Believe it or not, I do try to have something of a theme to explore during my Remaketobers, even if I don’t reference them much in the articles themselves. This year the theme I chose to explore was ‘Fidelity to source,’ and all of my choices this year reflected that. Most of the choices this year were slavishly devoted (none more than Psycho), all of them to their detriment, as their devotion to their sources kept them from being more than pale retreads of old material.
But what if, I thought to myself, I chose a film whose connection to its original movie was borderline non-existent. A film who merely used its original as a concept, to jump off into an entirely new story, unconnected in tone, content or even theme? Well when I thought that, I knew exactly what movie I had to choose.
The Fly has a handful of well known scenes and concepts, but I’ve found that outside those scenes, it doesn’t have much cultural traction. I mean, I know people who’ve seen it and know it, but that’s because I hang around with film buffs. It’s very much a movie of its time, a 50s sci-fi film through and through, so if you know much about their cliches and tropes, large chunks of this movie will seem very familiar to you.
However, relegating this movie to the trash bin of generic 50s sci-fi is selling it a bit short. It’s a well made little film, which is probably why its managed to remain the public conscious (the fact that it’s easily recognizable and therefore referenced probably makes up the rest of it). It’s got Vincent Price in it, and while all he does is hang around and eventually get the story told to him, it’s nice to see Vincent Price.
That’s the other thing that makes this movie somewhat unique. When the movie opens, the monster has already arisen and been dealt with, leaving the entire story to be told in flashback. It turns the story from a sci-fi/horror story, to something of a tragic mystery, albeit one where the ending is known from the get go. I wish I could say the mystery was, you know, mysterious, but by the time I actually got around to seeing it for the first time (a few years back) I basically knew the basic beats of the plot through pop culture osmosis. That’s the downside of being 50+ years old.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good version of what it wants to be. It’s well paced, mostly well written (even if the characters are a tiny bit underwritten, in the way that 1950s sci-fi characters tend to be) and it looks great for its age. The fly mask on the scientist is a good effect, and the final scene with the human/fly in the spider web is still genuinely unnerving to me. It might not exactly be a stone cold classic in the way The Day the Earth Stood Still is, but its a a good little movie that deservedly hung around in the public’s mind for years. So it’s no surprise it eventually got a remake.
It feels very odd to be analyzing the original Fly alongside the remake, because despite the same title, they are very different movies. All they really have in common is the basic setup (scientist working on a teleportation chamber accidentally merges with fly) and the same basic ending (the scientist’s love interest is forced to kill him) but everything else in the movie is so different that they’re barely even related. The only line to cross over (the infamous “Help me” line) is emblematic of this, delivered under completely different circumstances and even said completely differently.
That’s not a complaint though, because as good as the original Fly is, the remake blows it out of the water. Part of it is the powerhouse performance from Jeff Goldblum. This is the best performance of his entire career, and he’s incredibly in the part, finding room to make sure that he’s still recognizably the person he was, even as his transformation into Brundle-fly is making him more and more physically unrecognizable.
That’s the other major draw, and the one which alters the story the most; Brundle’s slow change into the fly-creature. The various stages are a stunning creation of makeup and practical effects, from Chris Walas (he did the melting Nazi faces from Raiders of the Lost Ark, something that is abundantly clear when acid starts hitting skin in the third act). And the change is one that effects the story as well, forcing the tragedy of what happened to Brundle front and center, and giving the entire thing a metaphorical overlay of someone suffering from disease (people tend to think it’s about the then epidemic-level issue of AIDS, although I’d say it’s not that specific).
Most, if not all, of these changes can be put on the shoulders of Cronenberg, who made huge alterations to the film’s tone and content when he came on board. And once again this makes sense; Kurt Neumann (who directed the 1958 version) may have been a perfectly capable director, but he certainly wasn’t an artistic genius on the level of Croneberg. I’ve made my
idolization affection non-sexual intellectual lust admiration for Cronenberg clear in the past, and there are few times when having an incredibly talented and artistically self assured director at the helm won’t do wonders for your film.
There’s not really a ton more I can say about this film that won’t just be repeating myself. There are only a handful of horror remakes that can be considered honestly better than the original (although I do try to include one each Remaketober), although I do feel like the original deserves more credit than it gets. It has the most in common with The Thing, a 1980s remake of a 1950s horror movie that is better than its already well regarded original…directed by a well known horror director with a last name beginning with C…okay now it’s just spooky.
And so we end Remaketober 2015. I seriously look forward to this all year, and I hope you all enjoyed it too. Next week, we return to our regular schedule of reviewing new movies.