By Nicholas Barham
The Fly (1958) blends classic science-fiction and monster horror to create a truly timeless masterpiece. Directed by Kurt Neumann and screenplay by James Clavell, The Fly tells the terrifying tale of science gone wrong. Dr André Delambre (played by David Hedison) creates a teleportation device, only to emerge from the infernal machine as a grotesque human-fly hybrid.
Mysterious beginnings: murder, madness, or something worse…
This movie was gripping from the very beginning. It begins with the discovery of the body of Dr André, apparently crushed to death beneath a hydraulic press by his wife Hélène Delambre (played by Patricia Owens). The wife admits to killing the husband but denies being a murderer. Dr André’s brother, François Delambre (played by Vincent Price), is distraught at the whole situation and believes Hélène to be insane. Hélène’s odd behaviour seems to confirm this hypothesis, as she has a strange obsession with flies, and is attempting to find a particular fly with a white head.
Everyone loves a good mystery, and I myself am no exception to this rule. The strange beginnings of The Fly really built the suspense and kept me engaged with the story as the mystery surrounding Dr André’s demise was slowly uncovered in the form of a long flashback.
Meet the Cast
David Hedison brings to life the character of Dr André, a devoted scientist obsessed with his work. But his performance really shines once the doctor is transformed into The Fly. His performance wordless, yet the body language and movement of the character perfectly captures the internal battle raging between the man and The Fly.
Patricia Owens does a tremendous job at portraying Hélène, the character’s fear and sadness at her husband’s predicament shines through the performance. But my praise does come with the caveat of a small criticism, as the character of Hélène does fall prey to typical gender stereotypes of the time: that of the fragile woman who is somewhat overly emotional at times. At one point Hélène even faints of shock. But this is a film from the late 50s, so while that aspect of Hélène’s character is unfortunate, it is forgivable.
Vincent Price, an icon of early horror cinema, is one of my favourite actors of this period. His performance in the classic, House on Haunted Hill (1959), was particularly memorable; his signature voice and acting style brought to life the villainous aspects of the character Frederick Loren. In The Fly, he plays a more reserved and less nefarious role: that of the devoted brother of Dr André, François Delambre. The character’s devotion and care for both his late brother and his sister-in-law are exemplified by his fervent search for the truth behind the mystery. Vincent Price successfully gives birth to yet another iconic role, transforming The Fly into a major title in his horror legacy.
The supporting actors each bring a vital element to the film which helps to establish the lively world of The Fly, and brings to life this classic story of man meddling with nature.
Horror and dread in the 50s
Being an older film, The Fly has to elicit suspense and a sense of dread primarily from the script, and means other than fancy CGI or other special effects. Thankfully The Fly creates this sense of impending dread with subtle “omens” early in the film. For example: Dr André places a saucer into the transporter in an earlier attempt at transportation. The saucer says “Made in Japan” on the bottom, but upon transportation the words become mirrored. Another example is the botched transportation of a cat, which fails to appear at the other teleportation booth, and can instead be heard meowing in the distance like some ethereal figure. Dr André explains that the cat’s atoms were scattered and failed to reform at the other end. All of these alarming issues hint to the viewer that the device is not as perfect as it seems.
The Fly revealed
The revelation of The Fly is done masterfully, and although it may look silly to see a man in a fly mask with a furry left fly hand, the added sense of horror comes from the masterful acting of David Hedison himself. The Fly’s head moves in an unsettling bug-like manner, making it clear that poor Dr André is trying to fight with the insectile half of his new mutated body, his human hand literally trying to clamp down on his fly hand.
The unsettling nature of the situation is mostly channeled through insinuation and the imagination of the viewers themselves, as Dr André implies that his very mind is facing an internal battle between his fly-half and his human-half.
I will not spoil the end for you, but suffice to say the implications given at the penultimate ending of the film add yet another layer of terror to this tragic tale.
The Fly is truly a classic, perhaps only surpassed by the 80s remake starring Jeff Goldblum. This classic film is a necessary addition to the collection of any fan of horror and classic sci-fi. So, what are you waiting for, stop reading this article and go out and pick up a copy of this film, you will not regret it!