David Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly is a cornerstone horror film for me. It’s the earliest horror movie I can remember watching and I’ve seen it many times since . The Fly moves me as much as it repulses me. A film about science gone amuck and an incredibly tragic romance. Sometimes though if you know a remake, you want to revisit the source.
Watching 1958’s The Fly took a bit of adjusting. I’ve seen the end before but the rest would be something new to me. It obviously is not the same movie. This film is clearly of its era of mad scientist horror. This is a film made post atomic bomb about the horrors we unleash with unknown, reckless science. Yet while not as truly horrifying as it’s remake, The Fly has its own charms that make it worth watching.
The Fly is told in flashback by Hélène Delambre who possibly murdered her husband Andre. For the last few weeks, Andre worked in his lab on a new project. This device, the disintegrator-integrator, transports matter from one space to another instantly. Andre works his way from ashtrays to guinea pigs. Eventually, he builds a human sized version of his device, and that’s when everything goes to hell.
What struck me watching it was how good this movie looks. For a low budget 1950s science fiction horror film, there’s production value in this. Andre’s lab looks like a then modern one instead of a fantastical one. There’s a chalkboard, a massive computer (with a tape reel), and random parts lying about. When he uses the device, it has neon lights and a scoreboard kind of thing that lights up. Even the disintegrator-integrator looks kind of plausible. Everyone in this looks glamorous, dressed like the film is a domestic drama and not one about a man switching body parts with an insect. Even the Andre’s fly head with its massive, reflective eyes and insect features, is actually unsettling.
Also the ending remains absolutely chilling. In the biggest different from its successor, Andre, instead of fusing, swaps body parts with a fly. The fly with a human head and arm gets trapped in a spider web. As it’s eyes and arm react in terror to an approaching spider, it cries out “Help me… help me!” The pitch is a little silly and according to actor Vincent Price, the whole crew had trouble laughing during filming. Still this creepy look is on this hybrid’s face as it meets its horrifying fate. Price kills it as much out of mercy as he does horror.
I also found myself surprised how much from this film made it into Cronenberg’s. The love story I knew. However, there’s a speech where David Hedison as Andregoes into the implications his device will have just as Jeff Goldblum similarly doomed Seth Brundle does. Though Andre, unlike Seth Brundle, feels charitable towards the value of his invention after his accident. While nowhere near as horrifying, I found myself surprised to see the number of failed tests in this. That said, I half expected to see the cat’s face in the saucer of milk. That said of the elements in here Cronenberg and his co-writer Charles Edward Pogue Jr. used, I ultimately think they improved.
Watching the fifties version The Fly, while not relevatory for me, offered its own pleasures. It’s a fun film indicative of Cold War fears of science gone amuck. There’s some cool shots in here like when poor Hélène takes off the cloth and Andre sees her in a refracted vision. Cronenberg’s film will always be my preference but this has its own charms.