In early March Australia’s Via Vision Entertainment released their highly anticipated 5-disc Blu-ray set, The Fly: The Ultimate Collection. If you have any of their previous box sets then you know why this was a highly anticipated release. I have a number of them and have loved every one. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone they’ve released has made my yearly best of lists. I know we’re barely in June, but I can tell you right now with 100% certainty that The Fly collection is going to make the cut for my 2017 best of.
The 5-disc set comes in one Blu-ray case that is thicker than normal into order to contain all 5 discs. It’s about the same size as a Criterion or Arrow Blu-ray release. So if you’re someone like me who is always trying to create more shelf space you’ll be pleased to know this barely takes up more room than your average Blu-ray. Each film not only being on Blu-ray, but getting its own disc is a nice touch. Sometimes on sets like these the less popular films get put on a DVD or are sometimes forced to double up on a disc.
The films are 1080p and this is the first time all 5 have been bundled together in high definition. Even better, this set marks the worldwide Blu-ray premieres for both The Fly II and Curse of the Fly. In typical box set fashion, this set is loaded with bonus content. There are multiple documentaries on The Fly, audio commentary, deleted scenes, special effects tests and a whole lot more. Most of the bonus content revolves around the 80’s movies but there are some tidbits here and there on the 3 older films. There’s a lot of special features to take in and digest, the best of which comes from or features Chris Walas, the genius behind the effects work on David Cronenberg’s The Fly and the director of the follow-up, The Fly II.
One documentary I want to specifically call out is The Fly Papers: The Buzz on Hollywood’s Scariest Insect. This doc runs about an hour and has a pretty in-depth discussion on Hollywood’s love affair with insect and then gets into the history on the entire Fly franchise which is a lot of fun. If you were only going to watch one documentary from this set — which would be silly, you should watch them all — but if you were only watching one, this would be the one.
Picture quality is typically what most folks are interested in when it comes to a Blu-ray release and generally speaking I’d say all five of these films look quite good. I’m pretty certain The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly and The Fly (1986) are the same transfers we’ve seen on previous releases. All three of these look good, but The Fly does have a bit of softness to it which results in the loss of some detail. It still looks good, but it’s not superb. The Fly II is the big winner in this set in terms of PQ. It looks phenomenal with plenty of detail and clarity. This is especially pleasing because the effects in The Fly II look outstanding and should be seen in high definition. Of course the same could be said about The Fly, but you have to work with what you have.
Oh, and this set is region free!
Now, onto my general thoughts on all five films…
The Fly — 1958 — Dir. Kurt Neumann
Before getting this box set I actually had not seen any of the original Fly films. Outside of knowing the basic story, thanks to the Cronenberg remake, the only thing I knew about 1958’s The Fly is that it starred Vincent Price. I assumed Price starred as the lead in the Goldblum role, but he does not. Once I came to the realization that Price would not be turning into a fly I settled in to enjoy the film.
The first Fly film is told as a flashback. It opens with the death of scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) who is found with his head and arm crushed in a hydraulic press at his family’s factory. When the police arrive on the scene Andre’s wife, Helene (Patricia Owens), confesses to the murder but fails to provide a motive. Andre’s brother, Francois (Price), seems to be confused by the whole situation. He doesn’t understand why Helene would kill Andre and attempts to get to the bottom of the strange story. Francois becomes aware of Helene’s obsession with flies, specifically a white-headed fly that she’s trying to track down, and begins to piece the story together.
The Fly is a wonderful little movie. It’s sort of a mystery with a sci-fi element, but in this case we, as the audience, know the outcome and details of what happened, but we’re watching Francois and Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) attempt to solve it as they gather new information. Once they reach the conclusion it all seems so unbelievable that they decide the best option is to cover it all up. A scientist turned himself into some sort of man/fly hybrid while working on a transporter? Who would believe that? Easier to write the whole thing off as a suicide and avoid dealing with all that nonsense.
The film was shot in gorgeous color which back in 1958 wasn’t quite the norm yet and certainly wasn’t the norm for low budget horror. It was a choice that really paid off. The scenes of Andre working on his experiment inside his lab are truly a thing of wonder. There are so many gadgets and knobs, everything is blinking or flashing. When the transporter is in action we witness these vivid colors. There’s a visual element present from the use of color that wouldn’t be possible if the film was shot in black and white.
The Fly is terrific. Not sure why it took me so long to get to it, but it’s easier to see why it spawned 4 more movies.
