Since I was a kid, 'The Fly' has remained a long-time favorite, and it wasn't only because Vincent Price starred in it either although at the time I did think him the coolest, most elegant actor in all of horror cinema. Okay, so maybe Price did have some small part to do with my love for the movie, but he's not the whole reason since he's only on screen for maybe a third of the running time. The same goes for Herbert Marshall. The two character actors are, of course, wonderful additions to the cast, and Price's performance here is just prior to his becoming the cherished horror icon he's remembered as today. They bring a level of seriousness and solemnness to a production that would normally pass as B-movie material.
As magnificent as those two gentlemen are, there is something darker and creepier imbuing the narrative, a sinister gothic atmosphere saturated with an inescapable air of apprehension. Audiences are made to constantly feel uneasy, worried, and afraid of something we have little to no information on. Even today, the film still manages to give rise to those same emotions of fearing the unknown, which is why 'The Fly' continues as a beloved classic of the sci-fi horror subgenre, particularly from the 1950s Atomic-Age era when culture was suspicious of science. This is to the credit of director Kurt Neumann ('She Devil,' 'Kronos') and screenwriter James Clavell ('The Great Escape') for adapting George Langelaan's short story, though they significantly changed the über-dark ending.
Watching the film as a kid and being genuinely disturbed by it is one thing, but it would be years later until I finally understood and could appreciate what makes the experience effective. 'The Fly' is one of those movies that hinges on the success of its final reveal, a shocking finish that mixes horror with a subtle trace of sadness. The last few minutes are the ultimate clincher to everything preceding it, and the ride before arriving at it is a splendid buildup of consternation and concern, especially since we already how it ends. The film is as much a twisted gothic mystery tale as anything else, one where we desperately want to know why Helene (Patricia Owens) killed her scientist husband Andre Delambre (David Hedison). She gruesomely crushed him with a hydraulic press but insists she's not a murderer and behaves oddly in order to hide her motives.
Price's Francois and Marshall's Inspector Charas are basically us, the audience, trying to piece together what happened. What would drive a happily married couple to murder the other, and why is Helene obsessed with flies, especially a unique one with a white head and arm? The answer to that last question doesn't arrive until the very suspenseful end, the big payoff which has since become a familiar sight in the history of movies, making it bit more comical today than the ultimate shocker it once was. Neumann does exceptionally well generating confusion and anticipation in scenes where Helene frantically attempts to capture the fly, and the stress brings out a hidden temper towards her son Philippe (Charles Herbert) and their housemaid (Kathleen Freeman).
On a deeper, more unconscious level, 'The Fly' speaks to our innate desire for discovery, of taking control of our natural environment, and a pursuit for explaining the unknown. Andre's experiments on the matter transporter he calls the disintegrator-integrator and the dangers he uncovers playing God is an obvious imputation of that sentiment. Yet, there's more to Neumann's film than this — a suggestive commentary on that intrinsic need in all of us to explain our love of horror, the abnormal and the grotesque. Like Helene pulling on her husband's black hood to discover a hideously disfigured man — a repugnancy that's equally fascinating — we are born with a curiosity that compels us even against self-preservation to see what hides beneath the black veil. We secretly want to be horrified and look away, yet we can't seem to help staring at the very thing which disturbs. I love 'The Fly' because it constantly builds towards that final reveal and makes me want to see it for myself.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'The Fly (1958)' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue, eco-cutout case. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a static menu with music.
The sci-fi horror classic lands on Blu-ray with a great 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Nicely showcasing the lovely photography of Karl Struss, the picture is beautifully detailed and very well-defined. The fade-in and fade-out edits are understandably soft and blurry, and few sequences are not as distinct with a smidge of noise around the edges. Although inherent to the source, it's apparent enough to be somewhat distracting. The rest of the 2.35:1 image displays a sumptuous array of primaries, animating the screen with life, and warm, energetic pastel hues. Contrast is comfortably bright with crisp, brilliant whites while blacks are rich and true with excellent shadow details. This high-def transfer is by far the best the film has ever looked.
In the audio department, the movie makes a scarily terrifying buzz with this excellent DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Not sure if the people at Fox went to the original four-track magnetic stereo strip for this, but what we have sounds fantastic and remains to faithful to its original design.
The surrounds are largely silent, which is to be expected, as the technology was really only used to widen the front soundstage — an attractive gimmick that complemented the equally wider-than-television image on screen, to attract more audiences to the cinema. The music of Paul Sawtell does the majority of the work by creating a wonderfully engaging soundfield, exhibiting sharp, distinct highs along with clean, detailed mids. The buzzing of flies is quite amusing as the little bugs fly all across the screen convincingly, from left to right and top to bottom. A bit of bass adds some depth to the score, as well as to the electronic gadgets inside Andre's laboratory every time he turns them on. Vocals are intelligible and move across the channels according the position of the character speaking, which only adds to the wider image effect. Overall, it's a terrifically enjoyable and well-done lossless mix for a great classic.
Starring the always wonderful Vincent Price, 'The Fly' is a true sci-fi horror classic that continues to entertain, surprise and shock. Director Kurt Neumann is exceptional at building suspense and a thick air of apprehension in a murder mystery that teases audiences into wanting to see the grotesquely shocking reveal and closes with one last final outrageous clincher. The Blu-ray arrives with a great picture quality, the best the film has ever looked, and an excellent audio presentation. With a small but still enjoyable set of supplements, the overall package makes an awesome addition to the horror collection.