Saturday, October 24, 2015

Month of Horror Blind Spots: The Fly (1958 version)

I'm taking this October to finally get around to checking out those movies/genres I've neglected up until now.  I call these my horror blind spots, and it's time for me to finally give them a look. 

Warning:  As with House on Haunted Hill, this is a Vincent Price movie and is old enough to start receiving AARP junk mail.  But I am still giving you fair notice about spoilers.  You've been warned!

After having been luke-warm on House on Haunted Hill, I was a little wary of checking out The Fly.  This was especially the case given that I'm such a big fan of David Cronenberg's 1986 remake.  Cronenberg's version is a body horror masterpiece filled with gore, absolutely incredible acting from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, and enough pathos to satisfy the emo kid that lives inside me waiting for an excuse to feel feelings.  Could the original possibly measure up?  I doubted it.

The premise is similar to the remake, but director Kurt Neumann stayed more in line with the 1957 short story on which it is based.  Helene Delambre is spotted at the scene where her husband, scientist Andre Delambre, is found crushed by a hydraulic press.  Questioned by Andre's brother Francois and the local police inspector, Helene must explain what happened, which she does through an extended flashback sequence.  Andre, using himself as a test subject for his new teleportation device, does so without knowing that a housefly had made its way into the device, and Andre is merged with the fly to become a mutated hybrid.

Perhaps my wariness for the 1958 version of The Fly managed to effectively temper my expectations, because I found myself surprised at how much I liked this movie.  Sure, "nuanced" isn't a word I'd use for any of the performances in the flick, but this is a 1950s B movie, where you'd have about as much luck finding someone carrying a cell phone as you would finding someone playing their role in a low-key manner.

However, the cast still won me over, especially David Hedison, who as Andre had to do most of his acting under a black shroud and talking through a series of knocks as he tries to hide his hideous transformation from his wife.  Patricia Owens is also fantastic as Helene, as she has to carry most of the movie once Andre has transformed.  Plus, my mind came close to exploding watching Vincent Price play a sincere good guy role without a hint of sarcasm or menace.

Also, while the effects couldn't possibly match the 1986 version, I was very impressed with what they were able to accomplish.  The fly head was very intricate, but I think the claw effect was even better, due in part by Hedison's ability to play that part of his body as if it had a mind of its own.  The end scene in which the fly that mutated with Andre's head and arm is attacked by a spider was also surprisingly well done.  It should be noted that this element was left out of Cronenberg's version, which I think was probably for the best as it would likely have been a bit too silly for the tone of the remake.

It's funny that, as opposed to most original/remake debates, I find myself comparing the original to the remake rather than the other way around.  But the Cronenberg version is one of those anomalies where it's just so good that people barely recognize the original as much more than silly camp.  I now see this assumption is a mistake, however, as both of these movies share the same tragic core of a legitimately good man who becomes a victim of his own good intentions.  Sure, one movie ends with a spring-time picnic while the other ends with a shotgun blast to the head, but surprisingly both of these endings provide satisfying conclusions to the same basic story.

Thanks for joining me on my truncated trip through some Vincent Price selections.  Join me next week as I get to my finale, where I finally (well, hopefully) get to the four movies that I'm most ashamed to have missed so far as a horror fan.  See you then!

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