Friday, September 18, 2009

Help Me...Kill the Fly(s)

It may be cooling down up here in New York, but tell that to the sudden gang of musca domestica currently loitering in my apartment. Following an unsuccessful (though quite inglorious) lecture to my cats in my Lt. Aldo Raine voice, I spent about two hours swatting my walls with more fervor than Homer Simpson on Wacking Day. 

Naturally, this early hunting season got me thinking about where these winged little monsters fit in the realm of horror cinema. Since most don’t bite or have photogenic faces, the choices are not surprisingly limited but still, I submit my list:


Who can forget the iconic last scene of Hitchcock’s classic, the grandmother of all slashers? Tucked under a blanket, a now catatonic Norman Bates stares ahead as a housefly buzzes around the head leased out to the spirit of his overbearing mother. Sure, she’s not a fan of hygienic blonds, but I guarantee you’ll never find Mama Bates’ fingerprints on a swatter.

The Fly 1958

If I were to make a list of the most disturbing scenes of all time, you can bet a beehive that the final moment of  Kurt Neuman's sci-fi horror classic would edge out any 70s midnight gang rape or scatological torture fest. There’s something that never fails to send sharp chills up my spine every time I see that closeup of a man-fly mummified in a silky spider web, shrieking in terror as a magnified arachnid approaches its prey. Is it the Munchkin-like plea for help? The fuzzy detail on the predator’s eight-eyed face? Or the mere fact that poor Andre Delambre’s best case scenario is to be crushed to death by a rock. Whatever the answer, those 45 seconds remain a nightmare, no matter how many legs you have.

The Lost

...and speaking of disturbing films...
This 2005 adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel is essentially a character study of one charismatic, insecure, attention craving psychopath. If you didn’t get that Ray Pye  was a human monster by the opening scene (where he guns down two innocent females simply because they may or may not be lesbians), then leave it to those pesky parasites to cue us in. Like a taller Pigpen with a shotgun license, Pye is constantly followed by an entourage of insects. We never actually see the flies, but a sublte, yet definitely audible buzz accompanies Pye throughout the film, particularly when his unstable blood seems to boil. There's no explanation for the sound, but the decision sends a clear message about the sheer wrongness of a man about to explode like an exterminator's flea bomb.


Before she danced with the Goblin King or survived Russel Crowe's mood swings, a teenaged Jennifer Connelly starred in this 1986 low fat giallo directed by Dario Argento, where she played a lonely exchange student whose only real friends are Donald Pleasance, his pet monkey, and creepy crawlers. While trying to survive a snooty prep school and solve a few murders, Connelly keeps her whithering sanity by smiling at the kind of things we normally step on. You may remember the striking movie poster and cover art where Connelly's face is half covered by (drum roll) flies! You'd think this would be a major scare factor of the film, but the spiders, wasps, and other multi-appendaged creatures play only a supporting role, occasionally making quick appearances to help our heroine navigate through murder scenes and elude a psychotic murderer. It's an interesting red herring of sorts in one of Argento's restrained, yet very solid little film.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Despite the presence of Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, and future Oscar winner/90210 regular HIlary Swank Josh Whedon’s first foray with California’s favorite undead huntress is, to put it simply, not good. So why does it make this (admittedly reaching-for-straws) list? Mostly because it contains a trick I've dreamed of carrying out: spitting a thumb tack at a wall and impaling a fly in the process. Sure, there are other ways to impress your friends or principal--like earning good grades or crushing beer cans on your head--but getting Dwight Gooden-like aim with a lethal pushpin? That's the true path to popularity.

The Fly 1986

You'll often find Cronenberg's doomed love story/ickily frightening classic battling John Carpenters's The Thing for best remake of all time, and rightfully so. Few films occupying the horror shelf contain such a perfect combination of sadness and terror and not surprisingly, we can put all the blame squarely on those flying black bodied buzzers. Just like its predecessor, this version features an earnest--if also romantically insecure--scientist attempting to teleport himself, only to be hampered by one tiny stowaway with a dynamic combination of DNA. Rather than the wacky trading places of the original, Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle and the unnamed insect get to mesh. After some parallel bar hijinks to rival Kevin Bacon's Footloose gymnast routine, Brundle's body morphs into a 6' tall oozing, sugar eating/regurgitating/eating again creature that can neither keep its dangly parts nor shake its love of leggy auburn haired journalists. Favorite fly-ish moments? Tough call. Is it Geena Davis' nightmarish childbirth scene that makes women around the world turn down any advances coming from a man with coarse body hair? Goldblum's heartbreaking self discovery about becoming a fly who dreamed that he was a man? The best arm wrestling scene of all time (said as I duck punches from the Hands of Steel). All are remarkable enough, but for me, it's that final moment where a now unrecognizable Brundle stares into the barrel of a shotgun held by the weeping Davis, his inhuman eyes saying everything his nonexistant tongue now can't.

Mosquitoes may have their bites and bees their stingers, but for now, let's take comfort in the shortened life cycle of the annoying, if harmless housefly. And Hollywood, take note: when I'm reaching into the pocket of Kristy Swanson's Buffy, you know you need to start making more films.

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