Year Released : 1986
Director : David Cronenberg
Cast : Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz
So we’ve come to it at last, the final day of my month long look at horror films leading up to Halloween and what better way to end it than by talking about my favourite horror film, David Cronenberg’s masterpiece “The Fly”?
Much like “The Thing”, The Fly is an ingenious masterpiece and regularly tops lists of the best remakes of of all time, no mean feat indeed. Not a lot of people even realise it’s a remake, infact I work with a guy who knows more about films than anyone I know and even he didn’t know that it wasn’t a remake….then again, he is from Hull so there is somewhat of an excuse there for not known culture (even though it was comedically named as City of Culture for 2017)
The Fly regularly tops the lists of many professional critics for the best horror film of all time, as well as many body-horror film lists, and there are many a good reason for this.
Veronica (Davis) is a journalist for the Particle magazine and has been invited to the Bartok Industries meet-the-press event and she is giving up hope of meeting anyone with anything worth reporting, then she runs into the socially awkward Seth (Goldblum). Seth intrigues Veronica’s curiosity after he says that other people only claim to be changing the world, he actually is. Following on from that she goes back to his home, which also doubles up as his lab. Veronica is unimpressed when he reveals that the three huge pods on the middle of the room are teleportation pods.
Veronica refuses to believe it until his successfully transports a stocking from one pod to another. Seth asks Veronica to keep the story quiet so that he can complete his work, and then at the end of it she will have exclusivity for the story. Seth continues to demonstrate objects teleporting successfully but admits that he has always had trouble transporting live animals, and his latest attempt turns a baboon inside out.
The pair start a romantic relationship and the first session of sex between them proves to be an inspiration to Seth and he reprograms his machine. Seth then sends through a second baboon and this one survives without any seeming negative affects. Seth wants to celebrate with a romantic evening between the two but Veronica leaves.
Filled with rage caused by alcohol and paranoia that Veronica is getting back together with her editor and former lover, Stathis (Getz), Seth decides to test the machine without her there as revenge, even though in reality she is actually seeing Stathis regarding a threat. As this is going on, Seth climbs inside the machine to test it on himself and he successfully transports from one pod to another, but is completely unaware that a fly was in the pod at the same time. When Seth emerges from the new pod, the fly is no-where to be seen.
Seth and Veronica reconcile their differences and the effects of the transportation seem to have rejuvenated Seth, with increased strength, stamina and sexual performance. He theorises that the transportation purified his body, but Veronica grows wary of Seth’s increasing ego and mania. She also finds stiff hairs growing out of a previously sustained wound. Seth’s ego soon turns into arrogance and violence as he tries to force Veronica to go through the teleportation herself. She refuses and claims that it has changed Seth and has made him sick. He leaves angrily.
He walks down a shopping district whilst munching on sugar based confectionary and enters a bar. Seth challenges a considerably bigger man to an arm-wrestle to claim a night of sex with his girlfriend. The man, despite being considerably larger than Seth, struggles to even nudge his arm, with Seth almost looking bored. Set decides to put an end to it and forces the opponent’s arm so hard it results in a compound fracture. After a night of sex, Seth tries to force the woman into teleportation, claiming it will make her pure, but she refuses and Veronica only just turns up at the last second to save her. The woman runs off.
Veronica fearfully tells Seth that the hairs that were found on his back were insect hairs and he laughs it off. After a heated tirade at Veronica, Seth forces her to leave and slams the door shut behind her. Seth retreats to the bathroom and stares at himself and notices that his skin is in considerably worse condition than he had realised, with insect hairs popping out of warts and bumps all over his face. Whilst pondering, Seth accidentally pulls one of his teeth out with seemingly no effort and he then notices that his fingernails have become detached from the nailbeds, much to his disgust and he realises that something is very wrong.
He hurriedly analyses the information from the computer about his teleportation and it’s only at this point that Seth realises a fly was in the machine with him. After several calculations, the computer reveals that it has fused Seth and the fly at the molecular-genetic level, meaning that Seth will eventually turn into something else. A sense of fear grips Seth.
Four weeks pass when Ronnie goes around to Seth’s attic at his request. When she arrives she finds a considerably deteriorated Seth, who now has faded skin, a rapidly balding head, a slightly hunched appearance and requires two sticks to allow him to walk. He tells Veronica about what has happened and theorises that he is neither human or fly, but rather a merger of the two, and he starts referring to himself as Brundlefly. Seth also goes to eat a donut but vomits all over it. His ear also falls off after briefly touching it and he begs Veronica for help.
She returns several days later to record what is happening to Seth and finds that he can now move without the sticks but has a considerably more hunched appearance, noticeably less hair, a growth on the left hand side of his body, several ticks and twitches, and a considerably sunnier disposition than the last time that Veronica saw him. He acknowledges that he is becoming less and less human in both appearance and mentally, and is losing his ability for rational thinking. Seth explains why he vomits over food to the video camera in a video that is then watched by Stathis. He is disgusted by what he sees before Veronica runs in the door having found out that she is pregnant with Seth’s baby, and is deathly afraid that she only become pregnant after Seth went through the machine.
