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.
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.
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.