When the arguments arise about the vices and virtues of remakes, David Cronenberg’s 1986 version of The Fly is oft held up as a paragon. A remake that is inspired by the general concept of the original, but hews a totally new path with themes more personal to the director. The only problem with this is that the quality of the 1958 original tends to get overlooked, let alone sequels to both the original and the remake, which make for a diverse array of approaches to effectively the same set-up.
This collection brings together all five Fly films – being the original and its two sequels, as well as the remake and its sequel. While the drawcards are the original and the remake – both bona fide classics – the other films are not without interesting ideas.
The Fly was the first ever screenplay by James Clavell, based off a short story by George Langelaan that appeared in Playboy magazine.
It is structured like a whodunnit. Andre Delambre (David Hedison), an expert engineer and co-owner of a Montreal electronics firm, is found crushed to death by a giant industrial press at his factory. His wife Helene (Patricia Owens), seen fleeing the scene, calls his brother Francois (Vincent Price) and confesses to the murder. But as the investigation goes ahead, there are odd holes in Helene’s story.
The bulk of the film is made up by the flashback to Andre’s experiments in his home laboratory with his “disintegrator-integrator” that is seemingly able to transport matter at the speed of light. Although the integration aspect doesn’t always come out as planned and when his hubris causes him to try out the machine on himself, he fails to notice a housefly in the machine with him and ends up with the head and arm of a fly.
The film is highly effective. It is original and builds creepiness well as Andre keeps a hood covering his face and communicates in an increasingly fragmented manner via a typewriter. Its origins as a short story are evident in long stretches of the movie spinning wheels and the over-reliance on the punch of the ending, whose fame has eroded its shock value.
Surprisingly, Owens is the lead of the film, anchoring it in her desperate efforts to help her husband somehow reverse the experiment and then, in her self-sacrificing false confession to try to cover up what he did. Hedison does not even appear until a third of the way through the film and Price, while prominent in promotional materials for the movie, is a support character used mostly to have a reason for things to be explained to the audience.
Return of the Fly followed a year later, but lacks the quality of its predecessor. Now black and white (the original is in colour), the story infuses noir elements with gangsters, bodies in cars being disposed off by being pushed off cliffs and fistfights. The plot is an unimaginative one with Andre’s son Phillipe (Brett Halsey) continuing his father’s work despite the protestations of his uncle (Price, the only returning actor) and, after the involvement of a wanted criminal, also ends up with the head and hand of a fly. Naturally.
The sequel is painless enough, but is transparently a sequence of events to get Phillipe and a fly into the disintegrator-integrator, after which things play out in similarly predictable fashion. Given the fresh feel of the original, such a derivative and safe follow-up is a disappointment.
The second sequel, 1965’s Curse of the Fly, at least avoids trying to get another fly hybrid. The cost is that it veers into schlocky territory. This time, it is the grandchildren of Andre Delambre, although the continuity is thoroughly trampled, altered or ignored.
Once again, experiments with the disintegrator/integrator lead to problems. In this case, it means the Delambre household has a bunch of mutants living in cells out back. When Martin Delambre (George Baker) marries an escapee from a mental hospital named Patrica (Carole Gray, who hilariously spends the opening credits running through the woods in full make-up and underwear), he brings her back to his house and tries to avoid telling her the truth of the experiments he is working on with his father Henri (Brian Donlevy).
Naturally, as the police investigate the missing patient, they uncover the history of the Delambres and carnage ensues as Martin and Henri scramble to cover up their mistakes.
While much of the film is ridiculous (not to mention a particularly egregious case of yellowface casting) with some erratic character behaviour in service of the plot, Curse of the Fly has some excellent style with its noir-ish black and white and some genuinely great visuals in places. They are far too intermittent to raise the film above anything more than a diversion, however.
The result of the original trilogy is a fun film with a couple of middling-to-poor follow-ups, all anchored securely in the ‘science gone mad’ sub-genre of the 50s. It makes for an odd choice for a remake, but nevertheless, that is what happened in 1986.
Helmed by body horror man David Cronenberg, it is a superb reimagining. All that remains from the original is its core concept: that of a man and a fly ending up in a teleporter together. The rest is pure Cronenberg.
The transformation into a fly now becomes a drawn-out process, a metaphor for any wasting disease but in the age of AIDS, it is hard to see past that as the main reference point. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a hermetic scientist who has invented teleportation and at last is starting to reveal it to the public – through magazine writer Veronica (Geena Davis). His reveal is more a swaggering boast, an attempt to impress Veronica, while her editor (and ex-boyfriend) Stathis (John Getz) laughs off Brundle as a scammer.
