The Fly (1986)

The-Fly-1986-movie-still

“A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.” — IMDb

The Fly is a movie that I first saw as a kid and it’s always been one of my favorites — with a few of the scenes seared into my memory, for better or for worse, forever. It was David Cronenberg’s film that came just a few years after The Dead Zone, which may account for how personal he got with the lead characters (rather than his signature style of pushing every boundary he can with eroticism and bizarre gore). It’s almost more of a romantic tragedy than even a horror film. And it was the largest commercial success of Cronenberg’s career (grossing over $60 million worldwide against a $9 million budget), which just proves how effective the combination can be when in the right hands. Veronica’s quote of “be afraid, be very afraid” became such a common tagline in popular culture that many people nowadays don’t even realize it originated from this film.

It is loosely based on George Langelaan’s 1957 story of the same name, and it’s a remake of the 1958 movie adaptation (directed by Kurt Neumann). It is considered to be among a trio of “horror remakes done right”, which also includes The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It went through MANY script re-writes and has quite a few scenes that were either cut due to test audience’s negative reactions or not filmed at all, and I think the final version they came up with is nearly perfect.

The story follows young, enthusiastic scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), who is working on an invention that he claims will change the course of mankind. Strong, intelligent journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) becomes interested for the sake of a story but soon develops a romantic attachment to Brundle. When his experiment goes incredibly wrong, it’s a heartbreaking journey to an inevitable conclusion…

** SPOILERS! **

I love, firstly, that this movie wastes no time diving right in. The opening scene is literally Brundle and Veronica at the party where they first meet, and within a few minutes they are back at his lab, right in the thick of learning about his experiment. On paper, it sounds too abrupt… but it was perfect. And yet, despite this quick introduction, I still felt immensely invested in the characters by the end, which I think is pretty impressive.

Jeff Goldblum’s bizarre but irresistible charm — I’ll literally watch anything that has him in it — cannot be understated (nor can his boyish good looks, but you gotta enjoy them while they last), and Geena Davis does such a skillful job at combining softness and strength. In one moment she’s calling her sleazy ex a “petty schmuck” with no hesitation right to his face, and in the next she is tenderly hugging Brundle despite his rapidly deteriorating flesh.

It has plenty of Cronenberg’s signature gore, and it looks fantastic. The monkey teleport gone wrong? Reminiscent of The Thing, just a mess of twitching innards. Brundle peeling off his gooey fingernails. The scene of him utilizing the “vomit drop” to eat a donut (holy crap I still had such a visceral reaction to that even after all these years). And the ultimate in stick-with-you-for-life horror: Veronica giving birth to the giant maggot. I swear, I would bristle at the idea of being pregnant for YEARS because, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, that scene was still playing over and over. Chris Walas (who had previously worked on Gremlins) and Stephan Dupuis (who had also worked alongside Cronenberg on Scanners) deserve huge props for both makeup work and creature development of the fully developed fly… so awesome.

It’s delightfully dated in the most comforting of ways. I wasn’t even alive yet in 1986 and yet movies from the 80s make me feel so… at home. When Brundle does his first teleportation and then, talking to the new monkey, asks “Am I different somehow? Is it live or is it Memorex?”. Come on now, so great.

It’s an awesome metaphor for disease and aging, and, perhaps, our resistance to go peacefully into a state of disability, decay, and becoming a burden on others. Really, it was a great choice to have him slowly transform rather than emerging from the pod already fully merged (especially since the slower transformation afforded him much more dialogue). Several times, Brundle urges Veronica to leave, to never come see him again. At one point he winces at her kindness, her physical closeness, and says “you’re so pretty”, implying that she need not soil herself with his deteriorating flesh. His line when he’s explaining to Veronica what went wrong in the telepod says it all: “I think it’s showing itself as a bizarre form of cancer, and general cellular chaos and revolution. I am, uh, just going to have to disintegrate.”

In the many re-writes of the script, and in the scenes shot that got scrapped, they tried to show Brundlefly as a bit more desperate, a bit more vicious… more enveloped by his primal, animal self. But they cut those in interest of keeping him relatable to the audience, and I think it was immensely helpful. You feel his pain throughout the film, especially as he continues to deal with his altered life with dark humor (“It mated us, me and the fly. We hadn’t even been properly introduced.” he says, with a grin, while simultaneously coming to grips with the fact that his cellular self is now fused with a house fly.) It’s hard not to think of Kafka when he utters “I’m saying I am an insect who dreamt he was a man, and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake.”

It’s unique, I suppose, in the sense that there really is no monster aside from age and disease. Brundle remains as human as possible up until the very last act, and even Stathis — who is insufferable for a good chunk of the movie — redeems himself. When Veronica is forced to shoot BrundlePod (BrundleFly and telepod, together forever), it’s intense and heartbreaking — in no small part because of Howard Shore’s excellent score. I freaking CRIED at the end of a horror movie and trust me, that’s not common.

This movie is worth many views, if you can stomach it. It’s human, it’s hilarious, it’s gory, it’s weird and quirky and just… awesome.

Rating: 8.5/10 | Director: David Cronenberg | Writer: George Langelaan (short story), Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg | Music: Howard Shore | Cinematography: Mark Irwin | Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

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