Where to Watch: I was not able to find a free online streaming version, but you can rent it for $3.99 on Amazon.
Seth Brundle is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. In his laboratory, he has a device that can teleport things back and forth between two pods. The device is able to do this by using a computer program that can take apart objects molecule-by-molecule in the first pod and reconstruct them in the second one. The only problem is that Seth can only teleport inanimate objects. When he tries to teleport a baboon, the computer misinterprets its molecular make-up and reconstructs it as a twitching bloody mess.
Journalist Ronnie Quaife volunteers to cover Seth’s progress for a scientific magazine, and during their time together, their relationship blossoms into a romantic one. It is with Seth’s experience with Ronnie that he is able to figure out how to program the computer to understand the essence of living beings. As a result of this reprogramming, he is successfully able to teleport a baboon from one pod to the other. However, when it comes time to test the machine on a human subject, himself, something goes wrong. A sneaky housefly flies into the pod with him just as the door is closing. When he appears in the second pod in one piece, he notices he has more energy and strength. He can have sex for hours, punch through walls, and he even snaps a man’s arm in two during an arm-wrestling match.
Ronnie notices an erratic and compulsive behavior developing in Seth. She also sees physical changes. His appearance looks unhealthy, he craves sugar, he stinks, strange insect-like hairs grow out of his back. When Seth checks the computer to see what happened to him during the teleportation, he sees that he has absorbed the fly into his DNA.
He has become the “Brundlefly.”
The Fly belongs to the “body horror” subgenre. With these films, the scares don’t come from serial killers, haunted houses, aliens, or supernatural beings. They come from watching the human body mutate uncontrollably into a hideous, unrecognizable form, a form so revolting it is able to make even the most seasoned horror fan squeamish.
The first two-thirds of the film is not scary. It’s straight-up science fiction. As Seth (Jeff Goldblum) struggles to get his teleportation system to work, we get to know him better. We empathize with his struggle; we even root for him as his romance with Ronnie (Geena Davis) develops. But then, after his DNA is fused with the fly’s, he becomes more and more unsightly. His body starts to break down. His skin deteriorates, he loses his fingernails, his teeth, his hair. In order to eat, he has to vomit a corrosive liquid onto his food and slurp it up. These scenes are nauseating, and we get more and more repulsed by the sight of him as he continues to mutate. But at the same time, we feel guilty for reacting this way. Director David Cronenberg has said that Seth’s metamorphosis is a metaphor for uncontrollable tragedies in life such as terminal illness and the aging process. What if we were in Seth’s shoes and contracted some sort of disease that made us look hideous?
At one point Ronnie discovers that she’s pregnant with Seth’s child. Afraid of what kind of monstrous being is growing inside her, she calls up her ex and demands that he arrange an abortion that night. We understand that she loved Seth a one point, and probably would have been glad to have his child, but what he’s become, and what the thing inside of her might become, is too frightening to take any chances.
In the end, when Seth is unrecognizable—a bug-eyed, slimy mutant quivering in its own goo—he reaches his arm-turned-pincer to the shotgun Ronnie is holding and points it at his own head. She doesn’t want to kill him. She didn’t want any of this to happen in the first place. She loved him. But the accident, and the resulting hideous creature he has become, changes all of that. It is tragedy at its most devastating.
Cronenberg is the poster boy of the body horror genre and his distinctive feature as a horror film director. The Fly, with its gruesome+ imagery and tragic story, is one of his most notable works.
Making the Film:
The Fly (1986) is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name. However, in the newer version, screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue and producer Stuart Cornfeld wanted to rework the material and focus on a gradual metamorphosis rather than an instantaneous monster. However, when executives read the new script, they were so unimpressed that they immediately withdrew from the project. They later realized what a mistake this was.
Chris Walas, known for his work on Gremlins, is the mastermind behind the makeup and special effects for the film, including the creation and design of the “Brundlefly” at the end.
Cronenberg intended the stages of metamorphosis Seth goes through to be a metaphor for disease and the aging process. The creature at the end was designed to appear horribly asymmetrical and deformed, and not at all a viable or robust organism.
Walas designed the Brundlefly in reverse chronological order. The creature at the end was designed first and then stage-by-stage in regressive order until he arrived at the slightly abnormal Seth. In total there are 7 stages of metamorphosis. Here they are in chronological order:
- Stages 1 and 2: subtle, rash-like skin discoloration that leads to facial lesions and sores, with tiny fly hairs dotting Goldblum’s face, in addition to the patch of fly hairs growing out of the wound on Brundle’s back.
- Stages 3 and 4-A: piecemeal prosthetics covering Goldblum’s face (and later his arms, feet, and torso), wigs with bald spots, and crooked, prosthetic teeth (beginning with stage 4-A).
- Stage 4-B: deleted from the film, this variant of stage 4 was seen only in the “monkey-cat” scene, and required Goldblum to wear the first of two full-body foam latex suits, as Brundle has stopped wearing clothing, at this point.
- Stage 5: the second full-body suit, with more exaggerated deformities, and which also required Goldblum to wear distorting contact lenses that made one eye look larger than the other.
- Stage 6: the final “Brundlefly” creature (referred to as the “space bug” by the film’s crew), depicted by various partial and full-body cable- and rod-controlled puppets.
- Stage 7: another puppet which represented the mortally injured Brundlefly-Telepod fusion creature (initially dubbed the “Brundlebooth” and later the “Brundlething” by the crew) as seen in the film’s final moments.
In a cut scene, a cat is put into the pod and teleported, but instead of arriving in one piece, it mixes with monkey molecules left over from a previous teleportation, which causes it to morph into a “monkey-cat” creature. The scene was cut when test audiences found it too upsetting.
The original script had Seth turning into an actual housefly. However, Cronenberg wanted something more hideous, so he rewrote him turning into a “human-fly hybrid” instead.
In the scene where Ronnie warns Tawny about Seth, she says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” This quote was used as the film’s marketing tagline and became so popular in everyday vernacular that few people who say it know that it originated from The Fly.
The Fly is considered a token example of the body horror genre. The following is a description:
The body horror genre involves the violations or distortions of the body that are rarely the result of immediate or initial violence. Instead, they are generally marked by a loss of conscious control over the body through mutation, disease, or other tropes involving uncontrolled transformation. The genre can invoke intense feelings of physical and psychological disgust and play upon anxieties of physical vulnerability. In addition to common tropes used within the broader horror genre, some tropes specific to the body horror subgenre may include invasion, contagion, mutation, transformation, disease, mutilation, or other unnatural or violent distortions of the human body.Wikipedia
With a budget of $15 million, The Fly went on to make $60 million worldwide, a massive success.
Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis won an Academy Award for Makeup that year for their work on The Fly.
Some critics saw the film as a cultural metaphor for AIDS, while Cronenberg contradicted them, saying that he intended it to be a general analogy for disease itself, terminal conditions like cancer, and, more specifically, the aging process.
It is generally regarded as one of the best examples of body horror.