January 21, 2011

Three flies in wide aspect - CURSE OF, RETURN OF, THE FLY (1958)

A very watchable trilogy, the first three films of The Fly...

David Cronenberg's infamous 'body horror' The Fly inspired vomiting over your food and a sequel, The Fly II. They revolve around unlucky experiments with a teleportation device. Like any brand new scientific device in a horror film, there are only the worst possible results. Especially when two lifeforms are accidentally transmitted together, and merge...

Nearly thirty years earlier, the original film spawned two sequels. All of them released before the Star Trek crew started their own catalogue of transporter malfunctions.

(1958, USA)

The Fly wasn't the first ever tale of teleportation, but it certainly brought the concept into the public's imagination, first as a short story, then as a hit film starring Vincent Price. Famous for a grisly opening sequence, where a woman squashes her husband in a mechanical press. The mystery being, why she did it twice...

The brother of the dead scientist tries to find out why she would kill, and if she should be executed for murder. As her story unfolds, it could be that she's completely mad. She claims Delambre was experimenting with a matter transmitter in the basement. Starting with crockery and family pets, he decided to test the machine on a human subject. If only there hadn't been a fly in the laboratory that day...

Filmed in vivid Technicolor (especially effective for gratuitous blood smears and the purple neon equipment in the lab) and 2.35 Cinemascope, both unusual for 1950s' sci-fi, this is a mad treat from over fifty years ago.

Strangely, Vincent doesn't play the mad scientist, instead it's the role of sympathetic detective. This was just before his image was totally synonymous with horror and villainy in a stream of William Castle and Roger Corman horror films. Price often told the tale about how he and Herbert Marshall had immense trouble taking the film's closing scene seriously. Horror with a Mickey Mouse voice...

David Hedison is the scientist, also making a creditable romantic lead. But despite an action role in The Lost World (1960) remake, he found lasting fame through TV, as Captain Crane in four years of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He was also the first actor to play James Bond's American contact, Felix Leiter, more than once (in Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill).

(1959, USA)

Again in 2.35 widescreen but not in colour, the sombre grey palette adds to the depressive and more violent atmosphere of this sequel. Thankfully, Vincent Price is back, the only original cast member to return.

Return of the Fly
begins with a dirty Alien 3 trick, killing off a likeable character that survived the previous film. Downer. It's 15 years later and Delambre's son is continuing his experiments to commemorate his father's work. Understandably, he's still very nervous about flies, an obsession that will threaten his life when an industrial spy wants to steal the discovery.

The sequel delivers more of the same head-swapping thrills, but adds new twists and new animals. There's more of the fly monster, now with an impressively larger head, but there's little life in the mask. Gone are the twitchy mouth and nervously darting head moves. It looks fantastic in publicity photos though.

The memorable moments of the original are replaced by a higher body count, and it's fun to watch new ways that matter transmission can go horribly wrong. Some of the optical work used to create new 'hybrid' visual effects is both simplistic and utterly bizarre.

(1965, UK)

Shot in Britain, the second sequel adds three more mad scientists to the Delambre family. Again it's 2.35 widescreen and black and white, and the experiments are going more and more wrong.

Curse also belongs to the genre of 'the heroine is recovering from a nervous breakdown in a creepy house where everyone is lying to her'. Patricia (Carole Gray) breaks out of an asylum, in her underwear, in slow motion. Subtle. As bad luck would have it, she runs into a handsome young Delambre (George Baker) who marries her and takes her back to his large creepy house. There he tries to keep her from discovering his work, as he experiments in transmitting people long-distance between Canada and England. But she has secrets of her own...

As Patricia sneaks around the old creepy house, she discovers the depths that scientists will sink to in order to succeed. The proof lies out back, behind four doors. Four experiments that went very wrong...

While there are no weird animal hybrids in this instalment, flies included, the teleporter has a new slew of nasty side-effects. One disaster is almost Cronenbergian, and a close-up of that monstrosity has noticeably been removed from this British print (on the UK release DVD).

There's a meandering and confusing start, in a Canada that looks like West London, with Canadians that sound like Brits, and a Delambre family tree that doesn't quite hook up to the previous stories.

While the plot is scatty, the special make-up work is effective, mostly variations of melted flesh. Brian Donlevy gives a remarkable performance as a bullying, headstrong inventor, intent on results at absolutely any cost. Remarkable partly because he slurs his lines and staggers about, almost certainly drunk on duty. Donlevy was in a far better state as the first movie Quatermass in Hammer Film's first two film adaptions.

Playing his son is a young George Baker, who later had a key part in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) in which he dubbed George Lazenby's voice as he impersonated a very English heraldry expert to infiltrate Blofeld's mountaintop lair. Despite a dodgy North American accent, Baker continually makes his character sympathetic, despite the most outrageous lies to his new bride, and his dedication to bad science. The Delambres' crimes against humanity are some of the worst I've seen since Frankenstein did volunteer work in a hospital...

As his new wife, Carole Gray has the hardest job, being scared, naive and confused for most of the story. Her acting career was very short, despite her skill and tremendous appeal. She appears here between The Young Ones opposite Cliff Richard, and Island of Terror opposite Edward Judd and bone-sucking silicate monsters. I can't honestly decide which is the more terrifying.

I watched the US region 1 double-bill DVD of The Fly and Return of the Fly. Both widescreen transfers are anamorphic 2.35 widescreen and it includes both trailers.

Curse of the Fly was first released on DVD in the UK in 2006, as a bare bones' edition without even a trailer. But it was the DVD debut for the film in widescreen.

The latest release in the US has all three films as 'The Fly Collection', which adds a commentary track from David Hedison to the first film, and an extra DVD of documentary material. Full details and great screengrabs here at DVD Beaver.


  1. I remember seeing this as a kid and laughing hysterically at the "HElp me! Help me!" scene

  2. Mike

    I am gwetting reasdy to do a review of Curse at The UCafe and found your review via Google Images. This was the best of the three films for me as far as I am concerned. Maybe not really the best in many ways, but surely the most horrifying.

    Great to see you did a recent write up all three. I have the three film pack too and will probaby do the other tow later.

    Bill C.