DECEMBER 2, 2009
As a young man, I had no qualms about seeing a remake before I saw the original (if I was even aware of such things when I was 7 goddamn years old), but that’s no excuse for it taking me this long to finally see the original The Fly. Since I both love Cronenberg’s remake and Vincent Price, you’d think I would have gotten around to it quicker (I also watch a horror movie a day, for the love of Mike).
Oh well, no matter; I finally saw it, and it is good. I was pretty surprised how good it was, and it works both as a cheesy 50s monster movie as well as one of the rare films of the era that stepped outside of the mold. For starters, it starts at the end, and stays there for a half hour (even Titanic got to the Leo stuff sooner I think), with the scientist already dead and his wife (Patricia Owens) obviously responsible. She’s also apparently crazy, admonishing a nurse for trying to kill a fly and offering a police officer some coffee after admitting to killing a man (even dumber, the dude accepts!). Finally, we flash back to what all this is about. The only issue with this setup is related to time and legacy - we know perfectly well what happened, due to years of parodies and references, which makes this possibly the only movie where one could consider the beginning of the film to be more of a surprise than the ending.
There are also a number of interesting choices made on the part of the filmmakers. For example, during the scene where the wife follows her fly-husband’s wishes and puts him in a hydraulic press, there is no music and hardly any sound. So many movies of the era have that bom-Bom-BOMMMMMM music playing over every single action moment, it was completely refreshing to see one played subtle for once. And even though he is Vincent Price, no one ever really suspects him of any wrongdoing (the cop suggests it and dismisses it practically in the same sentence, so that doesn't count), which is nice. A more common approach would find him under suspicion and leave it up to the grieving widow to clear his name, but seeing it the other way around was, again, refreshing.
But there’s also a great deal of humor, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not. The guy teleports his cat, and the poor thing disappears into the ether. Later, when his wife asks him where she is, he replies, quite casually, “Into space... a stream of cat atoms....”. I was also tickled by Price telling the cop that the wife is no more of a murderer than he was, “You killed a fly with a human head; she killed a human with a fly head!”
One thing that I am sure is NOT intentional is how lazy the science was. In the remake, Cronenberg put enough thought into it to make it so Goldblum was naked when he went through. But Fly-man goes through fully clothed and with a towel over his head to boot. With mixed up atoms being the entire problem, you’d think he’d worry about coming out being fused to a towel and his slacks, but I guess the machine was smart enough to distinguish clothes from people (but not flies). Also Fly-man has the brain and the body, yet his head on the fly is somehow able to scream “Help me!”. Now, I don’t really care about the silliness of such things, but like I said, the rest of the movie was made with surprising care, so it draws a little attention to itself.
I also noticed that it’s a movie that likes to reveal things instead of simply show them. Like I said, the first half hour is supposed to be some giant mystery as to why a woman would put her husband in a hydraulic press and why she would be obsessed with flies, things that the film reveals to us later. And then we never actually see him go through with the fly, he just suddenly becomes withdrawn and won’t talk to anyone in the house. Even when he finally lets his wife into the lab, we see about 3-4 scenes before the reveal of his awesome fly-head (he accidentally shows his fly-arm a bit earlier). And then near the end, we even hear the “HELP MEEEE” in a scene without any explanation, only to have it revealed a few scenes later. If this was 1958, I would be watching this entire movie going “Huh? Huh? Ohhhhh.....” over and over.
I was also surprised that the Fly-man never freaked out and killed someone. Apart from him and that poor cat, the movie is body count free, which is pretty rare. Hell, is this even a horror movie? Shit. Let me wrap this up and watch something else!
What say you?