Friday, August 19, 2016

Franchises: The Fly. The Fly (1986)

I remember when I used to visit our town's video rental store when I was a kid, I saw the VHS box for this film (with that very poster art) in the horror section and, while I knew of the original 1958 movie, something told me that this was not that film. I don't know if I ever looked on the back when I was a kid but I just knew that this was not the movie that I had read about at my school and local libraries (a feeling that was confirmed by the box for The Fly II being right next to it, as I knew that back in the 50's, sequels weren't simply numbered). Over the years, I learned two significant things about this movie: that it starred Jeff Goldblum, whom I had always liked since he was in one of the most important movies of my childhood, Jurassic Park, and that it was very gross and disturbing. It was in that Monster Madness book that first got me interested in the original where I learned a significant amount about the movie, namely that Goldblum was actually the scientist who became the fly, and that Mel Brooks, whom I didn't know then but my mom did, informing me of some of his stuff when I read it to her, was involved with it. I saw some clips from it here and there as I got older, mainly from an AMC documentary about horror films called Monster Mania, which was hosted and narrated by Jack Palance, and from an advertisement for it on Sci-Fi Channel when they were going to show it, which was made up of a rapid montage of the grosser moments, which was enough to make my twelve-year old skin crawl, but I didn't actually see it until I caught it on cable one day after school when I was 14. While I was, admittedly, a little hesistant after everything I'd heard and what little I'd seen, I decided to go ahead and watch it since, by that point, I'd become a big fan of the original. And, let me tell you, it was one of the creepiest, most disgusting, and unsettling viewing experiences I'd ever had up to that point. I'd seen some pretty gory films by that point but this movie gave me chills and freaked me out in ways I had never felt before. I knew I was in for it early on when the test with the first baboon goes awry and it just got worse from there until, by the end, I couldn't believe what I was seeing and couldn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the night and for much of the following day. I saw the latter half of it a couple of more times later on, right after I had gotten out of school for the summer, and I also eventually bought it on DVD (that was the summer I got my first DVD player) in a double feature with its sequel and, each time, it still really disturbed me. And yet, something kept drawing me back and I watched it again and again and again, slowly but surely growing to appreciate it for its other well-done aspects aside from the creep factor and the incredible special effects. Today, it's a movie that I've watched more times that I can count and is, in my opinion, truly one of the greatest horror movies ever made, not just one of the best remakes (I think this film is much farther above that). Rather than saying that it's better than the original, I instead feel that it's equally as effective, just in a different way, and, above everything else, is one of the most realistic and horrifying stories of a scientific experiment gone wrong that's been told.

At a meet-the-press type of party arranged by Bartok Science Industries, Seth Brundle, an eccentric and rather reclusive scientist who works for the company, meets Veronica, also known as "Ronnie," a journalist for Particle Magazine. Telling her that he's working on, "Something that'll change the world and human life as we know it," but refusing to elaborate, he takes her to the warehouse where he both lives and works, revealing that he's invented a set of machines, called "Telepods," that can teleport objects. Excited by this, and determined to get a great story, Veronica secretly records Seth's explanation of how he invented the machines and, despite his protests, attempts to have her editor and former boyfriend, Stathis Borans, shape it into a story. Fortunately for Seth, Borans is unimpressed, thinking it to be a con, and he's able to convince Veronica to hold off on writing about the Telepods until he's perfected them and then, she'll be able to publish a book that will serve as the complete record of the groundbreaking machine. As she covers his work, Veronica and Seth become romantically involved and after she inadvertently gives him some inspiration about how to fix the machine's problems with teleporting living creatures, and despite some obsessed intrusion from Borans, the Telepods soon work perfectly. However, just as they're about to celebrate, Veronica discovers a package that was slipped under Seth's door that turns out to be a threat from Borans regarding publishing the story without her consent. Heading off to confront him without explaining, Seth's insecurities over their possibly seeing each other behind his back lead him to become jealous and drunk. His judgement impaired, he decides to go ahead and teleport himself, not noticing a housefly that slips into the pod with him. He emerges from the receiver pod, seemingly normal, and he and Veronica reconcile when she returns later that night. The next day, Seth realizes that he's now much stronger and more energetic, to the point of becoming manic, in addition to a strong taste for sugar, seemingly endless sexual potency, and strange, black hairs growing out of his back. Veronica is unable to keep up and when she refuses to be teleported, as Seth thinks the process is somehow purifying and cleansing, he angrily heads out to find somehow willing to do so. When this plan doesn't work, mostly due to Veronica's intervention, who then tells Seth that the hairs from his back resembled those of an insect, he throws her out. But, when he sees horrific and disgusting things happening to his body in the bathroom, he reviews the record of his teleportation, learns about the fly, and discovers that the computer spliced him and the fly together. As time passes and Seth mutates more and more, becoming less human and more insect-like, physically and mentally, he tries to find a way to cure himself, while, at the same time, Veronica learns that the real horror may be growing inside her, as she's pregnant with Seth's child.

