STAY CLASSY: The Fly (1986)

The Fly

I hate to admit it, but I haven’t seen as many David Cronenberg’s films as I’d like. I’ve seen mostly his newer films, such as Eastern Promises, A History of Violence and A Dangerous Method. I have been meaning to watch Scanners for ages, and today I saw some clips from The Brood, which freaked me out in giddy disbelief. (I love weird, but oh my god. Go ahead, look up some clips on YouTube. Anyway I can’t wait to watch the whole thing.) With the release of his newest film, Maps to the Stars, I am reminded of why I love Cronenberg in the first place and why I am so interested in seeing the rest of his earlier films–there is one movie that he made that I loved as a child and has stuck with me ever since, and that movie is The Fly (1986). A gory remake of the 1958 film of the same name starring Vincent Price, The Fly tells the story of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a brilliant and quirky scientist working on a teleportation project called “telepods”, and a journalist, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), who records his experiments. The two ultimately fall in love, but when Seth teleports himself with a house fly accidentally stuck inside the pod with him, Seth starts to turn into a human-fly fusion, marking the basis of one of the greatest sci-fi/body horror films ever made. The Fly has stuck with me through the years due to its emotional depth, its memorable gross-out scenes and the devastating ending. I remember my mom letting me watch it because she knew I wasn’t squeamish and for that I will be forever grateful. It’s a rare breed of film, a courageous dive into a melting pot of different genres, and I bow to Cronenberg for giving us The Fly. It will always be one of my favourites and dear to my heart.

Year released: 1986

How it fared back then: The Fly was a commercial and critical success. It held the top spot at the box office for two weeks and garnered an Academy Award in Best Makeup for Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis. Both Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were praised for their performances, but were overlooked at awards season that year, seemingly because, sadly, the academy has a history of ignoring horror.

Why it’s lasted: Ever heard the line, “Be afraid, be very afraid?” Of course you have; it has become so ingrained in our cultural identity at this point that most people don’t even know where it originated. The Fly coined that phrase, in the scene where Veronica warns a girl Seth has brought home to coax into the telepod. The dialogue in The Fly is snappy, witty and sometimes hysterical. It’s a sci-fi movie, a horror movie and a romance all uniquely blended together, superb ingredients baked into a perfect little piece of cinematic pie. It grabs you with the chemistry between Seth and Veronica, and it never loses its grip as you travel with them through the monstrous mutation of Seth into “Brundlefly” (what he calls himself as he changes) and right up until the achingly tragic ending. The characters are complex and relatable, and the nauseating body horror scenes stay with you long after the credits roll. The Fly has consistently been on many best-of and greatest horror lists since its release, and critics and audiences alike still praise it as Cronenberg’s masterpiece.

Classic moments:

  • The scene where Seth and Veronica are beginning to fall in love and Veronica mentions going on a trip together and Seth says, “Is this a romance we’re starting? Is that what this is?” That scene just feels so retro Hollywood. One classy line. I feel like no one ever says the actual word “romance” in films. It felt like an homage, almost, to the 1958 original.
  • The iconic scene of Seth’s failed attempt to teleport a baboon, and accidentally turning the baboon inside out. That one definitely sticks with you. Puppets, man.
  • Drunk Seth talking to the other successfully teleported baboon and telling him hilariously, “I’m sorry I killed your brother.”
  • After Seth teleports himself and is unknowingly beginning to morph into Brundlefly, he performs ridiculous gymnastics in his apartment to the awestruck Veronica who is watching nearby.
  • Newly transforming Seth breaking a man’s wrist during an arm-wrestling match. I always shudder watching this, even now after numerous viewings.
  • The slow realization of the mutation setting in on Seth’s face as he slowly pulls his fingernails off, then sits on the bath tub in utter disbelief.
  • The Brundle Museum of Natural History. That’s all I need to say on that one.
  • When Seth, as Brundlefly, begs Veronica to help him and she hugs him tightly despite his grotesque figure and the fact that she literally just watched him puke on his food AND watched his ear fall off, you realize that this movie is more romantic than most “romance” films. Veronica’s loyalty towards Seth is remarkable, poignant and altogether moving . I cry during this, okay?
  • Another gut-wrenching scene where Seth tells a sobbing Veronica about the politics of insects and says “I’ll hurt you if you stay.” He knows what he is becoming and that soon his actions will be out of his control, but he loves her, so as she slowly backs away, he whispers “no” under his breath repeatedly. It’s a spectacular display of acting ability on Jeff Goldblum’s part–somehow, throughout his entire metamorphosis into this grisly man-fly, his sense of humour and personality stay intact, his soul still tangible through the revolting prosthetics, so you never lose compassion for the character. It’s simply brilliant.
  • Maggot baby dream sequence, anyone?
  • I want to mention it again (I guess I wasn’t quite done) that Jeff Goldblum is magnificent, even in the beginning stages of his transformation. He talks faster, rambling on and on so speedily you can hardly keep up with what he’s saying, he eats every sugary sweet he can get his hands on, he twitches and has ticks. It’s like Jeff Goldblum was a fly in another life, and I don’t know if that’s really a compliment or not but as an eternal fan of his, I am just going to go ahead with a giant YES, YES IT PROBABLY IS.
  • Brundlefly spitting up acidic vomit on Veronica’s ex-boyfriend’s hand and leg.
  • Near the end, when Seth is right about to burst from his humanoid shell to become the fully fledged Brundlefly and Veronica accidentally rips off his jaw. From what I’ve heard, Geena Davis was not acting during this scene; she was actually disgusted. Can’t really blame her.
  • The fully formed Brundlefly pulling the shotgun Veronica grasps to his face, urging her to shoot him. Ugh. All the feels.

Does it hold up?: Absolutely, a hundred percent yes. Even now, The Fly‘s mix of body horror, sci-fi and romance has not been matched. Seriously, what other movie can you think of that can repulse you and possibly give you nightmares but somehow, at the same time, make you emotionally invested in the chemistry and love story of the two main leads? The stomach-churning factor is still just as huge now as it was then. I mean, puke never stops being disgusting and Seth is basically deteriorating before your eyes in every scene during his conversion. The Fly has also been called a metaphor on aging and disease, and those two things are universally frightening to any generation. And really, aren’t we all still secretly hoping for a teleportation device, albeit one that won’t turn us into a science experiment gone awry? I can’t be the only one.

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