Review by Michael Jacobson
Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall
Director: Kurt Neumann
Audio: Dolby Digital 4.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Commentary with "David" Al Hedison
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: September 10, 2013
“Surely there must be something we can do to prove…?”
“There is…show me the
I love horror movies, and for me, The Fly has to be considered one of the top ten best ever in the
genre. In some ways, it’s typical
of 1950’s horror: some cheesy
dialogue, pseudo-scientific babblings that talk down to the audience as though
they were all in the third grade, and best of all, an actor in a big rubber fly
head. But at least three aspects
make it rise above the rest and earn prestigious mention amongst horror’s
best: it achieves terrific,
effective moments of suspense in simple ways.
It has a surprisingly strong and realistic emotional core. And finally, it delivers one of cinema’s most memorable
finales in its shocking surprise ending.
The Fly begins
with a grisly death. Respected
scientist Andre Delambre (Hedison) is found with his upper body crushed in a
giant metal press (complete with blood—a rarity for 50’s horror).
His wife, Helene (Owens) is seen running from the site.
She calls Andre’s brother, Francois (Price) for help, who brings along
police inspector Charas (Marshall) to hear her story.
She seems calm—almost relieved. Until,
that is, the simple sound of a buzzing fly begins to unravel her.
In flashback form, she tells the strange, sad tale to the
two men. Andre, it turns out, had
successfully completed experiments in teleportation. Using two booths, and a lot of big, noisy lab equipment that
was obviously more designed to look good than serve practical function (check
out that neon!), he is able to send objects, and later animals, from one space
Things soon go terribly wrong. He shuts himself off in his lab.
When his wife (and us) are finally allowed in, he’s covered himself
with a black cloth and can no longer speak.
Via a typewriter, he explains to Helene that while attempting to
transport himself, a fly had unknowingly entered the chamber.
Their atoms got scrambled in the mix.
His only hope: find the strange looking fly with the white head and try the
This leads to one of the film’s best sequences, where
Helene, her little son and housekeeper all try to corner and collect the fly.
It’s a simple premise that achieves suspense remarkably, particularly
when the little bugger starts to get closer and closer to escape.
I say ONE of the best sequences, but there are more to
come, including Andre’s dramatic revelation.
Sure, it’s just a guy in a big mask, but it’s still effective,
especially with the thousand-eye point of view shot.
Andre is growing less and less able to control the
insect-like instincts that are taking over his mind and body.
He destroys his research, and, with Helene’s help, himself as well,
leaving no trace of his ill-advised experiment.
No trace, that is…except for the fly.
Sure, there are moments that unintentionally inspire
laughter; in particular, the scientific explanations about atom swapping and
such. And there’s one line that
never fails to get a laugh out of me: when
Andre confesses that he was unsuccessful in teleporting the family cat, leaving
her atoms scattered to oblivion, he dryly remarks, “It would almost be funny,
if life weren’t so sacred.” Wow.
But the movie succeeds much more than it falls short.
Vincent Price is a name long associated with classic horror, and as such,
it’s somewhat surprising to see him play a little against type here.
The genre is familiar, but Price’s character is not the catalyst of the
horror, but rather, a helpless bystander. I’m
guessing audiences at the time must have been surprised to learn that Price
wasn’t the fly. Nevertheless, he
proves his versatility by stepping out of the spotlight for this picture, and
playing Francois as a kind, concerned relative trying to make sense of the
strange story enveloping him. But
particularly good is Patricia Owens as Helene, in a role that requires more than
just effective screaming. Her
loyalty and love for Andre as his situation spirals out of control is potent and
emotional, and helps lend heart to an otherwise creepy premise.
And above all else, there’s that ending.
I’ve had the pleasure of showing The
Fly to many first-time viewers over the years, and witnessing their
reactions first hand. All were shocked. Some
even claimed to have nightmares afterwards.
None, I’d wager, have ever forgotten it. Nor will you. Enjoy.
Fox’s high definition transfer is quite, and if you’ve watched The Fly on VHS or TV before like I have, you’ll really appreciate the difference. Colors are brighter and more vivid than any previous version I’ve seen, with no bleeding or distortion. More importantly, images are amazingly sharp and detailed throughout. Even objects in deep focus are clear: when certain shots show bookcases in the background, each book is clearly defined. You can even see the grain in the wood of the walls in Francois’ study. In darker scenes, like Andre’s lab, lights and shadows play against each other beautifully, yet objects in shadow don’t lose any detail. Even the debris on his desk remain crisply rendered. And for a film of its age, the print is remarkably clean, though not completely perfect. There are a few telltale instances of spots and dirt, and some color softness around the edges.
After a quick comparison, I must say I prefer the newly
mixed 4.0 track to the standard surround—the newer mix has greater dynamic
range, and makes impressively bold use of the multiple channel capabilities.
My receiver actually read it as a 5.0 track, showing signals to the front
left, center and rear speakers and two separate signals to the rears, rather
than a singular mono signal (and no signal to the subwoofer).
For starters, the musical score in its more intense moments enjoys a full
front-to-back orchestration. Both
front and rear channels are used extensively for dialogue and movement effects:
note how when a character crosses in front of another while speaking, the
dimensions of the audio seem to shift with him.
Or how simply crossing a room from left to right or front to back subtly
changes the audio. Impressive!
Better still is when Andre fires up his teleportation machine.
It gets quite loud and noisy, thanks to effective use of the rear
channels. Listen, too, for the
sound of the cat when it disappears into space.
Creepy! I noticed a few
minor instances of hiss, particularly when one scene fades out and another fades
in, but I stress VERY minor. Noticeable,
but not distracting. Overall, I
don’t think I’ve heard a multi-channel digital remixed soundtrack for an
older film as boldly created as this one—in other words, REALLY making it a
full surround experience, rather than just timidly hiding a few musical cues in
the rear channels. I liked it!
There is a commentary with star Al Hedison and historian David Del Valle, which is a good listen. There's also the "Biography" episode on Vincent Price, a retrospective featurette, Fox's original Movietone newsreel, and the classic trailer.
The Fly may have flaws, but what's great about it overpowers any temporal weaknesses. It's great to have this true sci-fi classic on Blu-ray!