Both film adaptations mimic the same narrative theme: "A simple cautionary tale, a scientist delves into that which man should not know and suffers the consequence." -Nathan Kamal, Spectrum Culture
The Fly (1958)
The Fly (1958) is a scientific-horror film produced and directed by Kurt Neumann. The gothic film features David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, and Herbert Marshall. The screenplay and story were based on a short story written in 1957 called The Fly, by George Langelaan.
The film depicts a rather disturbing and gross story of a seemingly sane scientist who is accidentally transformed into a horrendous mutation due to a mishap involving a common housefly. The science in 'science fiction' comes from the way the directors added scientific experimenting and biological disintegration of both entities in the molecular transporter invented by aforementioned scientist. Sounds technical, right? Well, although the story seems very unique, original, and revolutionary, the directors can pay credit to Mary Shelley, author of, you guessed it, the world renowned, Frankenstein. Mary Shelley practically invented Sci-Fi horror with Frankenstein in 1818.
Frankenstein not only inspired various adaptations of its own story but more and more scientific horror stories involving the curiosity of man to literally bring out the worst in himself. Everybody has heard of the popular monstrous anomaly that is the monster of Dr. Frankenstein. The Fly and the mutational monster featured in the 1958 film are also inspirations of Shelley's 1818 story along with the 1957 short story by George Langelaan.
" Frankenstein, more than most literary sources, lends itself to an incredibly wide range of adaptations, and audiences never seem to tire of the Frankenstein saga." -Lynette Porter, Pop Matters.
To provide insight on the time of the film, the film was released shortly after political tensions across the world arose, such as the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima. Many had feared the radioactive side-effects and other feared science and its dangers in general. Hollywood took the opportunity to prey of viewers fear of the beastly world of science and presented it in a horror fiction light. The film showed improper mutation and a teleportation machine in which light rays could have a radioactive decay effect if the viewers did not cover their eyes. There was a lot of anxiety and fear over the nuclear warfare incident, and this film and its subtle additives preyed on that curiosity and ignorance. Although the filming can make a movie have a certain thrill, the time in which is what released and in what dynamics the film is brought to the audience, definitely plays a factor in the movies success. Film art encompasses all components in its attempt to resonate and divulge into the viewers feelings and thoughts.
In the era of black and white films, to audiences surprise, Neumann's film was developed and delivered in beautiful colored tones. The film portrayed different types of color selections, pastels and neutrals along with a significant neon palette on the actual teleportation machine. The cinematography delivered a chiling gothic vibe.
"And the gorgeous cinemascope DeLuxe colour, make it eminently re-watchable six decades later…"-Kim Vertue, Frame Rated
A very interesting and remarkable use of camera was in the rare instances where we see the Fly-Human hybrid's point of view. When Delambre, played by Al Hedison, sees his wife screaming after the failed attempt to undo the metamorphosis, with this angle and the effects, the audience can see what Delambre sees when he is a house fly. This was a small yet magnificent addition to infusing thrill in the film.
While mentioning the remarkable filming techniques in this film, we can not over-look the very popular ending scene. There is a scene towards the end that most film nerds probably would not forget, and that is when Andre Delambre, in his fly form, is stuck on a spiders web and being approached by the spider as it nears to eat Delambre. This is when Francois and Inspector Charas are called by Phillipe after he sees the fly with weird white markings. What makes this scene art is the special effects used. In an age with newly developed effects, this scene does a great job in scaring the audience with what seems like a large spider nearing the viewer. This scene was remembered as the famous "Help me! Please! Help me" scene.
The Fly (1958) is a traditional sci-fi horror film. The opening scene shows body covered in blood on a hydraulic press and a Helene, played by Patricia Owens, running away from the seemingly crime scene. She rushes to call her brother-in-law, Francois, played by Vincent Price, to tell him she’s murdered her husband, Andre. Francois becomes shocked and confused and informs Inspector Charas about what happened, he thinks she must be insane. We see several uses of flashbacks, to illusion the audience into wonderment. As viewers, we are shown the death of Andre Delambre, but the rest is just Helene depicting from her memory of what has happened. From Helene's recap, we are able to sympathize with her and her husband's curiosity.
As Helene continues her story, it becomes very clear that they all had a very loving and happy relationship as a family. Andre's only mistake was his determination to help people in need with a new teleportation device. He spent weeks in his laboratory trying to find the most effective way to make sure his machine works successfully. There even is an eerie attempt in which he tries ro teleport his pet cat, but the remains of the cat are unknown but there is just a daunting sound of the cat around the house, to which Andre tells Helene that the cat's atoms have been disintegrated through the laboratory and in space, she is horrified at this point. He then tries another animal and the animal comes through perfectly intact, unlike Dandelo the cat. He then successfully transports himself, but unknown to him, a house fly is trapped in the machine with him...leading to his ultimate doom. This mutation was horrific and caused a lot of unsettlement.
Andre and Helene tried to find the fly with the white head, or Andre's former head, so he can try to reverse his failed attempt, but to no avail. He knows what he must do now, destroy everything in his laboratory and hard worked on notes, to prevent anyone from recreating what he made. Andre regrets his decision and acknowledges that Helene was wrong when she explained her concerns to him about technology and how everything is moving too fast. He sees that he is mutating very quickly and decides that he wants to kill himself with the hydraulic press. Inspector Charas does not believe her as the story sounds fabricated, so he proceeds to arrest Helene, but then Phillipe finds the remaining half of his father caught on a spider's trap. Inspector Charas kills the spider and fly with a rock, which then ties together Helene's story. Helene is not arrested for murder and Andre’s death is seen as a suicide.
"The Fly is a classic sci-fi B Movie about the hubris of a brilliant scientist, with psychological chills akin to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and themes that echo William Blake’s “The Fly”." -Kim Vertue, Frame Rated.
This film was more closely faithful to the original adaptation than the 1986 film. The films original adaptation as mentioned before was from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, as that was the classical introduction to scientific horror and the wrongs that come about when you try to "play God". There was also a short story published in 1957 by George Langelaan that heavily inspired the film.
“Victor Frankenstein breaks the last taboo by daring to play god and create life, harnessing electricity to reanimate an an eight-foot monster made from the stitched-together parts of stolen corpses, which then goes on a terrible rampage” (Barnett 2018)
The thorough adaptation of an original story does not add to the unoriginality of a film. Contrary to popular belief, adapting a story does not necessarily imply that Hollywood or writers have come short of ideas, rather this is done to appreciate the art of adaptation and the art of film, which can be heavily appreciated since film is different than literature. I appreciated the attempts by screenplay artists and the director of The Fly (1958) for their attempts in creating a cinematic gothic masterpiece.
The Fly (1986)
In 1986, David Cronenberg directed and co-wrote the second film adaptation of The Fly. The 1986 version was loosely adapted from George Langelaan's 1957 short story with the same name. This film was also an American science-fiction horror film.
The film stars Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and John Gertz. The film, similar to the 1958 version of the is based on an eccentric scientist who learns the wrong consequences of his actions. The film also features a mutated created after the accidental experimental havoc in which the scientist turns into a hybrid human-fly, or the Brundlefly. The film was well received when it was released in 1986, with critics especially praising the special effects and Goldblum's performance. It made about sixty million dollars at the box office against its nine-million-dollar budget, becoming the largest commercial success of Cronenberg's directing career.
The background of this film was in an era of another fear, like the post-war 1958 remake of The Fly. There was a lot fear and assumption that the disease that the had in scientist in 1986 film was a metaphor or comparison to AIDS. This acted as an attraction and stage to place the fear in the hearts of audience. AIDS was on everybody's mind in the 1980's and film regarding an unknown disease was a great added horror to the film. The filmmakers added a lot to incorporate emotions and fear to play their film art.
The film was also loosely connected to the novella by Franz Kafka called 'The Metamorphosis'. Cronenberg's work revolved around making unnatural concepts natural. Cronenberg's most obvious of this theme was the 1986 remake of The Fly, in which the scientist, Seth Bundle, played by Jeff Goldblum loses his humanity both spiritually and physically after accidentally infusing himself with a housefly. To cite the character, “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake.” The comparison to Kafka's novel was pertinent.
The filming of The Fly (1986) was done very well. The director uses creative angles and suspenseful shots to incorporate the fear element. The posters of the film, too, added to the great horror and attraction.
The staging and costume design for Goldberg's character played perhaps the biggest role in the horror theme. Being scene as a life sized fly was absolutely horrific, but to see the transition into it was equally eerie. The filming was filled with more gore and gross details to disgust the audience completely. For example, in the 1958 film there was teleportation of an animate object, the cat, but the cat was disappeared in thin air and the sounds of the cat were heard...but, in the 1986 film, the scientist sends a baboon through the machine but the baboon shows gore and is turned inside out. This was a modern touch added to increase the audiences tolerance of fear. With progression, film art required more detail and thrill to have the same effect that an older cinematic piece would have. The film shows gross vomit, nail picking, and disgusting bodily fluids in order to show and depict a truly gross transition into something horrendous.
Seth Brundle is a brilliant scientist. His love interest is Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife, played by Geena Davis who is a science journalist. They meet at an event and afterwards he takes her back to his lab and shows her his new invention, which is a set of "telepods". Seth convinces Ronnie to keep the machine a secret in exchange special rights to the story, and she begins to record his process. The telepods can transport inanimate objects, but from their unfortunate experience they learn that the experimentation is unsuccessful with living beings. Like when they send a baboon through the machine and its turned inside out.
Seth and Ronnie begin a liking each other and develop a romantic relationship. Their first sexual moment inspires Seth to fix the bugs in the machine, he is then able to send an animal through the machine. Ronnie is not there when he wanted to celebrate and she is meeting her former lover, so Seth gets jealous, but she really is just meeting him to clarify a threat. Seth is drunk and driven by jealousy, so he teleports himself alone, unaware that a housefly has slipped into the machine, and after the procedure he seems fine.
Seth soon starts to get a lot stronger and efficient, sexually too. He thinks this is because the machine purifies his body. Ronnie is concerned, but Seth is dismissive of her concerns and asks her to undergo the transportation too. He goes to a bar and arm wrestles a man, leaving the man ina. wounded injury. He meets a woman at the bar and brings her back to his lab for sex. Seth's fingernails start falling off and now he realizes that something went wrong. He learns that he has mutated with a fly at a genetic level.
Seth begins to deteriorate and look less and less human. He is not branded as “Brundlefly". He is able to climb the walls and ceilings now. He starts to lose his human reason and compassion and is slowly becoming primitive. Ronnie learns that she is pregnant by Seth, and has a nightmare of giving birth to a huge maggot. Seth hears that Ronnie plans to have an abortion so he abducts her from a clinic before the abortion can take place. He begs her to give birth to the baby since it may be his last hope at humanity. Ronnies former lover, Stathis, comes to the lab with a gun, but Seth dissolves his arms.
Seth tells Ronnie about his weird plan of how he wants to merge him, his baby, and Ronnie all together so they can be the "the ultimate family". Stathis tries to help Ronnie by destroying the process. Ronnie then shoots and kills Brundlefly.
The film was a weaker adaptation of the 1957 short-story by George Langelaan, it also adapts some parts from the previous cinematic adaptation, the 1958 film. One of the major differences in Cronenberg's film was that in this film, Veronica and Seth are not a married couple, rather fall in their romantic relationship in the movie. They are new lovers and their love story ends when Seth dies.
"He felt his vision would be better served by a story about newfound seduction and romance, with all the interlocking changes and terrors that would bring to a sexually immature man’s life." -Travis Woods, on Cinephilia and Beyond.
The film differed from the 1986 version in that, there was only one mutated entity in the 1986 film, in the 1958 film, the scientist is split into two, a tiny fly with a human head and a human with a fly head. Cronenberg uses heavy prosthetics to get Goldblum into a full fly-like mutation. The Fly (1986) is an adaptation of the former film with even the same title but instead directed by David Cronenberg. Much like the 1958 version, the storyline is similar but Cronenberg rewrites some of the details to make it more passionate, engrossing, and horrific. There is even a new character in the love story in 1986, to add to the reason why Goldblum's character acts impulsively in that he volunteers himself as the first human experiment, to prove to his love interest that he would be successful. The added character of Stathis Boran, played by John Gertz, added a bit of a jealousy angle and some tension between the male characters.
Gertzs' character is defined as sexually insecure and insecure of his masculinity.
"A sexually jealous and insecure stranger with a toxic mélange of simmering male anxieties—who is now thrashing about in the mindless throes of ego-death. Veronica’s choice to leave Stathis, to find happiness and love with a younger, more brilliant man, has robbed him of his ability to define himself with anything other than his own masculine insecurities and presumed sexual failings, and he emotionally disintegrates before her eyes." -Travis Woods, on Cinephilia and Beyond.
The Fly (1986) remains to be Cronenberg's cinematic masterpiece, the additions, edits, and filming made it a classic chilling piece of art. Every remake is a work of art in its own.