Several weeks then go by and Seth’s body is barely recogniseable anymore due to several deforming bumps, the loss of his penis, his bottom cheeks fusing together, several fingers fusing together, and various others. Veronica visits him to tell him that she is pregnant and is driven to tears at Seth’s mental deterioration as he starts to talk about becoming an insect politician. He doesn’t reveal that he has come up with a plan to fuse two subjects together into one body, in theory allowing him to be human again.
Veronica dreams that she gives birth to a giant maggot and forces Stathis to take her to a doctor there and then, but Seth kidnaps her before the abortion can be carried out. Stathis goes to Seth’s lab to find them but he is caught by Seth, and he responds to the intrusion of Stathis by vomiting on his hand and ankle, causing both to melt. Seth goes to vomit on Stathis’ face but Veronica saves him at the last second with pleas of mercy. Seth pleads with her to keep the baby as it might be the only thing that is left of his humanity but Veronica refuses as she is afraid it will be a mutant. It is at this point that Seth reveals his fusion plan as he desperately tries to find an end to his misery.
He grabs Veronica’s hand but she fights back and accidentally tears Seth’s jaw from his face. This start’s Seth’s final transformation into the human-fly hybrid. Now stronger than he previously frailed body would allow, Seth forces Veronica into a pod and he enters another, but Stathis manages to rescue her with seconds to spare by shooting the power cable to the pod. Seth climbs out of his body but doesn’t get fully away on time and his is sent to the third pod with part of his pod’s door.
Seth emerges from the new pod and is now fused with chunks of the pod. He crawls towards Veronica and Stathis, picking up the end of the shotgun that Veronica is now holding with his pincer-like claw. He holds it against his head in a plea for death. Veronica tearfully refuses to do so before inevitably pulling the trigger to end Seth’s suffering.
So why is The Fly such a well made horror film?
The true horror of The Fly is not that it’s a body horror film, it’s not because it’s a creature film, it’s that it’s an emotional tour-de-force of the breakdown of a person’s humanity.
As time goes on and Seth’s body starts letting him down in more ways than one (such as his voice no longer being recognised by his computer), the true horror comes with him desperately trying to hang on to his humanity and the ultimate irony of that desperation seemingly hurrying up the loss of what he is trying to keep.
For example, in his desperation just before his final transformation, Seth forces Veronica into a pod in the hopes that it would return him to a human form, or at least his DNA in the form of unborn child helping him effectively reset, however, Veronica still had her clothes on and the resulting splicing and combination of her, Seth and the baby, as well as the clothes that Veronica was wearing, would have more than likely been an even worse monstrosity.
Seth had previously been a methodical and meticulous scientist, but his mental state meant that he didn’t consider anything about what he was trying to do in the final scenes and it was a plan of delusion and desperation, something that pre-Fly Seth wouldn’t have even considered because of how unnecessarily risky it was.
The character goes through a very strange emotional development throughout the film. Each time you see him at a new stage of transformation he is at different places emotionally. Before he realises what is happening to him he is elated and self-congratulatory, then after he does eventually realises he goes through fear, despair, acceptance, emotional desperation and then angry desperation, all of which are brought to life by Goldblum’s performance.
Jeff Goldblum gives a near perfect performance as Seth Brundle and he brings the character alive. It would have been easy to overplay the role and make it almost a parody of the situation, but Goldblum nails it at every stage of the character’s transformation, ranging from his initial socially awkward nature, right through to the final scenes of desperation just before the character goes though the final transformation.
Don’t get me wrong, the performances of Davis and Getz are also commendable, and all three of the actors bring the story to life, but to suggest that Goldblum isn’t the standout performer of the three would be pure farce. Whilst I could pick many different scenes in which to show you to reflect Goldblum’s performance, this is always the scene that stands out most for me as it shows the true delusion of the character of Seth and although it only lasts a few seconds, Goldblum’s mannerisms, eyes and general body language give the perfect impression of a man who is going through a bit of megalomania.
Moving away from Goldblum’s tour-de-force performance, the pacing is nigh on perfect as well as the film isn’t in a rush to show you Seth’s transformation. It takes you there gradually and it takes the time to build up the characters, although Stathis definitely takes a back seat to Seth and Veronica, but you get to know all three characters reasonably well.
Although I haven’t watched it for a while, I’m pretty certain that Seth doesn’t even realise that he’s transforming until at least half way through the 96 minute run time, and this allows plenty of time for the characters to actually become people that you care about. They’re not suffocated by having the situation to deal with straight away.
The Fly is comfortably one of the best horror movies every made and this is because of many reasons, including the excellent pacing, the indepth look into how a perfectly reasonable person loses all rationality when in a desperate situation, and most importantly, a superb, tour-de-force style performance from Jeff Goldblum.
Goldblum steals the show and brings a performance that makes it obvious why he went on to become the highest grossing film star of all time (according to an article I read some time ago). That’s not to say that Getz and Davis did a bad job either, but the undoubted star of the film is Goldblum.
This is one of the easiest approved stamps I’ve ever given and it is also the perfect way to end my month long look at horror films.
Happy Halloween 🙂