The Fly (1958)

the fly poster

There’s a 1986 version of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis that you would remember if you saw it. It features some fantastic and disgusting body horror and special effects (of course – it’s directed by David Cronenberg), and also happens to be one of the most heartbreaking movies you’ll ever watch. We covered it in our podcast earlier this year, and I think it’s one of our best episodes.

This is not that version, but it’s no less heartbreaking. The beautiful – but not TOO beautiful – Patricia Owens stars as Helene Delambre, devoted wife to scientist Andre Delambre. The film begins with the police investigating her motive in the murder of her husband by mechanical press, which brings in brother and business partner François, played by the inimitable Vincent Price.

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The film revolves around the mystery of why in the world Patricia, a calm and loving family woman, would so matter-of-factly admit to killing her husband. We experience the story in flashback as she relates her fantastic tale to Andre and Inspector Charas.

Will she be charged or not? The skepticism with which they treat her guilt seems quaint today, as we’ve seen enough evening news to know that murderer next door seems to be the person you’d least expect. But director Kurt Neumann does such a fantastic job of setting up and dwelling on the unquestionable love between husband and wife that the mystery remains solid.

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Much of the power of The Fly comes from its pedestrian storytelling. It’s probably a happy accident, but the bright Technicolor Cinemascope production, the 50’s-era setting, and inclusion of A-list actor Vincent Price up the ante because the tragedy contrasts so starkly against what otherwise runs like an episode of Leave It To Beaver. The Delambre’s domestic life is so perfect and happy and loving that only a sadist would enjoy watching it fall apart so suddenly.

Just think: This story COULD have gotten the same low-budget, black and white treatment as so many other sci-fi flicks of the time. Yet here it stands, a highly-watchable and satisfying film nearly 60 years later. And as a bonus you get to watch Vincent Price for a while. Two big thumbs up.

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Now that you’ve seen the film…

************ SPOILER ALERT *************

Though the plot drags at times, it unfolds properly and methodically. It doesn’t deserve its somewhat happy ending, though. In that, it’s a product of its time, as the ending of the original short story (as published in Playboy the year before) was much darker.

It’s a bit unbelievable that a scientist/inventor – especially one as level-headed as Andre – would give up so easily, not include others in his research or reach out to them for assistance, or destroy his valuable work to that tired old “man was not meant to dabble in this” chestnut that is, truly, another product of its time.

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Nonetheless, I still found this version emotionally challenging. Seeing the cat get it was bad enough. By not including any footage of Andre’s ill-fated transformation, the suddenness of it hit me with the same suddenness that it hits Helene. And because you know Andre’s demise at the outset, you feel even deeper the tragedy of the spouse who will never get to give a proper goodbye from the moment he first slips that typed piece of paper under the door. It’s a very effective use of the flashback device. When Andre writes his final plea on the chalkboard….man…

I loved almost everything about this movie: the acting, the setting, the concept, the makeup, and of course the fact that I could watch it with my own squeamish wife.

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The Babysitter (2017)

This Netflix Original film just came out and surprised both of us by combining a rollicking good time with some genuine pathos. First, head over to Netflix to watch this right away. Then, drop back here to listen to our thoughts and see if you take our side over this somewhat divisive film directed by McG.

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Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

Abe Lincoln vs Zombies poster

The news lately feels a lot like a horror show – only much less fun. After drowning deeper and deeper in political turmoil these last few days, I desperately needed something uplifting to pull me out of the star-spangled muck and restore my faith in government, democracy, and the good ol’ U.S.A.

I needed Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.

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The Asylum always delivers in its own special way. This the premiere film production company churning out low-budget schlock for the straight-to-DVD market, usually taking its concepts from whatever movie is currently a hit in the theaters. And sharks. It may not be high art, but their movies get seen. They make money. And there’s nothing more American than that.

As you probably guessed, you’ll find a lot of Americana in The Asylum’s take on the bigger budget Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

In the opening flashback, we learn that young boy Lincoln was the sole survivor of a zombie outbreak that decimated his town and family, forcing him to decapitate his own infected mother with the swing of a switchblade scythe. He apparently found the tool so handy for the job that he hung onto it for later use.

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In the present, Lincoln is dealing with new horrors as the civil war wages on. In a remarkably good White House set, he’s preparing to give the Gettysburg Address as his advisor rushes in with bad news: Operation Big Shanty – a covert operation to take Fort Polasky for the Union – ran into some complications. Most of Captain Eckert’s men are dead, and Eckert himself seems sick and is rambling about walking dead men.

Lincoln’s ears perk up:

“Walking dead men? Are they union or confederacy?”
“Both,” he says. “Or neither. I don’t know.”

Thus setting the tone for the kind of dialogue you can expect as the movie plods along.

Lincoln decides only he, himself, has the experience required to deal with this threat. So he enlists the help of the newly-formed Secret Service, among whom are a former slave, John Wilkenson (hint hint), and a handful of other disposable characters. Their strategy for retaking the fort from the Confederacy is simple: Dressed in our Sunday best, we shall march along the train tracks, straight to yonder fort, and bang on the front door until it gives way.

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In the middle of a gun battle with Stonewall Jackson and the confederate holdouts, they learn there’s a much bigger force to contend with outside the fort’s gates.

Many new zombie movies try to put a new spin on the genre. 28 Days Later gave us the running zombie. The Crazies gave us intelligent zombies. Diary of the Dead gave us motion sickness.

This one is no different, as Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies gives us: The Sleeping Zombie.

These zombies spend most of their day sleeping while standing up – especially when it’s convenient to the plot – allowing you to safely walk past through the whole horde as close and as clumsily as you want. Just don’t shoot a gun or let a rooster crow, or they’ll suddenly wake up and grab for your brains.

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I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but I’ll at least tantalize you with a small list of things in store should you be bored enough to watch this film:

  • Mary Owens
  • The most accurate civil war era firearms produced
  • Despite the above, an intense mission to get pointy things from a barn
  • John Wilkenson (hint hint) earnestly sharpening each tine of his new rake
  • Abraham Lincoln hoisting a young Teddy Roosevelt on his shoulders to pick off zombies with a flintlock rifle that never needs reloading
  • “Emancipate this!”

I can’t recommend this as a particularly scary or well-plotted film. The action sequences aren’t thrilling. Its low budget shows in the scenery, the framing of the shots, and the occasional CGI wide shots of a historic landscape.

But I did enjoy watching the writers attempt to tie nearly every significant event and/or person in Abraham Lincoln’s biography to his zombie adventures. There are many groaners, which is why this is one of those movies best watched with friends. I propose a party game: Count how many times a phrase from the Gettysburg Address pops up in conversation.

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I must give major props to Bill Oberst, Jr. for a surprisingly respectable portrayal of everyone’s favorite president. Though it’s hard to rise above the lines he was given, his attempts to do so were what kept me watching. At times, he even seemed to be channeling Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning performance, though this film came out months before Spielberg’s Lincoln.

I was also charmed by each of the no-less-than-five variations of this exchange between Lincoln and the child Teddy Roosevelt:

“Teddy, I want you to stay here while we go fight.”
“No! I want to go with you!”
(Lincoln slowly grins, winks at Teddy)
“Ok, Teddy. You’re coming with us.”

I only wish today’s Republicans could be such amiable negotiators.

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Now that you’ve seen the film…

*** SPOILERS ****

My favorite scene was the long, slow pan across the faces of the company, giving each other knowing looks and staring together pensively at nothing in particular while the music builds. Then Lincoln just kind of shrugs and gives a look as to say, “Well, whatever, y’all ready?” to which they awkwardly turn around and just saunter away.

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