Return of the Fly — 1959 — Dir. Edward Bernds
A year after Kurt Neumann’s The Fly thrilled audiences director Edward Bernds took over directing duties and brought the transporter back with Return of the Fly. Price was the only returning cast member and takes on a bit of a bigger role this time around, though he’s still not the lead, technically speaking.
Despite being released only a year later the story in Return of the Fly looks to pick up at least 10 years after the events of The Fly. Phillipe Delambre (Brett Halsey) was just a young boy when his father Andre died, but now he’s a grown man with his father’s love of science. For years Andre’s death was a mystery to Phillipe, but that all changed once Philip begins to research his father’s work. Soon Phillipe realizes what his father was onto and decides to pick up where he left off!
Having first-hand experience of the horrors that resulted from Andre’s work, Francois refuses to help his nephew. Phillipe isn’t deterred by this and decides to use his own funds to carry out his research, hiring Alan Hinds (David Frankham), an employee at the company Phillipe and Francois own together, to assist him. Phillipe clearly has his father’s genes because he’s able to grasp the work pretty quick and is close to completing it when he runs out of funds.
With nowhere else to turn, Phillipe threatens to sell his half of the company to get the funds to continue his work, but Francois steps in and reluctantly decides to put the money up in order to keep the business in the family. The extra funds provide just the relief Phillipe needs and he’s able to complete the transporter. Things are starting to look up but then it turns out that Alan may not be who he seems and then everything spirals out of control and things end up more worse for Phillipe than they did for his father.
What I love about Return of the Fly is that it actually has what I consider to be a pretty clever script. The first film ended in a fashion that should not have warranted a sequel, or at the very least didn’t really leave the door open for one. This sequel sort of remakes the first film but adds some new wrinkles. In the end Return of the Fly is more of a straightforward B-movie and goes bigger and crazier in the final act.
The biggest bummer with Return of the Fly is that it’s not in color. This is so bizarre given the first film was in color. If they went from black and white to color, I would get it, but the other way around makes zero sense to me. I’m guessing it was budgetary reasons, but the first film made a ton of money on a small budget, so it still doesn’t add up. Whatever the case may be it’s too bad because Return of the Fly utilizes the same sets as the first film. The beautiful, vibrant colors of the first film could have been recreated but weren’t.
Return of the Fly isn’t quite the film The Fly is, but it is a worthy successor.
Curse of the Fly — 1965 — Dir. Don Sharp
The franchise laid dormant for 6 years before returning in 1965 with Curse of the Fly. For this third entry, the franchise switched gears quite a bit. Curse of the Fly was produced in the UK, unlike the first two films, with the wonderfully talented Don Sharp taking over as director. Sharp, of course, was known for his work with Hammer Films and brought that same gothic, moody atmosphere to the film. The third film was also the first not to feature Vincent Price which is a pretty big deal. Despite the jump across the pond and the removal of Price the biggest change to franchise to hit this third film was that there is, in fact, no fly. That’s right, Curse of the Fly does not contain a fly. Which is actually ok because once you watch the movie the title makes perfect sense.
Curse of the Fly basically throws out the second film and changes up some of what we learned in the first film. This go around our scientists are Martin (George Baker) and Henri Delambre (Brian Donlevy), the grandson and son of Andre from the first film. In this iteration of the story, Andre did not commit suicide in the first film and instead his son, Henri, helped reverse the transportation mistake and turned Andre back into a human. Phillipe, who was Andre’s son in the first two films, was apparently replaced altogether by this new son named Henri.
In Curse of the Fly Henri and Martin are carrying on Andre’s work. They’ve made some great strides in the world of teleportation and have come quite close to successfully transporting people across the globe. Despite the terrific process, they’ve made they still can’t quite get it right. People come out the transporter on the other side, but they’re never the same as when they entered. They have the best of intentions but Martin and Henri are creating a world of freaks and keeping them locked up at their home while they continue with their experiments.
Curse of the Fly is a lot of fun. It’s not as good as either of the first two films but it does play with some interesting ideas. In the first two films the issues encountered were the result of DNA cross contamination, but in Curse of the Fly it’s a little more than that. A person can go through the transporter all by themselves and come out with some type of mutation. That adds a whole new layer to the story and creates a brand new problem for our scientists to attempt and resolve. It’s fascinating because you don’t know when a problem will occur.
The biggest set back with Curse of the Fly is the budget, which is clearly less than the first two films. There are some cool ideas with weird mutants that could have benefited from a little more money. It’s too bad because the movie could have been really special, instead of just good.
