Halloween Top 13: The Remake #2: The Fly (1986)

Halloween is so almost upon us that I can feel it. Literally, I’m reaching over and feeling Halloween right now, and it feels sticky like sweets…also a little gross like I might not want to have my hand in this. I should have learned a lesson about gross gooey substances and sugar when I watched today’s penultimate entry to the Halloween Top 13: The Remake, David Cronenberg’s The Fly. When you add tonight‘s film, Naked Lunch, Rabid, Dead Ringers, Videodrome, The Brood, and Scanners all up together, you have a collection of films that leave me feeling quite nauseous one way or another. The Fly though is one of he very few films that can always makes me cringe and look away lest I lose all this delicious Halloween candy I’ve been gobbling up. Not only that, as always Cronenberg delves deep into the psycho-sexual and body horror motifs always guaranteed to give me the creeps.

Beginning in medias res, scientist Dr. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) entices journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) to his laboratory with the promise of an earth shattering breakthrough. The skeptical journalist finds herself faced with an active and working transporter device, at least one capable of moving her silk stocking across the room. The problem is that Seth can’t make it transport flesh and blood creatures, but once Veronica teaches him a thing or two about the flesh (i.e. Baw-chicka-wa-wah.) he works out the problem. Soon enough he’s transporting a cute baboon across the room without turning him inside out. The new couple celebrates at first, but when Veronica goes out to put an end to the harassment by her former boyfriend and current editor Stathis (John Getz), the scientist’s fragile ego gets the best of him. He prematurely decides to transport himself, but he doesn’t realize that there’s a stowaway, Musca domestica, the common housefly.

Right up front I’m going to say that spoilers will abound in this review because I have too much I want to talk about to leave them out. So where to even start? Well, first thing’s first. If I was a crazy, depressed, drunk, heartbroken scientist, then I would have teleported myself along with Geena Davis’ stocking, but hey, that’s just me. The Fly, like so many classic horror titles, is a film about the invasion of the body by a foreign host. In this case a fly brought into the genetic structure of Seth Brundle. When the scientist first takes Veronica to his lab, he comments on its shoddy appearance saying it’s “cleaner on the inside.” He may be speaking about the building, but the idea of the purity of the body is a constant theme throughout the film. When Brundle first begins to see the effects of the transformation, he can do gymnastics, punch though walls, or arm-wrestle a guy’s arm in half. He feels that he has become more than human, and he has, just not the way he supposes.

On the other hand you have Veronica, impregnated by Seth after he suffered his transporter accident. She states plainly, “Can’t you understand? I don’t want it in my body.” It is a rejection of Brundle and what he has become, but also her reaction to the impurity in her body. She doesn’t want a child who could be deformed or turn into a fly. She even has a nightmare where she gives birth to larva. I could go into the political ideas lurking behind Cronenberg’s film, but all I will say is this. I don’t care what trimester you’re in, if you have a half fly baby (or would it be a quarter fly which would still be pretty fly for a white guy), then by all means get that thing out of you. That’s how things like Perez Hilton happen. The Fly is not the first time that Cronenberg has tackled this issue, but it may well be the best full exploration of the subject that the director has ever done.

None of what is wonderful and terrifying about the transformation of Seth Brundle into the Brundlefly is would be possible without the performance of Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum, a favorite of mine and two time Halloween Top 13 Inductee, gives one of the most dynamic performances in modern cinema, and the fact that he was not recognized as such because of the genre trappings of the picture is a real shame. At first, he seems alien to Veronica with touches of Starman-like innocence, but their relationship brings him out of his shell and he is taken over by the mechanizations of ego. As the tension builds , and Brundle becomes less human (coincidentally as Goldblum disappears beneath a layer of makeup), his performance becomes an intense, perfect piece of cinema magic. I don’t want to take anything away from Geena Davis’ solid performance or John Getz sleaze ball you hate to love, but the film is clearly Goldblum’s and he owns the moment.

The other crowning achievement of The Fly comes in the filmmaking itself. Brought to life from a script by Cronenberg and Psycho III scribe Charles Edward Pogue, The Fly takes the original version’s basic premise, a scientist who suffers from a transporter accident, and dispenses with all the “heeeelllp meeeee” campiness. In its place Cronenberg penetrates the films with the dark themes and tones that are so common in his work. Working with six time collaborator Mark Inwin as his cinematographer, Cronenberg makes the film visually dynamic to enhance his story. I especially like the subtle changes such as how Seth is never shot or shown in the same kind of light after his accident than he was before. There also needs to be something said for the sound editing. The squishy noise that accompanies the fingernail peeling scene is enough to turn my stomach each and every time.

At one point, the Brundelfy croaks, “This would make a great children’s book.”, and it might if you want your kids to grow up and be little David Cronenbergs. As I would, that probably goes to great lengths to explain why I don’t have kid. The Fly works because it is terrifying on each and every level, and the fact that it is a remake rarely if at all enters my mind. The greatest line in the movie is when Brundle, now at the end of his rope and with nothing but a dastardly plan to teleport Veronica, himself, and their unborn child into one body says, “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man, and loved it, but now the dream is over and the insect is awake.” We all have the insect, the dirty, carnal, instinctual, unemotional side lurking in us, but hopefully for most of us, it will never happen and you will never have to puke on food to eat.

Bugg Rating

That wraps it up for number 2. Join me back here tomorrow for number one and the top remakes from my number one, my lovely wife Ms. Directed. See you all then! Don’t forget, in case you missed it go back and catch up with the rest of the list and the Halloween Overachivers


  1. One of Cronenberg's best. It's such a pity he's given up making horror movies.

  2. Happy Halloween... may there be treats, not tricks...


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