It is a deceptively simply story. A man invents a machine that can instantly teleport matter from one place to another (like the transporters on Star Trek). At first, he teleports inanimate objects then moves on to animals and eventually himself. It is that last bit where things turn horrific. While teleporting himself, an innocuous house fly accidentally flies into the device, causing it to fuse both man and fly into one horrifying beast. But that simple (and let’s be honest, kind of silly) concept which initially came into existence through a short story became a 1950s science fiction movie classic which spawned two sequels. David Cronenberg remade the original story into a 1986 film, which in turn spawned its own sequel. An opera, based off the Cronenberg film, made its debut in 2008. Even The Simpsons got in and parodied both films in one of their best Halloween Specials. On and on it goes. How a story about a man who turns into a fly created its own cottage industry is a matter for historians, but for fans, Scream Factory is releasing a great new boxed set featuring all five films.
Sequels natural diverge significantly from the source material but it is interesting to see how the original 1957 film is both similar to and completely different from David Cronenberg's adaptation of the same book. The original, directed by Kurt Neumann starts out, oddly enough, as a murder mystery. It begins with Hélène Delambre (Patricia Owens) calling her brother-in-law François Delambre (an always magnificent Vincent Price), admitting she has just killed her husband André (Al Hedison). François and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) arrive at the warehouse to find Hélène distraught and André’s corpse splayed out on a hydraulic press with his head and arm squashed into oblivion. Hélène admits to pressing the buttons to start the press but refuses to say she murdered him and will not provide any sort of motive for why she did it.
For the first act, François and Charas try to get to the bottom of the mystery with no luck. Eventually, François convinces Hélène to tell her story but only after he promises to destroy the white-headed house fly she has become obsessed with. In flashbacks, we learn of how André created the transporter device, slowly working his way from inanimate objects like saucers and plates to small animals and eventually himself. It is a story we’ll see and hear multiple times over the course of this collection, told in a variety of ways. A fly landed in the machine just as André was transporting himself, giving him a giant fly head and arm (and on the fly tiny version of the same, only human). From there, it is a race to see if it can be reversed before François goes completely native. None of this is particularly frightening, but it is well made, and quite entertaining in the way good sci-fi from the ’50s can be.
Cronenberg’s film, on the other hand, is terrifying in the way his films can be. Master of the body horror genre, Cronenberg transforms his scientist in the most imaginative ways (earning the film an Academy Award for best makeup in the process). In this one, the scientist is Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) who meets Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), a science reporter looking for a story at a press event. He tries to impress her with his not-quite-working telepod and she agrees to follow him around for a few months in hopes to get a book deal out of it.
A romance blossoms and the two work together to perfect the machine so that it will work on living things and not just inanimate ones. After a spat, he drunkenly decides to transport himself not noticing that darn fly and has his DNA mixed up with the insect. But where the original film immediately gives the human a giant fly head, Seth’s transformation is much slower and decidedly grosser.
At first, there are new, coarser hairs growing on his back and bumps sprouting on his face. Then, his fingernails fall out, oozing disgusting puss. Next, come the teeth, which he doesn’t need anyway because he now eats by vomiting digestive enzymes that dissolve the food so he can suck it back up into his mouth. The last act is a full-on horror show with Seth turning into a grotesque monster that oozes from everywhere. Cronenberg meant it as a comment on aging and dying of a terminal illness but having been made in the mid-1980s, it was immediately turned into an AIDS metaphor.
The sequels, as sequels tend to be, are a mixed bag. Return of the Fly brings Vincent Price back as Francois Delambre (he was the only cast member from the first film to return, and he only did so because he liked the original script and was annoyed when he realized it had been changed), who is now trying to keep André’s son (Brett Halsey) from recreating the transporter machine. Naturally, he fails and the machine is built and when the son transports himself, that pesky old fly winds up in there with him. This time he’s got an even bigger head and wreaks even more havoc across the countryside. It is basically The Fly meets I was a Teenage Werewolf. It is fun for what it is, but what it is isn’t nearly as good as the original.
The sequel to the Cronenberg film, aptly named The Fly 2 (and this collection has made me wonder when did sequels get boring by simply adding a number to the title instead of creating fun names like Return of the, or Son of the?) is similar to Return of the Fly in that it involves the son of the scientist recreating the experiment and of course getting turned into a human/fly monster. It stars Eric Stoltz as Martin, the son Veronica was desperate to abort in Cronenberg’s film. Because his daddy was already turning into a fly monster when he impregnated Veronica, Martin has had super powers from birth (weird how these films assume that if human DNA is crossed with fly stuff, humans would naturally get stronger, more agile, and awesome instead of just being a disgusting nuisance). He’s aging rapidly so that in the course of five years he goes from a baby to looking like Eric Stoltz (which makes the requisite sex scene even weirder as he’s technically still a toddler). He’s also super smart, which is why the evil corporation guy, who wants to make big bucks off the transporter machine, convinces the boy to help him fix it. It isn’t quite as body-horror disgusting as Cronenberg’s film, but it's pretty close and it is a lot more violent. Also it is a bit of a dud.
Lastly comes The Curse of the Fly, which is the only film in this collection not to actually feature a fly. Instead, we get a bunch of gnarly mutants. The third generation of the Delarmbre clan once again tries to make the transporter machine work. They are more successful in having sent various objects across the ocean to London, but the sticking point remains to transport humans without mangling their flesh. The clan keeps their mistakes locked up in prison cells because they aren’t the type of people who go about murdering their mutant mistakes, just the sort of people who make mutants in the first place. Their plan goes about as well as the rest of them do.
There is the oddest love story in this one in which a woman escapes from a mental asylum is picked up by the Delambre boy and soon enough marries him. All of this is before she knows about the transportation, the mutations, and the mutant first wife he still keeps with him. It is weird and goofy but not at all good. I suggest watching the original trilogy with some friends and plenty of alcohol. By the time you get to The Curse of the Fly you’ll be drunk enough to thoroughly enjoy it.
This is a knock-out set from Scream Factory. Each film comes with audio commentaries, interviews, trailers, making-of features, and more. It is a feast for the fan. It is also a mixture of new extras and ones ported from other releases, but there is enough new here to make any double-dipping worthwhile. It comes in a nicely constructed and very cool looking box which will now look really good next to my other Blu-ray boxes.
Not every film in The Fly franchise is really good, but the original and the Cronenberg remake are true classics, and the sequels are mostly enjoyable watches if not actually great movies. This boxed set is packed with great stuff making it a must-own for fans.