Return of the Fly Review
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of David Cronenberg's seminal horror movie The Fly, 20th Century Fox have released this Ultimate Collector's Edition of the franchise, which collects Special Edition releases of the Fly and it's 1989 sequel, along with the three original movies in the franchise, the fifties original, it's sequel Return of the Fly, and the long forgotten sixties effort Curse of the Fly.
The Fly (1958)
The original 1958 sci-fi that started the franchise, this is an enjoyable piece of dated nonsense. It can't hold a candle to the Cronenberg remake, but as an example of paranoid fifties entertainment it's an absolute hoot.
Trailblazing scientist Andre Delambre creates a teleportation device, however tragedy strikes when an experimental accident sees him merged with a common housefly. Cursed with the head and hand of the insect, the race is on to find the fly that contains Andre's DNA required to reverse the accident. Tragedy hangs in the air however, as Andre finds himself losing his struggle to maintain his humanity in his new form.
Originally based on a Playboy short story, the films original concept still has the power to entertain and enthral. It's looking dated now, with stagy set design, some truly awful dialogue, and frequently hilarious overacting (especially from the truly dire Patricia Owens). The pacing is a touch uneven at time, and too long is spent with a man in a mack with a duster on his head roaming about in a basement. It's still an enduring watch however, and Vincent Price unsurprisingly steals the show with a bookending role as Andre's brother, and the murder mystery element of the plot provides an interesting alternative take on the stripped down remake.
There are some great memorable moments in the film, which have stood the test of time over the years. The fly's eye view of the screaming Patricia is a stand-out scene, and the famous finale, with the half man-half fly trapped in a spiders web is still an effective and squeamish moment. An intelligent and effective little shocker.
Return of the Fly
This sequel to Kurt Neumann's original basically retreads the same ground explored by the original, although to lesser effect. Fifteen years after the events of the original film, Philippe Delambre (Brett Halsey), son of Andre, attempts to carry on his father's teleportation work with the help of his uncle Francois (a returning Vincent Price). In a spectacular turn of bad luck, the same fate as befell his father happens to Andre, turning him into a half man-half insect.
Much more of a B-Movie in it's roots, this black & white rehash of the original (made just a year later), provides much the same mix of amusement as it's predecessor, albeit in a more superficial manner. A straight ahead horror sci-fi, this jettisons the originals focus on characters and plot for a more streamlined approach with a faster pace and more action. The end result is certainly a more derivative entry than the original, but it's not without its charm. For all its faults, this sequel engages in a cheap and cheerful way, due in no small part to the amusing FX which includes Halsey wandering about in a giant fly mask roughly the size of a small armchair.
Curse of the Fly
This 1965 second sequel to the 1958 original is comfortably the least effective entry in the Fly series. A descendant of the doomed original family, Henri Delambre keeps on dabbling with that pesky teleporter, however this time the product is not some hideous insect hybrid, but instead just creates some horrifically disfigured mutants (no real fly connections here). Exceedingly low budget, and ineptly marshalled by Don Sharp, this much maligned entry is essential only for completists of the series.
The Fly (1986)
Better paced and more spectacular than his recent foray into box-office film-making, A History of Violence, The Fly marks Cronenberg's most successful passage into commercial film construction. It's certainly not his strongest work, but it's still a superb exploration of his familiar themes and concerns, which make this genre classic play like Love Story meets body horror.
Brilliant Scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) constructs a telepod capable of transmitting matter across space and, after an argument with his reporter girlfriend Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), Brundle attempts to transport himself through the device. Unbeknown to him a fly made the transfer with Brundle and the DNA of the two assimilate. At first an oblivious Brundle experiences surges in strength intelligence and potency, but before too long however, his body and mind begin to change and decay, irreversibly creating a hideous and dangerous new species, Brundlefly.
Whether read as an allegorical fear of science, a metaphor for the decades AIDS explosion, or as the frailty of the human form, The Fly is a truly superb piece of lean superior film-making, which proves that commerciality doesn't necessarily signal conventional and compromised work. Jeff Goldblum (consistently one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood) is wonderful here as the doomed genius. Tender yet repulsive (with magnificently gross FX courtesy of Chris Walas), clinical yet warm, this remake is the finest entry in the entire Fly canon.
The Fly II
Cronenberg's FX man Chris Walas takes over the directorial reigns for the sequel to the Canadian auteur's 1986 effort, with enjoyable, if not particularly astounding results. The movie picks up from the earlier movie with the birth of Martin Brundle, the child conceived by Seth and Ronnie in the predecessor. Raised in seclusion by Bartok Industries and with Fly DNA coursing through his veins, it only takes five years for Brundle to transform into a fully grown man (Eric Stoltz). Eventually the same fate befalls Martin as his father, and he begins to mutate, and embarks upon a rampage of revenge on the scientists whom have wronged him.
Whereas Cronenberg's take on the subject was to produce an intelligent and literate example of commercial horror cinema, Walas takes the sequel down the conventional road of the classical B-Movie format. There's little of the subtle humour and poignancy of Cronenberg's work in this sequel, which (unsurprisingly given the director's roots) opts for upping the gore levels over the importance of scriptwork.
That's not to say this isn't a watchable film, it's just no match for its predecessor on any level, and any enjoyment is probably going to come on a guilty pleasure level as opposed to any real artistic appreciation. Of particular note is the unintentionally hilarious malformed canine puppet which never fails to raise a chuckle. A BigMac to Cronenberg's fillet steak, but schlockhounds should find it an enjoyable and undemanding hour and a half.
When all said and done what we have here is a collection of the good, the bad, and the ugly. With the exception of Curse of the Fly, all these movies are decent entertainment value, with Cronenbergs masterful effort clearly taking top honors.