The original 1958 version of The Fly may very well be the greatest film in the science fiction/horror genre. It is effectively scary because of what it does and does not show, but it is also one of, if not the, best written films of the genre.
The story is told in flashback, as widow Helene Delamber explains how her scientist husband, Francois, lost his head and arm in a hydrolic press. The cops do not buy her story that it was suicide, so she is about to be nailed for murder.
The truth is her husband invented teleportation devices that worked, but a fly was caught in with him, so their atoms were mixed. Francois has the head and arm of a fly. Somewhere out there, there is a fly with the mini-head and arm of Vincent Price. Francois tries to keep his deformity a secret from Helene and the audience by wearing a hood.
Francois thinks he can reverse the process if the fly can be found, but the search takes too long. While Francois maintains his intelligence and, more poignantly, his love for Helene, the fly’s instincts begin taking over until he sees no choice but to die. He convinces Helene he is a hopeless case , so she uses the press to kill him.
For a science fiction film of the era, the scene in which Francois convinces Helene to put him out of his misery is quite moving. His death is enormously horrific, as well, largely because it is largely left up to the imagination. We are left to wonder what it must be like to have one’s head and arm crushed because it is not shown. These days, blood would have slpattered everywhere, particularly on Helene. Remember kids, true horror is implied, not shown.
That said, let me contradict myself. The following scene in which the fly with Francois’ head and arm trapped in a spider web about to be devoured is a masterpiece of terror. Something like that could not have been effectively implied. The imagination could not have pictured the man/fly hybrid as horrific as it was. The police detective kills both the fly hybrid and the spider with a rock, then alters the facts to save Helene and himself from murder raps.
Simply put, The Fly is one of the best science fiction/horror films of all time. Vincent price is at his best, the script is unusually tight and emotional for a ’50’s science fiction film, and even the special effects hold up today. It is a masterpiece.
Rating: ***** (out of 5)