The Fly by George Langelaan (1957)
The Fly directed by Kurt Neuman (1958)
The Fly is about a scientist who builds a teleportation machine. When he tries to teleport himself, unbeknownst to him, there is a fly in the chamber as well. When he comes out the other end, he has become part fly and the fly has become part human.
This is a very short story and is available to read online, but it was originally published in Playboy magazine. Since this isn’t a book, or even a novella, I won’t do a usually book review portion; I’ll just say I enjoyed the story.
I know I had seen the end of this movie before, but I don’t remember if I had watched it in its entirety before now.
Vincent Price is in the role of the brother of the scientist, and this film’s success, along with being in The House of Wax from 1953 is what got him roles in other horror and sci-fi movies which led him to be considered an icon in the classic horror genre. He starred in a number of Edgar Allen Poe movies in particular.
I really liked this movie though and found it very suspenseful and unsettling. The practical effects aren’t too upsetting, though the last scene when we get a close up is pretty crazy.
I won’t be talking about the David Cronenberg remake with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis much at all because the plot is quite different. I mean it is still about a scientist who discovers teleportation and becomes part fly, but from there it is different. The old movie is unsettling not visually so much as just the thought of what has happened. With the ‘80’s movie is it incredible visually disturbing! You don’t have to wonder about how gross the reality of this fly/man mix would be, here you see it in disgusting detail. I saw the movie about a year ago and it made me physically sick. If I didn’t watch all of it, I did watch most of it but to be honest I have tried to forget as much about it as possible.
On one hand, I like the way things go in the movie, but on the other, it is just so incredibly gross. And that of course is the point, I know Cronenberg loves to hear people say his movies are the most disgusting thing they’ve ever seen lol. All this to say, I personally wouldn’t recommend the 80’s movie unless you have a strong stomach and don’t mind watching a disturbing, body horror movie.
From here on out, there will be spoilers for both the book and the movie!
Finding Andre’s body
The story and movie are very similar and both begin with Francois getting a call from his sister-in-law, Helene, telling him she has killed her husband and that he is to call the police and go to the warehouse where the body is.
They find Andre ‘s (the name of the husband/brother) head and one arm smashed under a steam hammer. In the movie it isn’t graphic per se (this is the 50’s after all) but there is a fair amount of blood and old movies loved to have blood be this super bright red. It makes it look very unreal, but it is still effective because something about the blood being so bright is kind of sickly.
Anyway, they go to see Helene and, in the book, she is very stoic whereas in the movie she seems calm and at ease. In both, she tells them she killed Andre, but when further questions are asked, she says, “I can’t answer that question”.
They worry about her mental health and in the book, she is put in an institution whereas in the movie she stays home but they have a nurse look after her and she is to stay in bed.
Francois is looking after his nephew, and one day the nephew asks how long a fly can live and Francois learns about Helene looking for a fly with a white head.
Helene tells her story
In the book and movie, Francois goes to Helene and tells her he has the fly she was looking for. This gets her attention and in the book, she gives him a letter she has typed up. She tells him to read it, and then if he wishes he can also give it to the police. In the movie, she tells him she will verbally tell him the story, but she will only tell it once so he calls the police chief to come over and hear the story as well.
The story plays out the same in both, we find out that Andre had been working on a teleportation device and showed Helene when he teleported a plate. However, the plate had said Made in Japan on the back when it came through the words were backwards.
Andre keeps working on it, and eventually is happy enough with it that he puts their kitten in. The kitten however never comes back out. In the movie he can hear an echoey meow coming through the air which was very eerie. Poor kitty!
He keeps working and is finally ready to once again show Helene and she sees him successfully put a guinea pig through. She cares for the guinea pig for a month after it teleported and all seems well.
Helene later tries to go to see Andre but he won’t answer and rather sends a note under the door. It says he cannot speak, and that she needs her help and that she is to return later with milk mixed with rum.
She returns and when he opens the door, he has a cloth over his head and one hand in his pocket. They have a system where he knocks once for yes and twice for no and they communicate this way. He will also type on his typewriter.
He tells her he needs her to find a fly with a white head and a weird arm but won’t say why. When she says their son had caught such a fly but she made him release it, his arm then slips and rather than a human arm the book describes it as, “..instead of his long-fingered muscular hand, a gray stick with little buds on it like the branch of a tree, hung out of his sleeve almost down to his knee.”
He tells her what happened with the fly being in the chamber, and that is why he needs it but still refused to let her see his head.
