Bloody Countdown to Halloween: The Fly

As the spooky season raises its sharpened axe to soon fall upon us, the ghouls and goblins of Film Ireland wallow in the terror of the films that embrace the nutty freaks, bloody psychos and raging spoonatics with our ‘Bloody Countdown to Halloween’ – cue Vincent Price laugh…

 

The Fly

(David Cronenberg, 1986)
 

William O’Keefe

There is many a hardy soul immune to the gore and frights of horror; the classics may have become muted over time, through re-watching or over exposure, and contemporary horror can be as frightening as an Andrex puppy through predictability and reliance on gore. Away from the movie screen however and offer that same person a piece of chicken, left atop a kitchen counter and let them see for a moment that a fly has had a moment to perch on the chicken meat and do its worst – even in pangs of humour, the meat will be avoided. While there may be scientific fact and documented medical cases, there is the much more impactful warnings of our mothers of flies landing on food intent on planting eggs to gestate. This is not a pleasing prospect – food, riddled with the spawn of a matted black, winged buzzing insect with compound eyes. So, even with all the detachment you can afford yourself in watching a horror movie and assurances this could never happen, the events of The Fly; the literal erosion of Jeff Goldblum’s human body, and transformation and mutation to one that seems comprised of oozy, navy cream filling when splatted on a window will strike a pre-natural fear in you.

The Fly is uneasy to watch, though of course entirely watchable – it is a visceral story which hardly steps outside the doors of our ill-fated scientists lab and as with most stories there is a girl at its heart. Film, and in particular horror, is full of morphed characters, awakened to instinctive, primal urges, becoming heightened versions of their former selves and most often maniacally violent. Everyone from Harvey Dent to Tweety Bird has had some evil unleashed from within, but this has always been tempered by the effort of their good intentions to win through. There is no finer example of this conflict than Jeff Goldblum and the work he does in The Fly – no amount of gore and dismemberment by toxic vomit can take from the compassion for our hero as he struggles with the way his body and mind changes and the desire he has to right things. His initial self is arrogant but determined, not a clean living character to corrupt but nonetheless the tension that follows puts us on a journey with him. For all the cliché that may smack off, we do want to support his search for a solution no matter how desperate the predicament becomes and unlikely a positive outcome will be. Even in the final moments he looks for solutions and to construct a family. His final resignation is all the more wrenching. Whatever science fiction or horror genre you might assign to The Fly it is most certainly a tragic tale.

‘Waiter, there’s a fly on my soup.’

The look of the transformation is key; it is convincing and it is vivid. The slow but steady change is unnerving, expanding from odd hair growth to a complete grotesque molting at the finale. (Should the rumoured re-make go into production, it is doomed if it considers CGI – only man-made, caked-on layers of crusty make up that needs peeling off will create the right effect). All the while love interest Geena Davis stays as loyal as possible, her own sense of dread growing, she gets to offer the ultimate of warnings and a now classic movie tag line ‘Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid’. The Fly is considered one of the finest movies of the ’80s and it is a very worthy entry for your DVD collection. It is a simple construct but over achieves in its noble aims, telling a good horror story with plenty of images to make you shudder.

William O’Keefe

Check out our blood-soaked countdown of Halloween Horror here.

 

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We Love… Summer: 'Last Summer'

We Love… Summer

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Blisters on your shoulders, sand in your underwear, coughing up seawater and being packed into a caravan with the entire extended family – the sweet, sweet memories of summers past. Thank God we have film to look back on with pleasure. And so the Film Ireland sun lovers lay down their towels, unwrap a Cornetto and recall their favourite summer films in the latest installment of We Love… Summer. William O’Keefe returns to a ‘Last Summer’ of innocence.

We’ll be adding to the list throughout July – check it out here.

As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact steven@filmbase.ie

Now lash on the sunblock…

 

Last Summer

(1969)


William O’Keeffe

 

Robbie Williams and probably someone more learned before him said that youth is wasted on the young, but I wasted an awful amount of time very well, by filling my summers with movies and TV. ‘Last Summer’ came to me one night after The Late Late Show, shown as part of a RTE segment called ‘The Last Picture Show’ which I have since uncovered was a take on a BBC innovation. A man whose name I somehow remember, Brian Reddin, introduced a classic movie, or an unknown but still revered movie, gave us a shopping list of key points or scenes to watch out for while viewing as well as trivia on the movies production.

This little late night segment introduction helped form this writer’s tastes – introducing me to the enigma of Hitchcock, explaining film noir and the allure of the femme fatale amongst many other things. Reddin explained to me that Last Summer was a deep tale of burgeoning hormones and uncertainty and in my then unwillingness to disagree with someone I presumed more knowledgeable, I watched it and indeed watched these movies most Friday nights, holding them in high regard. An impressionable teenager, watching it as it happens during one of my own aimless summers, the movie initially terrified me that my own life should match the drama on show, but thankfully time convinces you to aspire to a much quieter life.

