American Movie Classics Reviews Four Generations Of Sci-Fiction In ‘The Fly’ Papers: The Buzz On Hollywood’s Scariest Insect

BETHPAGE, N.Y., November 3, 2000 – Get the real “buzz” on four decades of “The Fly.” From mutated house fly to grotesque monster, “The Fly” terrified audiences with its tale of the powerful forces of modern science. On Tuesday, December 5 at 10:00 PM (ET), AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS presents “THE FLY” PAPERS: THE BUZZ ON HOLLYWOOD’S SCARIEST INSECT, an original one-hour special chronicling the making of THE FLY (1958) and the series of cult classics it spawned: THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959), THE CURSE OF THE FLY (1965), THE FLY (1986), a remake of the original, and THE FLY II (1989). From the original 1958 film starring David Hedison and Vincent Price, to the 1986 remake starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, these films reflect the transformation of something benign into one of the most frightening film monsters ever created.

Narrated by “Star Trek” veteran Leonard Nimoy,“THE FLY” PAPERS: THE BUZZ ON HOLLYWOOD’S SCARIEST INSECT features film clips from all five movies, an up-close look at how the stunning special effects were accomplished, and interviews with cast and crew members from each film – including actors Hedison and Goldblum, who each portrayed the title character; Vincent Price, who co-starred in the first two films; David Cronenberg, director of the 1986 remake; and others.

On July 16, 1958, 20th Century Fox premiered “The Fly,” which was hailed by critics as a science-fiction masterpiece. It went on to become one of the biggest box-office hits of the year, motivating producer Bob Lippert to cash in with a sequel.

The genesis of the film franchise owes its inspiration to George Langelaan’s short story, “The Fly,” published in Playboy magazine in June 1957. “The Fly” dealt with “the notion of man playing God,” notes publisher Hugh Hefner in “THE FLY” PAPERS. Hefner was intrigued by that theme – and so apparently was independent producer Bob Lippert. “The Fly” garnered Playboy’s prestigious Best Fiction Award for 1957, and Lippert convinced 20th Century Fox to acquire the rights. Future best-selling author James Clavell (“Shogun”) penned the script, which closely followed Langelaan’s story about a scientist who builds a transport device that can disintegrate teleport and reintegrate matter. But when a common housefly gets caught in the machine along with him, his experiment yields two horribly mutated creatures: a human who’s part housefly and a housefly that’s part human. Descending into madness, the scientist convinces his wife to destroy him.

Lippert tapped acclaimed filmmaker Kurt Neumann to direct and newcomer David Hedison to star as scientist Andre Delambre. Patricia Owens signed on as Andre’s wife, and Vincent Price joined the cast as well.

Adding to the ambiance of THE FLY was its realistic set featuring Delambre’s high-tech lab. Instead of the usual “mad scientist” lab typically found in films, Delambre’s sets were legitimate, filled with futuristic-looking computers modeled after an actual IBM computer and constructed from authentic surplus Army equipment. Realism also inspired Ben Nye, the make-up artist who designed Hedison’s fly head with oversized, iridescent eyes, feelers created from trimmed-down turkey feathers and an eerily accurate proboscis. Neumann used a special lens to film Delambre’s fly-like visual perspective in the climatic scene, creating a kaleidoscopic effect mimicking the view from a fly’s multi-celled eyes. The film’s final cinematic trick created one of the most memorable images in film history: Hedison’s head optically superimposed on a fly’s body, trapped in a spider web.

In RETURN OF THE FLY, made in 1959, on a budget of $225,000, Price reprises his role from the original film, and newcomer Brett Halsey is Delambre’s son, Phillipe, determined to continue his father’s work. Recycling the set from the previous film and featuring a story line about Cold War espionage, Halsey and a fly are mutated not by accident but at the hands of an evil spy. Like its predecessor, the sequel was a sleeper hit. But despite both films’ success, the end of the 1950s brought a declining interest in sci-fi, and the series was put to rest.

By the mid-60s, however, the horror genre had been revived, and Fox decided to dust off THE FLY series with an updated treatment that would appeal to the counter-culture teens of the 1960s. Filmed in England and directed by Don Sharp, noted for helming the TV series The Avengers, THE CURSE OF THE FLY
revolved around trans-Atlantic teleportation and lunatics. The Delambre family carried on with Andre’s work, and created a stable full of mad mutants in the process. Rather than the cold war themes of the first two films, THE CURSE OF THE FLY reflected the cultural changes of the 1960s.

Fast-forward 19 years and to filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and computers that can engineer incredible special effects, have transformed the sci-fi genre. In 1984 screenwriter Charles E. Pogue and producers Stuart Cornfeld and Mel Brooks decide to mount a
modern version of THE FLY that reflected life in the 1980s. The nuclear
threat remained, there was a renewed economic prosperity, and the fear
of a new disease called AIDS emerged. Director David Cronenberg took the series to a new level when he decided that the melding of molecules between scientist Seth Brundle and the insect would cause a slow, disease-like disintegration of Brundle’s human physiology into that of a fly. Not only did the plot offer a compelling reflection of societal fears, it provided the opportunities for gruesome and chilling special effects, earning Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis an Oscar