Column: The Vault of Secrets: Curse of the Fly (1965)

Curse of the Fly (1965). Directed by: Don Sharp. Starring: Brian Donlevy, Carole Gray, George Baker.

Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. When I picked up the boxed set of The Fly Collection, I hadn’t actually seen any of the films in it before, though I was of course familiar with the basics of the 1958 Vincent Price original.

Of all three movies, though, my surprise favorite was Curse of the Fly, the second sequel and the last movie in the franchise. The Fly is a well-regarded genre classic, the plot of which is known even to people who have never actually heard of the movie, thanks in no small part to the fantastic Cronenberg remake in 1986. The first sequel – Return of the Fly – is about what sequels usually are: a less-inspired rehash of the original. There’s a six-year gap between Return and Curse, though, and a complete reshuffling of the people in the director’s chair and penning the screenplay. With Curse of the Fly, director Don Sharp and screenwriter Harry Spalding take the backstory of the first two Fly movies and use it to create something very different: a Gothic chiller.

It starts strong, with a surreal slow-motion opening sequence of Carole Gray (whom we previously saw in Island of Terror) escaping from a mental institute in her underthings. (Which is also how she will spend much of the remainder of the movie.) She’s shortly picked up by George Baker as Martin Delambre, the great-grandson (if I’m getting my genealogy straight) of Andre Delambre from the first film.

Surprisingly, the resulting story isn’t a cautionary tale about the dangers of picking up cute, naked girls by the side of the road in the neighborhood of the insane asylum. In fact, Carole Gray’s Patricia is wholly harmless and possibly just a little high-strung. It’s Martin Delambre (whom she hastily marries) who turns out to have all the skeletons in his closet. Where “skeletons” here refers to the freakishly mutated results of teleporter experiments gone awry and “closet” here refers to the shed out back.

It seems that the Delambre family have been continuing the teleportation experiments of their forebears, with variously hideous results. No humans with the head of a fly this time out, just radiation burns, rapid aging, and people who look as if they have wet paper stuck to their faces. The mania for teleportation is driven by Martin’s father Henri, played by genre stalwart Brian Donlevy, whom I loved from the first couple of Hammer Quatermass films. He’s equally delightful here as the maimed family patriarch.

Filmed in England and using mostly British players, the movie marks a weird departure from the previous films. Remove the mad science element and it could be any Gothic romance novel, and it fits in brilliantly alongside the majority of the British horror output of the time. (Don Sharp was a frequent Hammer director.) The usual family secrets are intact. This time, they’re just teleporters and hideous mutations. There’s even a crazy (and also mutated) wife who’s kept locked up, a la Jane Eyre. Surrounding the mad science premise with Gothic trappings makes for a surprisingly effective whole, and an unexpected direction for the third movie in the franchise. It’s even occasionally effective, notably in the casual reveal of the cells where the mutants are kept and in a moment when Patricia hides from the authorities who could have delivered her in the very place that reveals the danger she’s in. No soundtrack plays behind the scene, just the raucous noise of crows. There’s also a pretty spectacularly gruesome bit near the end of the movie, when something terrible comes through the teleporter. It’s Cronenbergian before Cronenberg got hold of the franchise and Martin’s brother Albert’s preparation to deal with it – not to mention the gory aftermath – is chilling.

Curse of the Fly is sadly not nearly as well-known as its predecessors. It didn’t get any kind of home video release at all until the 2007 release of the aforementioned boxed set on DVD and it has flown under a lot of peoples’ radar. Which is a shame, because it’s actually quite a solid movie. While the mutants could look a little better, and the mad scientists could have solved a lot of their problems by just learning how to keep their doors locked, the Gothic atmosphere wrapped around the gooey mad science center makes for a uniquely satisfying confection that’s well worth tracking down.

That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time when we track down a fiend that has no face!

Orrin Grey

About Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters. His stories of ghosts, monsters, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters have appeared in dozens of anthologies and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. He can be found online at orringrey.com.

Orrin GreyColumn: The Vault of Secrets: Curse of the Fly (1965)