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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Curse of the Fly

The second (and final) sequel to The Fly ('58), and Return of the Fly ('59), Curse of the Fly (CoF) continues the saga of the Delambre family and their doomed work on a matter transporter machine. Though still a low-budget B movie, CoF is a respectable movie in its own right. Brian Donlevy (of Quatermass fame) stars as Henri Delambre, son of Andre (the fly-man of the original film). Henry Spalding's screenplay avoids the trite predictability of the second movie (Return of the Fly). Having a man end up with a fly's head a third time would be going too far. Even though the posters featured the fanged fly head of Return's posters, there is no fly-man in CoF.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A woman escapes from the Fournier Mental Hospital one night, wearing only her underwear. Martin Delambre encounters her on the road. He accepts her tale of fleeing a boss-rape situation and takes her to Montreal with him. There, he and Pat fall in love and get married, but agree not to talk about their pasts. One of Martin's secrets is that he needs regular injections of a drug to stop seizures of rapid aging. Martin brings his new wife to the Delambre country house. Martin's father, Henri, teleports home from London to evade passport troubles. Pat catches a glimpse of a deformed person locked in a stable. Everyone tells her it was a nightmare. Henri and his sons, Martin and Albert, are working to perfect the transporter that killed Andre (first movie), but it still has many kinks. (and creates mutants) A police inspector comes snooping around looking for the escaped mental patient: Pat. Martin and Henri stonewall him. The inspector interviews retired inspector Charas (from first story), who tells him all about the Delambre history and its "curse." Wan, the chinese housekeeper, is still loyal to Judith, Martin's first wife. Judith was deformed in an earlier teleporter experiment. Wan dislikes replacement-wife Pat, so plays mind games to maybe cause (another) nervous breakdown. Pat hears piano playing at night. This turns out to be Judith. Pat faints and is later told that was a nightmare too. The chinese housekeeper plays more mind games on Pat. She begins to doubt her sanity. Henri worries that the police will eventually get a warrant and discover their work. He wants them all transported to London so there will be no incriminating evidence in the house. Judith escapes her cell, but is killed in a fight with Wan's husband, Tai. The two mutant lab assistants are knocked out when they turn on Martin and Henri. Albert, revolted by it all, wants out of the project. Henri forces Albert to act by teleporting the two unconscious mutants at the same time. They reintegrate as a tangled mass. Albert has to take an axe to it. Henri has himself teleported to London, but it turns out Albert had smashed the machine after the double mutants arrived. So, no more Henri. Martin is about to teleport Pat into oblivion, but is interrupted by Inspector Ronet's arrival. Martin flees with Pat, but when he gets to the car, he has a seizure. Without his regular injections, he ages rapidly. By the time the inspector arrives, he is only a skeleton. The End. Credits roll, with "Is This The End?"

Why is this movie fun?
Spalding's screenplay has enough surprises and twists to keep you thinking. Director Don Sharp keeps pacing fairly brisk and gives CoF a mood of gothic gloom.

Cold War Angle
Like the original, and first sequel, the moral of the story is more about the dangers (and inhumanity) of blind faith in science.

The Curse -- In a rare bit of exposition in the script, Charas explains that all did not quite end well at the end of Return of the Fly. Yes, Andre's son Philip (Henri in CoF) and the fly were reintegrated successfully, but only mostly. Philip's genes were damaged. As such, his son Martin was born with a rapid aging disorder (flies don't live long, you see), which could only be held in check with regular injections of an undefined serum. The legacy of that fly. Given Henri's almost maniacal fixation on his work, and lack of ethics, it seems his own humanity was not fully restored. The lingering curse. Henri's second son, Albert, was born normal, but will be forever mentally scared by having to kill the mutant blob and knowing that he killed his father by smashing his London machine. The lasting curse.

Who's Yer Daddy? -- There is some confusion over just who Henri Delambre is. There is no Henri in the first two films. In the first movie, there is Andre, the first fly-man, and his young son Philippe. Philippe would become second fly-man in the sequel. Is Henri a grandson? At one point in CoF, retired-inspector Charas describes a family history in which Henri was merged with a fly, then successfully reassembled (but with lingering genetic damage). This sounds like Philippe of the second movie. In George Langelaan's original 1957 short story, Andre's son was named Henri. Spalding seems to have used the character of Philippe, but opted to use the original novel's name.

Machiavellian Science -- Henri, perhaps a bit demented from his fly-merger in the first sequel, shows little regard for other people. He would do whatever it too, whomever it cost, to accomplish his ends. He has a civil enough exterior demeanor (he can be cordial to Pat, polite to Inspector Ronet). Yet, when it came to crucial decisions, like putting people through the teleporter, he had no qualms. Henri described the deformed lab assistants as "just animals now." He may not have thought much more highly of them before.

Who's Mad? -- A well integrated thread to the plot is Pat's mental fragility. She was in the Fournier Mental Hospital for a nervous breakdown after the death of her domineering mother. Things must not have been HIlton-comfy at the asylum, since Pat busts out and runs away in only her bra and panties. The thread of her seeing monsters, and being told they were just dreams, has her questioning her sanity. Yet, given Henri's unscrupulous fixation on his work, is he altogether sane?

Crazy Women -- It is interesting that the women in the Fly trilogy have stability problems. Andre's wife, Helene, is committed to an insane asylum, convicted of the death of Andre. She gets out, but is always on the edge, obsessed with flies. In CoF, Pat starts out from an asylum. Her grasp on sanity seems tenuous. Wan is a little crazy too. Her devotion to Judith prompts her to play cruel tricks on Pat, trying to push her back into a nervous breakdown. Wan isn't quite normal either.

Chapter Four? -- The very ending, which puts up the words, "Is This The End?" suggests that Spalding wanted to leave the door open to another sequel. Since Henri and Martin both die, the only family connection would be if Albert picked up the project again. Or, perhaps some other misguided scientist picks up project using the unsmashed Delambre machine in Canada. Maybe Henri is reintegrated. Whatever the fertile possibilities, no one wrote a fourth. A remake of the first story was done in the 80s, but that was a remake, not a sequel.

Bottom line? CoF suffers some of the usual low-budget film problems (the 'mutant' make-up is pretty lame), but the story is clever and complex enough to stand on its own.

1 comment:

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