DVD review: “The Fly – Ultimate Collection” (1958 – 1989)

“The Fly – Ultimate Collection” (1958 – 1989)

Horror/Science Fiction

One of my favorite series of films was introduced to me by television, specifically the old ‘Sunday Night Horrors’ time slot on TV2, where the original “The Fly” (1958) aired regularly. It was not until I was older that I finally watch the two sequels that were made to cash in on the heady days of cold war science fiction films. Its extremely difficult not to like the first two movies, they both feature the legendary Vincent Price who was so cool and charming that he effectively stole both films from the horror they contained. The third film which was produced after a delay was made as an exercise in the genre, but ultimately did not amount to much of a success and was shown as part of a creature feature double bill in the US.

Then in 1986 David Cronenberg reinvented the series with the groundbreaking modern re-make of “The Fly” (1986), which was produced by legendary comedian Mel Brooks. This used cutting edge make up effects to make it one of the more shocking horrors of its day. Chris Walas who was a well-known creature effects artist awarded an Oscar for make up and creature effects. In fact, Walas came back three years later to direct the follow up, the underwhelming “The Fly II” (1989, which ostensibly killed the franchise at the time.

Now comes a box set of all five films collected on eight discs, and I must say it is worth the purchase, in effect all five films have repeat watchability.

“The Fly” (1958)


Written by: James Clavel

Directed by: Kurt Neumann

Featuring:  David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall

Andre Delambre: [about the cat killed by the transporter] “She disintegrated perfectly, but never reappeared.” 

Helene Delambre:Where’s she gone?”

Andre Delambre:Into space… a stream of cat atoms…” [sighs]

Andre Delambre:It’d be funny if life weren’t so sacred.”

Scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) is found dead with his head and arm crushed in a hydraulic press. Although his wife Helene (Patricia Owens) confesses to the crime, she refuses to provide a motive, and begins acting strangely. In particular, she is obsessed with flies, including a supposedly white-headed fly. Andre’s brother, Francois (Vincent Price), lies and says he caught the white-headed fly; and, thinking he knows the truth, Helene explains the circumstances surrounding Andre’s death.

In flashback, Andre has been working on a matter transporter device called the disintegrator-integrator. He initially tests it only on small inanimate objects, but he eventually proceeds to living creatures, including the family’s pet cat (which fails to reintegrate, but can be heard meowing somewhere), a guinea pig, and a newspaper. After he is satisfied that these tests are succeeding, he builds a man-sized pair of chambers. One day, Helene, worried because Andre has not come up from the basement lab for a couple of days, goes down to find Andre with a black cloth over his head and a strange deformity on his left hand. Communicating with typed notes only, Andre tells Helene that he tried to transport himself but that a fly was caught in the chamber with him, which resulted in the mixing of their atoms.

This first film plays like a melodrama spliced with a thriller as well as a touch of cold war paranoia and sci-fi that balances its elements expertly. The film has an interesting plot which of course is the horror/science-fiction aspect, however the narrative is structured in almost complete flashback which is a novelty and it also feeds into the feeling of the unknown as well as creating a kind of tension that stays with the viewer even as the closing credits roll.

Great care was taken by the director Kurt Neumann who had to make us believe in a kind of science but not reducing the story to a B movie that it easily could have been – like its later sequels. Interestingly Neumann was a German emigre to the US, he became famous for directing many B movies as well science fiction films, this however would seem to be his most famous and most successful film.

“Return Of The Fly” (1959)


Written & Directed by: Edward Bernds

Featuring: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, Danielle De Metz, John Sutton, Dan Seymour and Jack Daly

Francois Delambre: [voice over] “Here passes from this earth Helene Delambre, widow of my brother, Andre, whom I loved deeply, hopelessly. She was destroyed in the end by dreadful memories, a recollection of horrors that did not dim as the years went on, but instead grew monstrously, and left her mind shocked and unsteady, so that death, when it came, was a blessed release.”

Now an adult, Phillipe Delambre (Brett Halsey) is determined to vindicate his father by successfully completing the experiment he had worked on. His Uncle Francois (Vincent Price) refuses to help. Phillipe hires Alan Hines from Delambre Frere and uses his own finances, but the funds run out before the equipment is complete. When Phillipe threatens to sell his half of Delambre Frere, Francois relents and funds the completion. After some adjustments, they use the transporter to “store” and later re-materialize test animals.

This sequel attempted to maintain the horror/science fiction from the first film, but also introduced a spy element no doubt to expand the story as well as painting corporations as evil and out to make profits at any cost – something that remains today and there are hints of this in the remakes of the 1980s.

