Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Curse of the Fly (1965)

The newest generation of the Delambre family – as represented by Henri (Brian Donlevy) and his sons Martin (George Baker) and Albert (Michael Graham) – still hasn’t learned a thing about research safety standards, and is continuing with its ancestral (by my calculation, the film should take place in the 2030s) teleportation experimentation. Yup, they still haven’t realized inventing a teleporting device that’s only good for dead matter would still be an incredible technological leap.

Anyhow, when Martin’s driving through beautiful Canada one night, he meets Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray), running in her undies through the woods in slow motion. Some short words about her fictitious employer’s fictitious husband convince Martin that there’s nothing strange about her behaviour at all, and before you can say “slow down, cowboy”, the two are married and moving into the mansion where the family conduct their experiments.

In truth, Patricia has escaped from an asylum where she was treated for a nervous breakdown. Of course, she’s not the only member of the new family who has secrets. Martin suffers from some weird sporadic aging sickness that leaves him in rather a bad state from time to time, but that’s really not the worst problem here, for Martin and his dad have been conducting their experiments on human beings, and keep the irradiated results (no flies here, I’m sorry to say) locked up in some nice little cells in the garden. Oh, and one of these results is Martin’s wife Judith. And no, they never got divorced. Add to that Henri’s total lack of scruples, Albert’s disgruntlement with his crazy family ways, and the fact that the Delambre’s Chinese (cough) servants hate her, and soon you’ll find a drugged up by her husband and father in law Patricia slowly driven insane by the mutants and the servants, among the less troublesome developments.

The belated third The Fly film was directed by sometimes mediocre, sometimes nearly brilliant genre film veteran Don Sharp in one of his good weeks. It’s barely a sequel to the first two films – which is a good thing given that you can do only so much with a human fly, I think – and could really be about a family of totally unrelated mad scientists without losing anything. Sharp, or writer Harry Spalding, really seems to be more interested in crossing the more science fictional horror approach of the first two films with typical gothicisms. The film’s sense of the gothic doesn’t  just offer the expected mad scientist type but also includes a huge dollop of gothic romance of the sort the post-Daphne Du Maurier generations were actually beginning to churn out (unless I’m off a few years, in which case this would be something of a predecessor of the type). “Rebecca”, it turns out, only further improves with the addition of mad scientist family troubles and mutants.

It’s a rather interesting combination that leads to a film recommending itself at the very least through the originality of unexpected sub-genre crossings. I’m also quite fond of Curse’s moments of delicious strangeness, executed with style (and a lot of rather beautifully staged scenes) by a Sharp who is clearly in his element whenever it comes to the gothic and the strange.

What Curse of the Fly isn’t, is a film whose plot will withstand any kind of logical scrutiny. Everything that happens here makes sense thematically and atmospherically, though, and if you’re willing to accept the basic silliness (and who wouldn’t be?), then you might even call the film’s treatment of different kinds of mentally illness, and its sombre thoughts about the troubles with family and trust rather intelligent; one might even think there’s a reason behind the way this unassuming little horror film contrasts Patricia’s relatively open and only dangerous for herself mental illness with the Delambres’ secret and much more destructive ones. I’m even willing to go as far as suggest there’s a bit of a hint of criticism of how much more willing the society of 1965 seems to accept “aberrant” behaviour of men when compared to that of women packed into this delicious sandwich of mad science and mutants.

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