Synopsis: In this chilling remake of the horror classic, Jeff Goldblum stars as an overly ambitious scientist who accidentally merges with a housefly while conducting a bizarre teleporting experiment. Now his journalist girlfriend (Genna Davis) suddenly finds herself caring for a hideous creature whose insect half gradually begins to take over.
The Fly (1986) 7.75
eyelights: Jeff Goldblum. its plot. its themes. its technology.
eyesores: its make-up. its gore effects. its third act.
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Why anyone decided to remake ‘The Fly‘ is beyond me: the 1958 sci-fi horror classic has an intriguing central conceit but is delivered in a semi-hokey fashion; short of going all camp, it’s hard to imagine it being updated for modern audiences.
And yet, that’s exactly what 20th Century Fox did in 1986, after enlisting the help of cult Canadian director David Cronenberg. Completely re-written, and made on a moderate budget, this new version took a much grittier tack on the material.
Instead of awkwardly building up a mystery (and some melodrama) for the first two acts, before unleashing its beast, the remake makes the transition from human to man-fly its central focus; it shows our hero’s descent into monstrosity.
In fact, a large part of its appeal is Jeff Goldblum’s quirky performance as Seth, the perfect vehicle for the weirdness that will unfold as his behaviour and physical form gradually shifts. Thanks to Goldblum, Seth’s metamorphosis is fascinating.
The other big part of ‘The Fly’s success are the make-up and special effects that bring this shocking change to the screen. Though they show their age, it’s a far cry from the bug mask and claw hand that were their predecessor’s trademark.
This man-fly is positively grotesque.
Combined with Goldblum’s performance, Seth’s transmutation chills the bone; a neurotic, but relatively well-adjusted person transforms into a horrifying creature utterly detached from its humanity. He becomes unrecognizable, an “other”.
The plot itself is a bit flimsy since it rests entirely on Goldblum and the special effects team: there’s Seth’s romantic entanglement with Veronica, a reporter interested in his work and the jealousy that it spawns in one of her former suitors.
But that’s about it.
Yet it manages to fall apart at the end with a few contrivances that I suspect were required of a large-scale production: there had to be some sort of resolution. One couldn’t just explore and study endlessly; there had to be an emotional climax.
While it does add a few thrills, they feel wedged in there carelessly, without full consideration – merely out of necessity. It seems very clear that plot wasn’t Cronenberg’s primary concern with this picture; he probably just tossed in an ending.
Frankly, ‘The Fly’ is more of a playground for him: his career up until then was steeped in a distrust of technology and was obsessed with the transmogrification of the human form into something inhuman. Here he was able to truly go wild.
I obviously haven’t studied Cronenberg’s oeuvre in great detail, but one gets the impression that he believes that our scientific pursuits are changing us, creating something altogether different, unnatural. There’s an obvious fascination there.
This was the case with ‘Shivers’, ‘Rabid’, ‘The Brood’, ‘Scanners’, and ‘Videodrome‘ and he would carry on further for a few more years before delving into more psychological matters. But ‘The Fly’ explores “the flesh” more deeply and accessibly.
The picture was a hit. A big hit.
And rightly so. Though the script has its shortcomings and some of the picture’s technical aspects are weak by today’s standards, in the mid-’80s this was by far one of the better horror films out there; the genre was in a rather shallow phase then.
‘The Fly’ still plays well today, though it does feel a bit dated on some levels; it’s strong on atmosphere and creep factor all the while sprinkling touches of the fantastic. At the very least, it’s worth it for Jeff Goldblum’s phenomenal turn as Brundlefly.
Though neither he nor Cronenberg would not return, a sequel would nonetheless follow three years later.
They’d created a monster.
Date of viewing: July 24, 2017