The story evolves into a love triangle as a drunken, jealous Brundle tests his telepod out on himself, failing to notice the housefly that joins him. At first, he feels invigorated, but soon begins growing coarse hairs in weird places and developing strange tics…
Cronenberg stages his film almost like a theatre piece, with really only three characters and most of the action taking place in Brundle’s warehouse lab/apartment. The perfectly-cast Goldblum plays Brundle as an awkward nerd, then an over-excited braggart and ultimately a tragic figure desperately trying to regain his humanity.
It is a simply terrific film and a masterpiece of pacing and emotion within the horror context (things get pretty gory in the final reel!).
The success of Cronenberg’s Fly, both commercially and critically, meant a sequel was inevitable. This time at the helm was Fly SFX main man Chris Walas, making his feature debut.
The story picks up with Veronica (who, despite her face being hidden, is clearly not Geena Davis) dying as she gives birth to Seth Brundle’s baby at Bartok Industries, Brundle’s bankroller. The baby grows at a hyper-accelerated rate and soon little Martin Brundle is played by Eric Stoltz despite only being a few years old.
Martin lives at Bartok Industries under the watchful eye of CEO Anton Bartok (Lee Richardson) and the fact he never sleeps means he strikes up a relationship with nightshift worker Beth Logan (Daphne Zuniga) as his brilliance leads to him working on rebuilding the telepods.
All the while, Bartok and his gun-toting security guards keep close watch, looking for any signs of transformation from Martin into something like his father…
The Fly II has been somewhat maligned, but actually is better than its reputation. Where it suffers is in comparison to its predecessor, where the b-movie concept was used for more elegant means. The sequel, on the other hand, merrily embraces its schlocky roots. This is most notable in the final run of set-pieces where Walas cannot resist leering over every gruesome death scene with glee.
Aside from a cameo return from Getz, the dialogue is quite stilted and the characters fairly one-dimensional, which hold proceedings back. It may not be a patch on the original, but The Fly II is actually quite a lot of fun as a late 80s horror flick.
The Fly Collection may be one great movie and a few average ones, but the set is absolutely bursting with extras. There are commentary tracks galore, deleted scenes and numerous featurettes. There are also some lengthy documentaries for both Cronenberg’s The Fly and its sequel, plus a biography piece on Vincent Price.
The information really is extensive – the original’s sequels were shot in black and white because of the shrinking budgets and the reason Price was not in the third was because he was under a contract with another studio the forbade him from horror films with anyone else. Cronenberg’s remake originally had a variety of endings around Veronica’s pregnancy, including a bizarre ‘fairy’ sequence, before they simply cut to black as the best choice.
The special effects in each movie, especially the latter pair, get a thorough breakdown and with the age of the films, there is plenty of honest candour about their production and varied reception. Any fan of The Fly series will be in heaven with the wealth of material here.
- The Fly (1958)
- Audio Commentary with actor David Hedsion and historian David Del Valle
- Extras:”Biography: Vincent Price” documentary (44:03)
- “Fly Trap – Catching a Classic” featurette (11:30)
- Fox Movietone News (0:54)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:59)
- The FLY (1986)
- Audio commentary with director/co-writer David Cronenberg
- Fear of the Flesh: The Making of The Fly” – documentary:
- The Brundle Museum of Natural History”
- 4 Deleted Scenes
- 2 Extended Scenes (you can use the optional “”red box”” around the parts that were excised):
- Written work:
- Film Tests (visual effects)
- The FLY II (1989)
- Audio commentary by director Chris Walas and film historian/archivist Bob Burns
- Deleted scene (1,5 min)
- Alternate “houseboat” ending (1 min)
- Trailers: “The Fly (1989)”, “The Fly (1958)”, “Return of the Fly (1958)”, “Aliens”, and “The Omen”
- The Fly Papers: The Buzz on Hollywood’s Scariest Insect”
- -documentary (of all “The Fly”-films – 60 min)
- “Transformations: Looking Back at The Fly II” -featurette
- “CWI Video Production Journal”-featurette (15 min)
- “Composer’s Master Class: Christopher Young” -featurette (13 min)
- “Original theatrical EPK” -featurette (5 min)
- “Storyboard to Film”
- -comparisons of 3 scenes (with optional audio commentary by director Chris Walas)
Available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.