Helene gets the help of the staff to try and find and catch the fly but it doesn’t happen.
When she goes to see Andre later in the day she tells them they didn’t have any luck. Andre tells her he has no choice than to destroy himself (this is how it is said in the movie, never using the word suicide which I guess in some ways it wasn’t suicide since she helped him.)
She asks him to try to go through once more and maybe it will fix it. In the book he says he has been through multiple times and nothing changes but for her he will try once more. He also tells her in book and movie that it isn’t just his disfigurement which leads him to end his life but that he is also losing brain function and can’t think and his brain is doing weird things. That’s what he says in the movie that is, in the book he could still think clearly enough but knew that in time things would progress and he would get worse.
(Quick aside, in the Goldblum movie, once he gets gross I was like ugh, kill yourself already! How can you live like that! How could you possibly have thought t was okay to have poor Geena Davis come over to your place and be scared for her life by seeing you in your disgusting condition! UUghh)
Anyway, he goes through once more and in the movie he has the cloth over his head. Helene is hopeful that it works and takes the cloth off. Of course, it didn’t work and his fly head is revealed and she screams and faints.
In the book, he goes through once more and says it didn’t work. He later trips and the cloth comes off and she sees his face is a mix of a cat and a fly. The book reads, “Until I am totally extinct, nothing can, nothing will ever make me forget that dreadful white hairy head with its low flat skull and its two pointed ears. Pink and moist, the nose was also that of a cat, a huge cat. But the eyes! Or rather, where the eyes should have been were two brown bumps the size of saucers. Instead of a mouth, animal or human, was a long hairy vertical slit from which hung a black quivering trunk that widened at the end, trumpet-like, and from which saliva kept dripping.”
She goes on to say that she was a faithful Catholic, but now she hopes there is nothing when you die. Because if life goes on, that means she will forever remember the grotesque head and she would rather die into nonexistence that have to forever remember that horrific thing for eternity.
We find out that the kitten he put through became part of this trip through the portal and that is why he is part cat. Whereas the movie leaves that out and he is always just part fly.
After she sees what he has become, she agrees to help him end his life and she helps kill him with the steam hammer. In both she has to use it twice because the first time only gets his head and his fly arm is still out. She does it a second time to get rid of that. The reason they had to do it in such a messy way is so there will be no way anyone would be able to see what he had become.
After her story
In the book, Francois reads this he finds out later that day that Helene has committed suicide. He then calls the police chief and has him read her confession. The cop says that clearly, she had been insane. But then Francois says that he had found that fly after reading it, it had been in web and he killed it and buried it next to Andre. The story ends with him saying the flies head was white but doesn’t get specific that it is a man’s head. But that of course is what is implied.
In the movie, she tells them the story and they both think she is crazy. She won’t hang for the murder because of her insanity, but she will need to be institutionalized. When they come to take her away, the son comes up to a distraught Francois and tells him he just saw the funny fly and that it was in a web. Francois and the inspector run to the garden together and there they see a fly with a man’s head and arm trapped in a web, about to be eaten by a spider, screaming “Help meeeee!” Both are horrified and the inspector grabs a big rock and kills the fly and the spider. They both agree with what they saw, and that Helene is just as much ha murderer is as the inspector since they both killed the half fly/half man things.
They decide that they will claim Andre committed suicide and will let Helene go.
The movie then ends with Helene and Francois with the son, talking about Andre and how he died for his work and they walk off together.
Earlier in the movie Francois also confess to the inspector that he was and is also in love with Helene, but that she only had eyes for his brother Andre. So it is implied that she will marry him in the end.
Book vs movie
As said, I liked this movie quite a lot . The ending seemed unrealistic (of course the entire movie is unrealistic lol) but Helene seems to be feeling fine despite this horrible thing she saw and had to kill. In the book that line about her wanting to die into nothingness so that she can finally forget that image seemed more on par with what she would be going through.
When we see the man/fly in the web we get a close up of him and he looks super pale and weird and it’s a pretty creepy scene. His fly head is unsettling in a way, but it didn’t have the shock value now that I’m sure it had at the time it was released. The actor who played Andre wanted them to make prosthetics that would have him be a mix of fly and man and be more upsetting but they said they didn’t have the budget for it but that it would also be too disturbing if they went that route.
The story is well written and does kinda give the creepy-crawlies, but in the end, I will saw the movie wins! Aside from the end, it is a faithful adaptation and I liked Patricia Owens who plays Helene. A lot of the movie falls on her because she has the most screen time.