people forgot how much they liked the first one, Return of the Fly does a good enough job to still be above-average B horror, merely not the classic the original would remain.
Any complaints one might have about Return of the Fly evaporate in comparison to the awful Curse of the Fly (1968).
It actually plays as much more a horror film without as many opportunities for laughs, but it's just not acted well, not written well, has only a little going for it.
Brian Donlevy is Henri Delambre, a different son of the original inventor of the matter transporter, plus grandsons who know the family history of inventing stuff & kind of want it to skip their own generation as it seems never to have made the most rewarding hobby.
One of the lads, Martin (George Baker), takes a wife (Carole Gray), an escapee from the loony bin who we got to see in her underwear before Martin did.
Sad for Carole, & really for Martin too, he already had a wife, secreted away after one of his father's evil experiments left her, well, let's just say still able to play the piano.
Someone decided that the coincidence of Delambre scientists always turning into fly-creatures was strained to happen twice, so it never happens in this one at all, the chief point of disappointment.
They also used the image of the fly in the advertising campaign. And at the tag-end of the original theatrical release prints there was a little animated fly in a spider's web that piped "help me" after the credits were done.
So while it might or might not have been a good idea not to do the fly shtick a third time, when it came to the promotional department, they didn't agree the fly transformation should be left out.
On the other hand it has no shortage of mutants. Henri is clearly of the mad scientist sort who won't stop experimenting even though the device gets it wrong just about every time.
There's a climax that tries to be "big" with all the deformed monstrosities getting teleported together, but no one wanted to pay for a quality super-monstrosity effect, which someone like Ray Harryhausen or George Pal could've done with stop-motion animation I bet, but it just wasn't done.
The film is overall very "busy" with mad-scientist events & while it has darned little relevance to the previous two films, it's an okay shlocker & would likely earn more stars from most reviewers if it weren't for comparisons to the great original.
Or, if Curse of the Fly is a fairly good idea executed badly, it might be said that it's one of the few old horror films that might actually benefit from a remake, rather than be dragged down by one, with today's FX technology, as it tried to do more visually than it was possible in its day or with its budget.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl