CURSE OF THE FLY
1965/Director: Don Sharp/Writer: Harry Spalding
Cast: Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray, Yvette Rees, Burt Kwouk
This is one of my all time favorite horror films and one I think I only saw once in my life until the recent Fox DVD collection of the films was released. The movie was never released on VHS as I understand and it made sporadic showing in an edited version on late night creature feature shows in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I caught it one night during this time period on Project Terror (which was almost the name of this blog originally, and that had nothing to do with the Robert Rodriguez Planet Terror film) in San Antonio Texas and the film stuck in my memory all my life. I am going to try and argue that it is the best of the three films as the original The Fly, with Vincent Price as a good guy, is simply a horror/sci-fi classic, despite a somewhat goofy final few seconds. The second film, Return of the Fly, was not as tight as the first one but is still a great film and inspired one of my favorite songs by Misfits with Glenn Danzig. As a slight detour, technically Danzig’s band is called Misfits and lacks the definite article, while the latter version of the band, which I never cared for, was known as The Misfits. But what the hell has this to do with Curse of the Fly? Not The Curse of the Fly by the way.
Six years passed between the making of Return of the Fly and 1965’s Curse of the Fly. Only one year has separated Return from the original The Fly, though in the story line fifteen years have elapsed in the lives of the Delambre family. In the first two films the Delambre scientists, first father and then son, have the nearly astronomical improbability of suffering the exact same fate; trying to teleport –the term is not actually used until the 3rd film- from one teleportation chamber to another and having a pesky house fly take the journey with them. And not only that they both wind up with a fly head and one fly hand. As I said the first two Fly films are great movies and worth watching despite some logical inconsistencies and a sort of silly looking monster fly head. So what would sometime Hammer Director Don Sharp (Rocket to the Moon, Psychomania) and writer Harry Spaldin (1964’s Witchcraft) come up with to try and make Curse of the Fly not just another ‘guy with a fly helmet’ sci-fi flick? The first thing you do is start the film off three or four generations into the future. Right. Not just fifteen years, but about four generations so that the current story is as far removed from the original as possible. In fact this makes the story a bit implausible really since the action would be taking place in like the year 2025 or something, and according to old movie tautologies the world have been controlled by the United Nations and everyone would been wearing florescent skin tight clothes with little emblems on the chest since about 1988 or so. But that is no big deal and you soon give up trying to figure out exactly what the relationship of the characters in Cures are to the ones in the previous two films or go insane trying. The next thing you do to make sure that the film you are making is not a simple retread of previous material is you have a a really sexy woman jump through the window of an insane asylum in her underwear and run around in her underwear through the opening credits and then some of the film. In fact you don’t really get tired of watching this gal (played by Carol Gray from Hammer’s The Brides of Fu Manchu and Island of Terror.)
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I welcome the new take on The Fly concept that Curse undertakes and have no problem at all with the absence of some sort of human/insect monster. While David Cronenberg’s exceptional retelling of The Fly concluded with a huge, monstrous “Brudle Fly” emerging from the telepod device most of the film was similar in some ways to Curse of the Fly where deformity and mutation on at a genetic level was the true horror. In Curse of the Fly we are introduced to the lovely and yet disturbed Patricia Stanley (Gray) who has just escaped from an insane asylum near Montreal and is picked up by Martin Delambre (George Baker) who is going into the city to pick up equipment for still further research into teleportation. Like the past Delambres he and his father have developed the technology to the point where you can teleport inanimate objects but not living tissue successfully. In my opinion this would already be a scientific achievement of vast importance but they will not present their experiments to the world until they can teleport human beings who do not come back covered in hideous scar tissue and radiation burns. That would be a draw back. While events in Patricia’s past have left her troubled and in need of professional care Martin himself has dark secrets he would like to leave undisclosed, such as the fact he is suffering from a genetic mutation that causes him to age at the rate of a fly’s lifespan until he shoots himself up with some mysterious drug. With all these secrets left buried the two get married after a week of courtship with the promise to let the past be the past. Well, even without stays in mental institutions and mutated DNA marriages are difficult and after Martin and Patricia return to the family home their fragile vows are put the test from the start. The Delambre estate is gothic and eerie and just the right place for someone recovering from a severe mental breakdown to lay back and relax. Even more creepy are the Chinese servants named Tai and Wan (get it… Taiwan?) played by Burt Kwouk –the manservant from the Pink Panther series- and Yvette Rees respectively. At least Kwouk is actually Asian while the totally western Rees looks a bit disturbing with her fakey rubber eye lids and attempts at acting ‘oriental’. But that is the way things were done back then –right or wrong in the big picture- so don’t all politically correct and let this glitch ruin the film for you. Half the fun of these old films is seeing all the weird stereotypes of races and women, and to honest white middle class males, that would get a filmmaker run out of Hollywood these days.
Soon Patricia begins to enter into the strange world of Martin and his father Henri Delambre (played by Brian Donlevy of the Hammer Quatermass films) and both men have no ethics about making the shaken Patricia think she is having nothing but nightmares and that she is not seeing the deformed people at the piano or in the old stables in the back of the mansion. In the basement area of the house is a laboratory where teleportation experiments have been going on between the Delambre location in Canada and its twin base in Britain (where the film was shot at Shepperton Studios.) There Henri’s other more ethically ambivalent son is manning things and he has had about enough of the whole affair. Eventually of course Patricia comes to realize that she is not hallucinating and the deformed creatures she keeps seeing are real and things begin to fall apart for the Delambres piece by piece. Complicating matters further is a nosey detective named Ronet who is investigating Patricia’s disappearance form the asylum and then the reappearance of the Vincent Price detective character Charas from the first films who is now old and blind in a hospital. I would say very old and very blind since the film is supposed to about four generations in the future but no need to let that little bit of logical incontinuity ruin the film. This is a Uranium Café film and so these are issues not to detract the viewer but to attract them. The film is not, in my opinion, cheezy at all and is a real horror movie dealing with something more terrifying than bug headed monsters and that is deformed and scar covered human beings. Those images almost disturbed me a kid and while they did not bother me as much this time around it was still unsettling to see the deformed woman at the piano turn and face the light. Simply one of the creepiest scenes in a horror movie ever.
The film sustains an eerie atmosphere from start to finish thanks to the nice b/w photography and the interiors of the Delambre manor. The acting is not shabby and Don Sharp’s well paced directions moves the film along at a pace that never gets too boring despite the typical dialog over action approach of the period. By dealing with themes like genetic mutations and radiation burns and scar tissue the film creates a sense of real horror that the earlier films were not able to with their emphasis on, basically, giant insects. And there is nothing wrong with giant insects mind you. But I am thankful they did not try to make one more guy with a fly head flick and if they had it would surely have been a total cheese-fest. As stated earlier the film was never even released on VHS and is much less well known than its two previous predecessors. Some people take to mean that the film was no good and so Fox decided to bury it away out of some sort of shame or embarrassment. I am not sure what the reasons were for the film not being released until only recently but it had not to do with the fact it was a bad movie. A reviewer online referred to the film as the “ugly stepchild” of the original Fly films and may sum it up. And many people –perhaps, like myself, who felt the dark and claustrophobic Day of the Dead was the most entertaining of the original George Romero zombie trilogy- feel Curse of the Fly is the most serious and horrifying of the Fly trilogy.