The Fly — 1986 — Dir. David Cronenberg
We have arrived at the cream of the crop with David Cronenberg’s 1986 take on The Fly. Whenever the topic of remakes arises The Fly is always one of the first ones mentioned and with good reason. Along with The Thing, Cronenberg’s take on this Price classic is one of the best examples of a remake done right. The original film is quite good, I said as much just a few paragraphs up, but Cronengberg elevated that already good film and turned it into something great!
In this version, our scientist is Seth Brundle and he’s played by the one and only Jeff Goldblum. Seth is a bit of an odd egg, but then he is a scientist so that should come as no surprise. At a press event, he meets a journalist named Veronica (Geena Davis) and convinces her to go back to his place for the scoop of a lifetime. The scoop turns out to be an invention he’s been working on in secret — telepods!
Veronica, who goes by Ronnie most of the film, is floored. Here is an invention that can actually teleport matter from one place to another. Ronnie is ready to tell the world, but Seth won’t allow her to, at least not yet. The telepods still have some kinks to be worked out. Instead of having her report on it now, Seth offers her the opportunity to document the rest of his work and go public with it all when he’s done. Ronnie agrees and the work begins!
Over the course of Seth’s experiments, he and Ronnie begin to develop a relationship. This is one of the best onscreen relationships in the history of cinema because the chemistry between Goldblum and Davis is straight fire. There are a number of moments that should be weird and awkward due to Seth’s eccentric behavior but it never feels that way because Goldblum and Davis just click.
After a fight with Ronnie, Seth decides to teleport himself despite not having yet perfected the telepods. It seems to go well but unbeknownst to him a fly gets in the pod with him and well, you know the rest of the story.
While the performances in The Fly are terrific the film is iconic because of the Academy Award winning special effects from Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis. This is the ultimate in body horror and it’s because it features some of the greatest practical effects ever achieved. Brundlefly is one of the most spectacular creature designs of all time and we get to watch it unfold step by step until Brundlefly is a giant, oozing, slimy mess of a creature.
Cronenberg’s The Fly has been frightening audiences for 31 years, with effects that look better than ever, and it’s likely to scare for another 31…and probably a few years beyond that too!
The Fly II — 1989 — Dir. Chris Walas
The Fly II is one of those sequels that shouldn’t work. And yet, it somehow does. For this film, Chris Walas, the man behind the Oscar-winning special effects of Cronenberg’s film, takes over directing duties and he proves he’s more than just a special effects wizard. The Fly II takes place a few months after the first film and opens with Veronica giving birth to Seth Brundle’s baby, except this is no normal baby. Instead of delivering a bouncing baby boy, Veronica delivers a disgusting, oozing larval sac and then ends up dying shortly after. Eventually, the sac bursts open and out falls a pretty normal looking baby boy.
The boy is named Martin (Eric Stoltz) and is raised by Anton Bartok (Lee Richardson), the man who funded Brundle’s experiments. Anton knows Brundle’s DNA was mixed with that of a common housefly and plans to study Martin. He raises Martin in a closed environment with doctors and scientists constantly monitoring him, running different tests. Martin grows up fast. By the time he turns 5 he has the appearance of a 25-year-old. In addition to growing up at a rapid rate, Martin displays a genius-level IQ.
Despite these advanced rates, Martin still has no clue has to who he is or where he came from. Eventually, Anton tries explaining it to him and shows him the tapes of his father running his experiments. Anton asks Martin to try and rebuild the telepods and though hesitant at first, Martin agrees as it will give him a chance to truly understand who he is. As Martin dives further into his father’s experiments he realizes he may end up suffering the same fate.
The Fly II is basically the same plot as The Fly, just presented in a slightly different way. Seth Brundle was trying to change the world by inventing a real working teleporter and things went terribly wrong, whereas Martin Brundle is simply trying to learn where he comes from and what he is. Martin is very much Seth’s son, he has the same drive, the same passion, he’s just using it differently. Martin has no plans of changing the world, he just wants to understand his place in it.
The Fly II isn’t the masterpiece that The Fly is. The ending isn’t nearly as satisfying and it doesn’t have that incredible Goldblum-Davis chemistry. Despite these things The Fly II is a wonderful sequel and one hell of a ride. I, for one, am very happy to finally have it on Blu-ray.
The Fly: The Ultimate Collection is now available on Blu-ray from Via Vision Entertainment.