By Joel Bocko
[Joel Bocko, who goes by the name of MovieMan0283 at his blog The Dancing Image, joins us with a post comparing the virtues of Cronenberg’s The Fly with its “viscerally horrifying” fifties predecessor.]
Some horror concepts enter the popular consciousness and take on a life of their own. Oftentimes, these are cinematic manifestations of mythic or literary antecedents—the Frankenstein monster predated James Whale‘s 1931 film by over a century, though it’s Boris Karloff whom readers tend to think of when re-visiting Mary Shelley‘s original. Other pop icons, like Dracula or the Wolf Man, are merely individual variations on long-known archetypes—while later, more human monsters like Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger have established an enormous cultural presence without transcending the films that made them famous. They are their personalities, not just their images; whereas older monsters seem to exist as pure icons, talismans of the unconsciousness. We know, without quite having to recognize on a personal level, a Dracula or a “Frankenstein” (the creature having taken on his creator’s name in a kind of osmosis which The Fly would appreciate).
Likewise, perhaps, The Fly. Even if one does not know the behavior of the mutant insect-human or the plot surrounding it, one probably recognizes and shivers at the image, the idea. First crafted by George Langelaan as a short story, the narrative—losing little in translation—was first presented onscreen in the 1958 film of the same name. In the movie, a scientist builds a teleportation device but in the process of disintegrating/reintegrating him across space, a fly buzzes into the machine and the confused computer mixes up the two creatures. This results in a dreadful fly-headed human, whose inner state detoriates until finally, with his wife’s help, he has himself “swatted” by a gigantic hydraulic press.