One film, two versions: The Fly

In the mid-1960s, I watched a 1958 science fiction film called ‘The Fly’. It starred David Hedison, Vincent Price, and Patrica Owens. Though touted as a ‘horror’ film, it wasn’t that scary, but it was interesting, and a little unnerving to imagine something like that happening. The story is told in flashback, after a scientist’s wife has been arrested for his murder.

A scientist (Hedison) is experimenting with matter transfer, and decides to try to transport himself between two chambers. One will disintegrate him, and he will reassemble in the other. But as he enters the chamber, a fly also gets in there. As the particles are merged, parts of the fly transfer onto the scientist, and vice versa. Once reassembled, he is left with the head and arm of a fly, and his own head and arm have transferred onto the tiny insect.

To be honest, I thought it was a bit silly. Hedison is obviously wearing a rubber fly head and arm, and when the big ‘reveal’ is shown to his wife, it is more funny than scary. We also see the ‘other’ fly, with the tiny head and arm of the scientist, as his wife searches desperately for him. It’s far from being a classic in any genre, though it has its fans. The trailer is almost as good as the film.

In 1986, American film-maker David Cronenberg made a remake. Starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, this had all the benefits of decades of improvements in special effects, as well as Croneberg’s penchant for what became known as ‘body horror’. He also (very wisely) ditched the secondary plot of the tiny fly having the man’s head and arm, instead concentrating on how the infected scientist slowly but surely develops into a terrifying hybrid of man and insect. This was the real deal. Often quite scary, occasionally downright repulsive, and the perfect casting of Goldblum and Davis in the leads. This is a rare example of a remake not only being 100% better than the original, but pretty much obliterating it from the annals of cinema. It’s the one to watch, undoubtedly.

44 thoughts on “One film, two versions: The Fly

  1. There was a TV programme in Spain called ‘Mis horrores favoritos’ (My favourite horrors) where a Spanish director (TV and film, showed horror movies, and he showed some real classics. I remember they showed the original (and one of my favourites ever, The Incredible Shrinking Man), and I did enjoy it. It’s difficult to forget the final scene, although the special effects look silly now, but I guess it just depends on how much you buy into the story (the famous suspension of disbelief). I think Jeff Goldblum is fabulous in the new one and it is scarier perhaps, although I still think the old one is worth a look. Thanks, Pete.

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    1. As I said in other comments, I feel sorry for the original, as it could have been a really excellent film. As you can tell from the trailer, they went for trying to scare people by not showing the laughable special effects, which I am sure they knew would let down any potential viewer.
      The effects in The Shrinking Man worked better, If I remember correctly.
      Thanks, Olga.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. Great post πŸ™‚ I totally agree with you here. David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly totally surpasses the original. I mean this one really hits you emotionally and the idea of having the lead character decay as opposed to turning into a tiny fly just worked much better. If you are interested in seeing my favorite David Cronenberg films blog post, here is the link below and keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ummm…I like both versions Pete. Yes, I think the rubber head was cheesey–even by 50s Sci Fi/Horror standards–all of the “special effects” were pretty terrible, but I like the concept, the script and the character development of the orginal. And I think the ending was horrifying. I saw it as a kid and it has haunted me ever since. (I have seen it as an adult. I still like it.)
    That said, Cronenberg elveted the material in every way. His remake is undoubtably supeiror–a near masterpiece. But that’s just my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pam. The original was of its day, but I found it clumsy, even as a teenager. I’m not even a huge fan of the remake’s deliberate gross-outs, but Cronenberg knows how to make a compelling film.
      (By coincidence, the original film was on TV here last night, but I didn’t bother to watch it)
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Who doesn’t know Vincent Price? As for David Hedison, those of us growing up in the 1960’s know him as Capt. Crane in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.”

    I’ve never seen the original film, but I have the 1986 version of “The Fly” on DVD, and thoroughly enjoy every minute of it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a big fan of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

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  5. I haven’t seen the original film, but I did of course see this one and thought it was terrific. After reading this, I don’t think that I am missing out on much when I say that I don’t think I will be making an effort to track down the original 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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