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THE FLY COLLECTION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Studio:  20th Century Fox
Release Date:  September 11, 2007

THE FLY

Stars:  Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall
Director:  Kurt Neumann
Audio:  Dolby Digital 4.0, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features:  Commentary with "David" Al Hedison
Length:  94 Minutes

“Surely there must be something we can do to prove…?”

“There is…show me the fly.”

Film ***1/2

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 to another. 

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 experiment again.

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.

Video ***1/2

Fox’s anamorphic transfer is stunning, 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, but nowhere near to the extent you might expect.  I noticed no instances of grain or compression throughout.  A thoroughly remarkable job!

Audio ***1/2

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!  

RETURN OF THE FLY

Stars:  Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, John Sutton, Dan Seymour
Director:  Edward Bernds
Audio:  Dolby Stereo, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features:  None
Length:  78 Minutes

Film **

As long as sons are willing to repeat the mistakes of their fathers, sequels are always a possibility in the world of horror.  Unfortunately, I always find it a little suspect when hardly anybody from an original film returns for said sequel.  That’s usually not a good sign, and it happens to be the case in Return of the Fly, whose only personnel link to the first film is Vincent Price.  Here, he gets top billing, but even less of a screen presence than before.

The picture opens with the funeral of Helene, the sister-in-law of Francois (Price) and mother of the now-grown Philippe (Halsey).  Apparently, the horrors that occurred in the first movie, where her husband was hideously transformed by an experiment gone wrong, had haunted her to the end of her days.  Yet Philippe, once he finally learns the truth of his father’s work, becomes determined to pick it up again, against the wishes of his uncle.

He recreates his father’s lab based on his notes (but wait—didn’t his father BURN his notes in the first film?), and even eventually persuades Francois’ financial help and participation.  He is determined he won’t repeat his father’s mistake, but he makes one of his own, when his partner Alan (Frankham) turns out to be a con man and a murderer.  He not only plots to steal the work, but in order to get away, actually duplicates Philippe’s father’s transformation by forcibly sending him through the teleportation machine with a fly.

Soon, the police who are after Alan stumble on the family’s hideous secret.  With the new fly on the loose, and seeking revenge, is there any hope of returning Philippe to normal?  Francois is determined to do so, but his time and luck may be running out.

Overall, this picture is indicative in every way of a substandard sequel.  For starters, the filmmakers opted to go with black and white, though the original was in color.  Of course, black and white can be very effective in horror, but here, there’s very little use of expressionistic shadow play for atmosphere.  The lab, which was a creepy, visual delight in the first film, is bland and uninspiring here, shot in mostly standard stage lighting.  And topping it all off is the fact that this movie can’t offer us any of the surprises of the first, nor does it even attempt to find the emotion that made the original so effective.

Return of the Fly simply doesn’t have the wings.

Video ***

Again, the overall quality of this anamorphic transfer is remarkable.  The black and white photography renders very well, with no instances of grain or image break-up and good, strong clarity throughout.  All objects come across sharp and crisp, and the range of grayscale from bright whites to solid blacks is exemplary.  This print seems a little less clean overall than The Fly, showing a bit more dirt and spots along the way, but again, not distracting, and certainly not a major complaint when considering the age of the film.

Audio **1/2

The main difference between the stereo and mono mixes is in the dynamic range.  In certain dialogue sequences, if you flip back and forth, the mono sounds a little louder, but that’s because all audio is mixed at the same level.  I prefer the stereo track, which gets much louder during the scenes of the machine operations.  However, the mix doesn’t achieve the same sense of spatial relation and dimension as did The Fly.  Dialogue is simply forward and clear, but nothing more.   

THE CURSE OF THE FLY

Stars:  Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray
Director:  Don Sharp
Audio:  Dolby Stereo, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features:  None
Length:  86 Minutes

Film ***

The third time is sometimes the charm, and that's almost the case with The Curse of the Fly.  Better than its immediate predecessor, but not as good as the original, the final film finally closes the book on the Delambre family.

It opens just the way I like a movie:  a beautiful girl clad only in her underwear is escaping from an asylum.  That girl, Patricia (Gray) runs into Martin Delambre (Baker), grandson of Andre.  He helps her out, takes her in, falls in love, and marries her.

But if she was crazy before, she picked the wrong family to marry into.  Martin's father (Donlevy) and he are both trying to complete the doomed teleportation experiments.  This time, they've discovered a way to transport people great distances; from their lab in Quebec all the way to London.  But Martin's father seems to be suffering some burns from the trips.  And Martin himself falls frequently and grotesquely ill.  And what of those strange cages in the yard...what secrets do they hold?

Well, there's actually no fly in this one, but the curse is very real.  Driven by desires that once seemed noble but now seem monstrous, the remaining Delambres seem fated to follow in the same tragic footsteps as those in previous generations.  They work fast, too...three generations of a family in, what, ten years time?

No matter.  This atmospheric production isn't quite as cheesy, though the effects and makeup leave a little something to be desired.  The story and characters are much better this time around, and that makes The Curse of the Fly a fitting send off.

Video ***

After a shaky start where the transfer seemed a little murky and muddy, this anamorphic transfer takes off quite nicely, with solid black and white photography, crisp images, and good detail.  Only a few aging artifacts here and there, but nothing to worry about.

Audio **

Again you have a choice of stereo or mono, with the stereo seeming a little cleaner and less scratchy.  A nice touch this time is the music, which is actually an important part of the story.  Dialogue is clear throughout.  An adequate offering.

Features ****

The extras include a commentary track from star "David" Al Hedison for the first movie, along with film historian David Del Valle. It's a delightful and informative listen, and Mr. Hedison seems just as sharp and funny as ever!

The remaining extras are all on the bonus fourth disc, and they include A&E's terrific Biography special on Vincent Price, plus the featurette "Fly Trap: Catching a Classic".  Each movie gets a trailer and galleries of materials.  Rounding out is a Fox Movietone Newsreel from back in the day, and a collection of 14 classic horror film trailers, plus a booklet of extra

Summary:

The buzz on The Fly Collection (got that one in under the wire, didn’t I?) is a good one.  One of horror’s brightest gems gets the red carpet treatment it deserves in a quality set from our friends at Fox.

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