Vincent Price makes a welcome return as Uncle Francois the level headed patriarch who can see the downfall of anyone that toys with his late brothers invention – he seems to be the only one who learnt a lesson from the first film. Why will people not listen to him. As with most movies Vincent Price appeared in he steals the show and its an entirely better film when he is on screen.

This film is a step down in quality from the original, without the fantastic David Hedison, the protagonist from the original this one lacks an actor of real quality to show the driven scientist who will stop at nothing to prove himself to the world.

This is defiantly worth watching as well as being integral to the legacy of this series.

“Curse Of The Fly”(1965)


Written by: Harry Spalding

Directed by: Don Sharp

Featuring:   Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray, Burt Kwouk, Yvette Rees, Michael Graham, Mary Manson, Charles Carson, Jeremy Wilkins and Rachel Kempson

At the end of the closing credits: “Is this the end?”

Martin Delambre (Baker) is driving to Montreal one night when he sees a young girl by the name of Patricia Stanley (Gray) running in her underwear. They fall in love and are soon married. However, they both hold secrets: she has recently escaped from a mental asylum; he and his father Henri (Donlevy) are engaged in radical experiments in teleportation, and they have already had horrific consequences. Martin also suffers recessive fly genes which cause him to age rapidly and he needs a serum to keep him young.

The aptly named “Curse of the Fly” (1965) deals with all the shenanigans of the first two films while at the same time re-booting the franchise a little. This film may seem confusing to some who have just watch the first two as the timings and ages of the characters seem a little “off”, but if you go with it you will enjoy a nice short B film which was part of a double bill in the US in 1965.

“The Fly – 20th Anniversary Special Edition” (1986)


Written & Directed by:  David Cronenberg

Featuring:  Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz

Ronnie: I don’t know what you’re trying to say. 

Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake. 

Ronnie: No. no, Seth… 

Seth Brundle: I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.

Seth Brundle, a brilliant yet eccentric scientist, meets Veronica Quaife, a science journalist, at a press event. He takes her back to his warehouse that serves both as his home and laboratory and shows her his invention: a set of “Telepods” that allows instantaneous teleportation from one pod to another. Brundle convinces Veronica to keep the invention a secret in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, and she begins to document his work. Although the telepods can transport inanimate objects, they mutilate living flesh, as is demonstrated when a baboon is turned inside-out during an experiment.

Seth and Veronica soon begin a relationship. Their first sexual encounter inspires Brundle to reprogram the Telepod computer to cope with living flesh, and he successfully teleports a second baboon with no apparent harm. Veronica departs before they can celebrate, and Seth worries that she is rekindling her romantic relationship with her editor, Stathis Borans; in reality, Veronica has left to confront Stathis about a veiled threat, spurred by his jealousy of Brundle, to publish the Telepod story without her consent. In a fit of drunken jealousy, Brundle decides to teleport himself alone, unaware that a common housefly has slipped inside the transmitter pod with him. After the teleportation, he emerges from the receiving pod, seemingly normal.

The first huge US success for Canadian director David Cronenberg see this update of the classic film given a modern (at the time) makeover with a huge dose of gore as well as the existential questions being asked when a man is merged with a fly at a sub atomic level.

The film offers great performances from the three main actors, Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz, as well as stunning make up effects from the master Chris Walas with an understanding of how this film needed to shock people, from producer Mel Brooks. In fact Chris Wales received an Oscar for his work, the only Cronenberg film to ever receive one.

This is undoubtedly the best film in the series with a director making his move to Hollywood and making one of the biggest hits of that year.

“The Fly II” (1989)


Written by: James Clavel

Directed by: Chris Walas

Featuring:  Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga

Martin Brundle:Something odd is happening to me and I don’t know what it is.”

Several months after the events of The Fly, Veronica Quaife delivers Seth Brundle’s child. After giving birth to a squirming larval sac, she dies from shock. The sac then splits open to reveal a seemingly normal baby boy. The child, named Martin Brundle, is raised by Anton Bartok, who is the owner of the company which financed Brundle’s teleportation experiments and fully aware of the accident which genetically merged Seth Brundle with a housefly. Martin grows up in a clinical environment. His physical and mental maturity is highly accelerated, and he possesses a genius-level intellect, incredible reflexes, and no need for sleep. He knows he is aging faster than a normal human, but is unaware of the true cause, having been told his father died from the same rapid aging disease.

This film, directed by Chris Walas who had received an Oscar for make-up for the first film takes a stab at following up one of the great horror movies of the 1980s, and succeeds somewhat but is let down by budget restraints and miscast actors. Also the fact  that Geena Davis would not return for this sequel speaks volumes for the material that was on offer.

This film is on a par with “The Curse of the Fly” as it offers little in the way of an intimate story with the audience not really identifying with Eric Stoltz in the lead and Daphne Zuniga as a lifeless love interest for him to care about.

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