This challenging body horror film isn’t one for a popcorn chow down. It’s disturbing, but features remarkable practical effects and an incredible performance from Jeff Goldblum.
This is David Cronenberg’s 1986 adaptation of a 1958 sci-fi/horror classic. Naturally, the ‘50s version features a bloke with a dodgy prosthetic head running about.
That was probably scary in the 1950s, but looks a bit pants now. For the 1986 remake, we got a masterclass in shock that doesn’t hold back. At all. Cripes. Don’t eat anything whilst watching the movie.
But for a comparison on what three decades makes, check out the original in all its glory. Cue high-pitched screaming.
Based off George Langelaan’s eponymous 1957 short story, we enter the 1986 version by meeting up with Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum).
He’s a shy, eccentric, but brilliant scientist working on a teleportation device in his expansive flat.
He meets Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), a science journalist type with big ‘80s hair. Brundle also has big ‘80s hair, so those two hit it off and begin dating.
That’s much to the ire of her editor, Stathis Borans (John Getz), who has a crush on Quaife. But is expressing his interest by behaving like a total dick (i.e. turning up at her flat and deciding to use her shower whilst she was out… men!).
Meanwhile, Brundle introduces Quaife to his telepods. The idea is to transport inanimate objects from one pod to the other.
He tests it out on a baboon (although it’s not explained where he got it from—they’re not just walking around in the street) and the beast is inverted.
That’s the first taste of the incredible practical effects, as you see this blob of flesh pulsating away quite repulsively.
Brundle eventually runs a successful test. After that he has an argument with Quaife and, upset, gets drunk and goes through the telepods.
Unaware to him, a small housefly accidentally enters the telepod moments before the door shuts. And the two are fused together.
Brundle initially feels fantastic, hooks back up with Quaife, and finds he has some impressive new physical abilities.
Taking on various animalistic characteristics, the previously shy and introspective Brundle becomes menacing – physically and sexually aggressive.
He also begins to display signs of health issues, such as chronically overindulging on sugar and growing thick hairs out of his back.
After Quaife’s concern grows over his behaviour, Brundle plots ahead with plans for his telepods. But eventually he has to acknowledge something is going very wrong.
To his horror, he soon discovers what went wrong in the telepods by thoroughly checking through computer data.
He realises he’s doomed and reaches out to Quaife for support, although she finds him in a seriously deteriorating state.
Adapting to his new human/fly status he calls himself Brundlefly and confides in Quaife he’ll have to complete the grotesque transformation and then die.
Some of the most touching scenes of The Fly take place around this point, as the former lovers have to accept it’s not going to end well.
Brundle eventually, and clearly heartbroken, has to inform her to stop coming to his flat. His reasoning being his altered genome is becoming more insect-like. He’ll start hurting her if she stays.
It’s a very moving scene and a reminder of what a terrific actor Jeff Goldblum is.
After this, Brundle becomes increasingly distressed. He tries on various attempts to try and preserve his life in some way, with each effort pushing towards total desperation.
Meanwhile Quaife finds unexpected support from her editor Stathis Boran, who stops being a prick and shows his human side.
He’s genuinely very supportive and understanding, offering heartfelt advice. Especially upon Quaife finding out she’s pregnant with the now heavily deformed Brundle’s child.
You can tell this isn’t going to end well and, sure enough, with Boran deciding to kill Brundle with a gun he breaks into the scientist’s flat.
He’s then attacked and receives horrendous burns from Brundlefly’s acidic, corrosive vomit he uses to melt down food.
Brundle’s last ditch plan is to use the telepods to fuse himself together with Quaife and their unborn child. Boran is able to intercept and the film ends on an unremittingly bleak note of what’s left of Brundlefly begging to be shot dead.
Cheerful stuff, eh? We’ve deliberately left some of the more grotesque effects out of this review for anyone squeamish. But if you aren’t then this film is absolutely worth a watch.
The Fly is a disturbing film, indicating the dangers of messing with the laws and physics and whatnot. Jeff Goldblum is commanding as the lead and, even in his character’s most desperate moments, you do feel sorry for him.
Geena Davis does a fine job at portraying her distress. Her main job in the second half of the film is to react in terror and dismay, but she has a strong character and sense of self.
Meanwhile John Getz is underrated as the initially unlikeable Boran, who goes on to become the hero of the day in his efforts to save Quaife. For which he pays an agonising price.
The Fly is excellent entertainment if you like this type of thing. A cult classic famous for its various vomit inducing moments, but with a fine cast and script to support the gore.
To this day, The Fly’s astonishing (if highly disturbing) practical effects are something to behold.
Brundle’s physical transformation is the major draw of the film and Chris Walas led the special effects team.
Goldblum, at certain stages of his character’s transformation, would spend many hours in make-up to have the various insect-like attributes applied.
In total, there were some seven stages the team needed to convey. The first being minor skin rashes, to later a full body suit. The Fly’s closing sequences relied entirely on puppets to convey the horrendous deterioration of Brundle.
Of its budget of $15 million it went on to make $60 million and it rightfully won an Oscar for best makeup. It was also critically acclaimed. Good!
The Fly II
In 1989 a sequel arrived, this time with Chris Walas stepping up to direct. Geena Davis refused to reprise her role for it.
The Fly II is as unimaginative as its title. We remember watching it ages back and realising the lack of dramatic heft was a major flaw.
It’s not a terrible film but really overrelies on the gore this time to make its point. There’s a lot of gruesome stuff in it and, yes, the practical effects are great! It’s just the script isn’t.
Making over $40 million worldwide, it was no failure. But it flew too close to other flies and then got stuck in a fly trap.