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Extra Credit: The Fly vs. The Fly

1958’s The Fly was a schlocky monster movie. Films like these were a dime a dozen in the 1950s. Though some critics view it as a strong, allmovie.com even calling it “subtle,” this film doesn’t hold a candle to such period films as The Incredible Shrinking Man, War of the Worlds, Forbidden Planet, or other Vincent Price films such as The Tingler.

The Fly’s biggest failing is its groan-inducing setup as a bad actress’s flashback. In her every scene, Patricia Owens is stagey and artificial. Her every utterance grates on the nerves. And when she delivers her requisite screams, it’s as dull and annoying as anything else.

Vincent Price comes makes it through the film admirably, but then what else would we expect? Price was a veteran of films like these and a gifted actor besides.

Then there is the movie’s empty and annoying stab at philosophy. The movie was on the right track when David Hedison, as the scientist was was to become part fly, said that his matter transporter was no offense against God; it was simply new technology that had never been invented before. The movie backed down from this position, however, by insisting at the end that the scientist Dared to Play God — oh, the horror!

Because of the movie’s flaws, I feel that the sequel, Return of the Fly, was actually a superior movie. It was exploitation in many ways, but it was completely unpretentious about it. The film had better black & white cinematography than the previous film’s color lensing. And I like that when the Monster went on a rampage, it was a neat and tidy rampage; he just killed the bad guys who needed to be killed, and then he stopped and came home.

However, the trailer for The Fly is a two-minute masterpiece.

Ah, yes, 1986’s The Fly. We might even go so far as to say that this is the real The Fly, even if it wasn’t an adaptation of the original short story like the first film was. This newer film benefited from being made in post-code Hollywood, and from advances in acting for the camera, but there is far more to the film than that. This Fly is smarter, more spirited, and more sophisticated than the original could have ever hoped of being. And it was made by master director David Cronenberg.

To call 1986’s The Fly a remake is not entirely accurate. The Fly used the 1958 film only as inspiration. It left the pulp of the original behind for more human concerns.

Where 1958’s The Fly gave us a man with the head and arm of a fly, 1986’s The Fly gave us, what? “Fusion of Brundle and fly at molecular-genetic level.” Instead of the instant whammy that The Fly 1958 gave us, The Fly 1986 gave us a man metaphorically suffering from a terminal illness that was slowly destroying him. He worried, he grieved, he tried to find humor in his new situation. He was a character with dimensions, and so was his leading lady. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were, of course, more talented actors than their 1950s counterparts, but what is more, they played better-written characters.

And David Cronenberg was far more talented and visionary than his own nameless 1950s counterpart (Kurt Neumann, if anybody cares.) With classics like Videodrome and Scanners, Cronenberg had established himself as a master of both surrealism and grand guignol. He had an overarching interest in Perversions of the Flesh, and this fixation was grandly evident in The Fly. Scientist Seth Brundle transformed into a fly in gradual but very graphic stages. First, thick hairs grew out of his back. Then his skin began to decay, with ears and teeth falling off. Pretty soon, he looked like a mutated corpse, and he sprouted secondary arms from his ribs. And at the end… oh, at the end! And the changes came with subtleties like Goldblum’s twitching and nervous energy, and not-so-subtleties like walking on the ceiling.

And then there was the small matter of Veronica’s (Davis) baby. Was it conceived after Brundle fused with the fly, or before? Would it be human, or would she give birth to a larva? There’s another fantastic metaphor for you!

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