If you’re reading this, if you’re interested at all, you’re probably already a fan of Cronenberg’s 1986 classic The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum. Such a classic, that many are unaware that it’s actually a remake of a 1958 movie of the same name.
Fewer still have been exposed to the sequels in the 50s and 60s, or the remake’s sequel The Fly II from 1989. A total of five movies all of which borrow elements from a short story published in Playboy magazine in 1957. A hell of a franchise spread over a long time, all because someone actually read Playboy for the articles.
Each film at least loosely follows the premise of the first:
A scientist is experimenting with teleportation pods. Turns out when you accidentally try to teleport a human and a fly at the same time, the machines have trouble telling where man ends and fly begins. Cue horrifying hijinks.
Between sequels and remakes and sequels to remakes, it’s easy to get lost. So before we get to the excellent bonus features of this particular package, here’s a breakdown of the collection, in brief mini-reviews:
The Fly (1958)
Like many older movies, at its best moments this watches like a wonderfully dramatic live play. You’ll be never truly immersed, but often truly impressed.
We have a somewhat forgettable lead scientist/fly, Andre Delambre, played by David Hedison – who is a real treat in the commentary. The real zingers are the terrific support roles though: Scientist and wife-of-fly Helene Delambre, played by Patricia Owens, and brother-of-fly Francois Delambre, played by the now widely celebrated Vincent Price.
Exposition is done almost primarily via mansplaining to Owens’ character. I guess this is the inevitable flipside of having a prominent female character in a movie made back in the 50s.
The film is far from perfect: Scenes drag, the narrative itself puts the emotional climax too early, leaving the final act a lifeless, detached epilogue. The entire movie revolves around THE BIG REVEAL, and for all the movie’s flaws, it’s absolutely worth it.
Return of The Fly (1959)
Sequel to the first. Unoriginally featuring a grown-up son of the original Fly.
The film suffers from horrendous pacing. It’s only 80 minutes – barely feature length, while seeming to drag for days. Like a Transformers sequel (pick any), they’ve packed in more action, while managing to make you feel like a lot less is happening. The nauseatingly meandering soundtrack doesn’t do the film any favours in this regard either.
Curse of The Fly (1965)
Another sequel, continuing the generational approach to the series, we are now onto the grandson of the first Fly (sigh). Opening with a bang, followed by lingering scenes of a scantly-clad woman running through the forest, the third instalment seemed to promise an unexpected Russ Meyer direction.
It didn’t follow through.
I still couldn’t tell you which direction it went.
Still broadly sci-fi horror, the plot and character details were entirely forgettable. Curse of The Fly made the mistake of getting bogged down in its own patchy science. If your premise relies on a teleportation device creating hybrids of different living entities, it may be best to gloss over the particulars, rather than dwell on them.
The Fly (1986)
The original is a classic, the sequels forgettable, but this, the remake, is unmissable. Here’s a slightly longer review than the others, because it’s earned the attention:
The remake gets it right in every regard. Jeff Goldblum as protagonist Dr. Seth Brundle draws you in with his intense character and bold claims. Geena Davis’ Ronnie is the sympathetic character – essentially she is a projection of the audience. A journalist, she follows Brundle because she’s intrigued. But she’s not convinced, and she’s not impressed, initially. Then she sees the teleportation pods actually work, and she is on board, she’s up for wherever it’ll take her. Of course, we the audience follow all these steps exactly.
A master of offbeat comedic character acting, this is primarily Goldblum’s movie. For any ‘Blum fan, his charismatic presence alone will pull you through the film, even if you have little interest anything else presented to you. However, similar to other strange comedic types – Jim Carrey and Bill Murray come to mind – Goldblum can be polarising. If you find him irksome, no amount of interest in 80s sci-fi thriller flicks will endear you to The Fly, which barely contains a single scene in his absence.
Despite this, it’d be unfair to call The Fly Goldblum’s alone. Previous films had strong, if inconsistent, female supporting characters. In this version, Geena Davis is truly allowed to shine as Ronnie. Within a few years, she’d become better known as star of Beetlejuice and Thelma & Louise, but as she delicately navigates strength, sensuality, rage, and a lot of fear, she’s already clearly showcasing her star quality.
Cronenberg’s The Fly isn’t a strict remake of the original, but a complete reimagining. It borrows elements from all 3 older films without quite being true to any of them. Ultimately becoming more disturbing and more tragic than all combined.
Key to this is the more modern approach to characters. More time is taken to portray the nuances of their shaky psychological and emotional states. This follows through to the cinematography. Unlike the older movies’ near constant wide-angle shots, now we’re granted greater familiarity, greater intimacy, thanks to frequent use of close-ups.
This all makes Goldblum’s wonderfully gruesome descent into internal madness and external fly-ness all the more disturbing. We’ve grown to really care for him, and for Davis who must watch it all play out. Goldblum’s Seth Brundle becomes a monster long before he looks like one, and it’s somehow more heartbreaking than frightening.
Subverting 1958’s timeless “help me” line with an unspoken “kill me” sentiment, succinctly captures the move to deeply upsetting situations. Pulling away from a more standard monster-horror of the predecessors was a risky move, but it paid off!
The Fly II: Son of The Fly
A decent but forgettable monster horror. Don’t watch if you’re one of those people that can’t handle bad stuff happening to friendly dogs in movies. Do watch if you enjoy deeply flawed but fun 80s films.
If The Fly serves as a reminder that well-made puppets are scarier than our newfangled CG monsters, The Fly II lets us know that’s even true of low-budget puppets too.
Even with five movies, you really want this box set for the bonus features. Hours of ‘em. Multiple discs of ‘em! The commentaries for the 1958 original, the 1986 remake, and the final 1989 instalment are all entertaining, insightful and informative. There are also deleted scenes, documentaries, interviews, featurettes, and all sorts of tasty treats.
The wonderfully disgusting ‘Brundle Museum of Natural History’ featurette is an especially creative addition, and really helps to shine a spotlight on the fact that The Fly is most disturbing when treated more as body-horror than a monster-horror. Seth Brundle, part way into transforming, uttering “What’s wrong with me, am I dying?” will always be more memorable than a giant fly-man attacking some unfortunate security guard.
Despite half the movies being pretty objectively sub-par, there’s really no shortage of quality content in here for those willing to sift for the gold nuggets of movie magic, whether you’re a fan of any of these specific movies, the genre, or film in general.