Monday, 22 February 2016

The Fly (1958)

This was probably the first Vincent Price movie I ever saw if my memory serves me correctly, probably doesn't but eh. Again this film is actually an adaptation of a short story of the same name that was, strangely enough, first published in Playboy magazine back in 1957. A most unlikely place to find the origins for one of cinemas best cult horror creations. Oh and side note quickly, as I sometimes comment on poster quality, this movies poster is awful...just yucky and lacking any sort of imagination (the one with, presumably, Patricia Owens screaming mug on).

I'm pretty sure everyone knows the tale of this insectoid mutation, but lets have a quick recap. A man is found crushed to death under a hydraulic press, his wife is seemingly the culprit, later on she fully admits that she willingly killed her man under his instruction. When the police come along to investigate and interview her we find out what exactly happened through a long flashback. Andre Delambre (David Hedison) has been experimenting with teleportation, transporting objects through space by disintegrating them down to a molecular/atomic level and beaming them to another point, something like that, its all very Star Trek (before Star Trek was even born). Anyway he starts off with inanimate objects and has almost 100% success, frustrated after more tinkering he eventually starts experimenting on live creatures and then himself. As we all know this goes tits up when a fly gets into one of the cabinets with him and he loses his head and arm, only to be replaced with the fly's head and leg. Delambre then scrambles around trying to get help from his shocked wife Helene (Patricia Owens) to find the fly with his head and arm so he can try and reverse the process. The clock is ticking though as the flies mind is slowly taking over.

Amusing and embarrassing tit bit, at first I had no clue this film was set in French speaking Canada, I thought it was supposed to be in France for the most part, you know because all the Frenchness going on, ugh! But yes the film is actually set in Quebec where everyone apparently speaks French despite being in Canada, because whatever. The first thing that caught my attention as the story slowly unfolds is how lackadaisical the police appear to be with Helene. They have just found out she killed her husband in a highly gruesome way, there was a witness to the murder and she freely admits it without breaking a sweat or a tear. Yet they treat her ever so nicely, they don't arrest her, they don't even take her down to the station, in fact they all just sit down, have a nice cup of tea, and discuss things in a gentlemanly/upper class fashion, such levels of etiquette.

As said most of the plot actually takes place in a long flashback. We see Andre with Helene and their little boy, how happy they are in their rich surroundings, and how well his work is going. Price plays the brother of Andre and takes more of a back seat in all honesty, he merely helps Helene recount what happened, looks after the young boy and assists the police. I often think maybe Price should of played Andre? he gets top billing yet he isn't really that important to the story, that role could of been played by anyone and the character could of been anyone. It just seems weird they would cast Price yet not use him for the main role, no disrespect to Hedison but its not like he brought anything overly special to the role. Side note, look out for a young Kathleen Freeman as the Delambre's house maid.

The crux of the film are of course the transportation devices and the experiments Andre carries out. I might just add you can clearly see where future director David Cronenberg got inspiration from with his own vision in 1984. The basement lab Andre works in is very familiar in tone to the 84 version, the teleportation devices are very different naturally, here they are large glass cabinets...but the surrounding equipment, the control panels, wiring, layout of the cabinets, colour scheme etc...its all very similar if you've seen both versions. Did anyone notice the basement doors in this version? the pattern on the door? the way it slides open? the doors colour? I do believe they homage those doors in the 84 version. Its a very tiny thing but I noticed it straight away, unless its just me of course.

Anyway I think we can all agree thinks start to really get exciting as Andre starts to experiment. Yes I know the cat sequence was sad, sad and eerie, that's the whole point of course. Who doesn't get a shiver down their spine when we hear the meows from Dandelo the cat, lost somewhere in subspace, just floating molecules or atoms...I'm not sure which. Although, far be for me to spoil the eeriness but what happened to the dish he put in with Dandelo? anyone notice that? If Andre got his atoms mixed up with a fly when he went through, would Dandelo get mixed up with the dish? Yes I know Dandelo didn't reintegrate but had he, would he be half cat, half dish? As for Andre and his hood when he eventually messes up, well talk about cheesy and hilarious, I love how Helena just treats him normally and acts virtually the same despite his ominous hood. No, no, never mind about this black hood over my head, just carry on as normal, as if nothing has happened, as if everything was perfectly normal. Yes I have had a hideous accident which I informed you about in my letter, but don't fret, no medical assistance required despite the fact I've clearly done something horrendous to my head, the hood will suffice for now.

The reveal when Helena does eventually pull off his hood is of course a classic cinematic B-movie moment, the music reaching a sudden crescendo, the female screams, the zoom in on the mutated fly head with its twitching labellum or mouth section, great stuff. As you would expect the horror aspect has long since been diluted by the outrageously bad effects, for the time it was shocking but these days its merely a bloke with a rubber fly head on. The rubbery fly claw actually makes it even worse truth be told but the large compound fly eyes are very effective, easily the creepiest part on the common fly. I will admit it is kinda creepy watching this hooded bloke wander around in the basement, knowing he has a flies head, that being said, Hedison does actually perform well as the flies mind starts to corrupt his own mind, some good visual performances without dialog. One thing that did always confuse me, if Andre kept his mind when he got the flies head, did that mean the fly with the human head still kept thinking like a fly? Also, when the flies mind starts to take control of Andre's human body, did that mean that his human head on the flies body started to think like a human? I also don't really understand why Andre would have kept his mind when his head got transferred onto a flies body, why would the flies head retain his mind? Surely his mind would remain in his own head which would now be on the flies body, right? Same can be said for the flies arm/claw, how the hell does that have a mind of its own?? Oh and why are the flies head and claw human sized? wouldn't they be regular fly sized? my God how disturbing would that be!!

The movie was quite gruesome for its time and its easy to see why. If you put aside the giant fly head and disturbing image of Hedison's head and arm on a flies body about to be eaten alive by a big spider, you then have the quite shocking image (for the time) of a man's dead limp body dangling from a hydraulic press after his head has been crushed. Oh and yes there is a lot of blood on display, its dripping down the side of the press for all to see. Despite that its not really scary (although I'm sure kids wouldn't like it), its more of a body shock horror than anything, an icky, gooey, revolting horror that makes your skin crawl when you think about it. Just being caught in a spiders web is enough to make my skin crawl brrr! On one hand the film is totally ludicrous and in places makes no real sense at all, as I've pointed out. Yet on the other hand its a dark, original, enjoyable science fiction tale of mystery and horror that does have some relatively sensible and interesting notions, mainly teleportation.