The impact of Last Summer is undoubted; it is a movie to dwell on. It is charged with tension and quiet drama; teenagers caught up in a dysfunctional comraderie as they spend a summer at the beach as they try to weather a storm of urges, personalities and conflicts with endless blue skies overhead. The movie doesn’t open lightly and darken from therein, there is an unsettling ambivalence about the three characters we meet on the white sanded beach in the opening scene; a strong willed knowing girl (Barbara Hershey) and the two boys (Richard Thomas and Bruce Davison) come upon her tending to an injured seagull. A friendship of sorts grows from here and this rapport is itself unfurled when a second girl (Rhoda played by Catherine Burns in an Oscar nominated role) joins the group later in the film. The movie is dripping in summer heat, set on the wonderfully titled Fire Island. Scantily clad teens lounge around restlessly, free from authority, dissecting each others characters in a way that makes the cast of Dawsons Creek seem like toddlers.

There are no stock characters, the boys leer after the beautiful Sandy in conflicted union, lead by her strong character, which is of course copper fastened by the power she knows she has over them. Burns, plays a sort of tragic Lisa Simpson to the rest of the group and her mixed maturity and sheepishness make her a prime target for their aggravating. There are power shifts and moments of pure darkness and in a sense the title becomes more telling as this summer spent at the beach proves to be a last summer of childhood and innocence for these teens.

I don’t know now the full impression Last Summer made on me that night, or that I had the faculty to understand it, but I know the movie spoke to my underdeveloped identity and was numbing in its portrayal of bullying, cliques and growing up.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm_KbPatQeo

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We Love… Christmas: ‘The Apartment’

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Throughout December we’ll be adding more Christmas films we love – so keep an eye on the website and feel free to add any of your own…

 

The Apartment

William O’Keefe

The tag line for The Apartment runs: ‘Movie-wise there has never been anything like The Apartment; love-wise, laugh-wise or other-wise’. On all accounts this is true. There are laughs – line after line of smart and sophisticated humour, the tag line refers to the addition of the word ‘wise’ to many words spoken during the film, mocking the corporate speak of the world these people inhabit.

‘That’s how it crumbles, cook-wise’

This is only one of many touches and detail which litter the film. So too there is all the mess and drama of love and there is all the other darkness and light that mark this movie apart from what you might expect of a black and white movie from 1960. The film is full of flawed people, self-serving and unaware – there is depth to the characters, they are trapped by circumstance and their own foibles. There is no easy fix working towards a sugar coated resolution on Christmas morning. Jack Lemmon, on everyman duty as ‘Bud’, and in winning form doing so, spends Christmas Day nursing Shirley MacClaine’s ‘Fran’ through her suicide attempt from the previous evening. Bud loves Fran, but she had ended up on his apartment on Christmas Eve because she is caught up in an affair with a married man and Bud lets out his apartment to senior executives in his work place in return for career advancement to roles which have no meaning, but nice offices.

Bud’s love for Fran is the purest element of the film. His and her actions are otherwise both misguided. Bud describes himself as Robinson Crusoe, ship wrecked among eight million people. There is no better description for this lost man, sitting on park benches while his apartment is used for affairs as he slips into docile acceptance of his situation. Shirley MacClaine plays Fran as naïve but jaded, self-aware but self-destructive. From the minute she appears on screen she sets proceedings alight with her snappy delivery, wit and eyes which can tear up on cue. She likes the cracked mirror in her make up compact as it reflects how she sees herself. She just might be the best example of a person to love because of her flaws.

‘When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara’

Ironic misfortune and debauched Christmas parties set events in a downward spiral. The Christmas setting is the apt background for the wavering souls. A solution or a change at least does come for our couple however. Bud decides to extricate himself from his situation on New Years Eve while Fran needs one final wake up call to the reality of her situation and who truly cares for her. The final scene is perfect and elusive in a way – for this writer it suggests the couple have a way to go. She may have run through the melee of New Year’s Eve to find Bud, but Fran does not admit to any love. She is committed to them as a unit and how they will go to ‘another neighbourhood, another town, another job’. The final result is a hopeful one as they begin a new year together – a very effective sign off.

There are many quotes about cinema and the medium of film. My favourite of these is that cinema is not a slice of life, it is a slice of cake. The Apartment is the essence of such a sweet treat. Billy Wilder amidst the high point of his career, delivers a rich, wonderfully cynical commentary, a romance and a comedy. The film abounds in charm and as a construct is near perfect in terms of tone, character and story.

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