This film is significant in my movie-viewing life in that it was my introduction to a filmmaker whom I've really grown to admire over the years: that mad genius from Canada, David Cronenberg. When I went into this movie for the first time, I had no idea who he was or what else he had directed; I watched it because I was a big fan of the original. As I watched it more and more and began to really appreciate its deeper aspects, however, I slowly began to learn more about Cronenberg's body of work as a whole, mainly through the Horror Movie Survival Guide book, which introduced me to several of his films, particularly The Brood, and documentaries and specials like Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and Masters of Horror (not the Showtime series), where I saw glimpses of other films like The Dead Zone and Videodrome. I have to confess, I first thought Cronenberg was considered one of those directors whose other films were considered crude, lesser efforts and that he reached the peak of his filmmaking with The Fly but, as I learned more about him and others' opinions of him, I realized that he was always considered a gifted director and had only gotten better as he went on. And, as I've gone through his filmography (he's one of the few directors who I can safely say I've seen every single one of his films), I've become inclined to agree with that sentiment. Speaking of his filmography, The Fly, which is and will always be my personal favorite, is also significant there for a couple of reasons. One, it was the first of his films to be released by a major studio like 20th Century Fox and was one of the biggest budgets he'd ever had at that time ($9 million). Second, it was his last true horror film, as after this, he began moving more towards dark dramas and thrillers, with films like Dead Ringers, M. Butterfly, and Crash. I've always felt that this movie was the culmination of the "body horror" concept he'd been working with ever since he began making feature films, the one where it truly crystalized into that perfect shape, and maybe he felt so too, which is why he moved on from the horror genre afterward. He would continue to explore the concept in a number of his non-horror films (Dead Ringers never fails to make me cross my legs) but even then, he would gradually move his subject matter into a more psychological realm, shucking it off entirely.

As much as I loved him in Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, when I first went into this film, I wasn't quite sure if Jeff Goldblum would be able to pull off this kind of role, but when I saw it, I completely changed my tune. Like a lot of people, I think he gives his greatest performance here and the fact that he wasn't even nominated for an Oscar is a testament to just how biased the Academy is against these types of films. He plays both Seth Brundle's mental and physical metamorphosis absolutely pitch-perfect and, most importantly, makes him, above everything else, a quirky, likable guy who you hate to see this horrible thing happening to. When you first meet him, he's a brilliant but eccentric and reclusive man who, you can guess, only went to the party Bartok Science Industries held for the press because he had to and certainly didn't expect to meet someone who would take an interest in him. However, as he himself later says, he's been working on his own for so long that he desperately wants to tell somebody what he's doing and what he's stumbled across, which is why he's eager to take Veronica back to his place to show her. It almost proves to be a colossal mistake when he learns that she recorded him talking and intends to use it as the basis for a magazine article, although fortunately for him, Stathis Borans thinks it's nothing more than an elaborate hoax. When Veronica makes it clear that she intends to tell someone else about it, Seth makes her the offer to cover his work and eventually publish a book that'll serve as the complete record of the machine's invention, mainly just to keep her quiet and not get him in trouble with his employers. That leads into the first major change that Seth goes through in the film, which is when he and Veronica begin their romance and he has what, given his reclusive lifestyle, has to be his first sexual experience. It's also significant in that it leads to some unexpected inspiration for him. Like Andre Delambre in the original, Seth doesn't feel he's as brilliant as everyone else might think, admitting that the Telepods are made up of a lot of equipment he doesn't understand (similar to something Andre said), which he's farmed out from other sources, and he blames himself for the disastrous experiment with the first baboon, feeling that he doesn't know enough about living tissue to program the computer successfully. But, when Veronica tells him that the flesh makes people crazy, like old ladies who pinch babies' cheeks, he decides to take that approach and "teach" the computer to be made crazy by the flesh of the teleportation subject. This works successfully and his relationship with Veronica grows all the stronger as a result... until Veronica abruptly leaves to confront Borans without telling Seth. Insecure and jealous, as he's never had such a strong relationship with a woman and fears that she might be cheating on him, he gets drunk and hastily decides to teleport himself, which proves to be his downfall.

At first, it seems like the teleportation went off without a hitch and Seth is the same as he was when he went through. However, there's an interesting moment not too long after the teleportation where he first realizes that's not the case, one that I think is unfairly overlooked whenever people talk about the film. In the early morning hours, he's lying in bed with Veronica as a fly buzzes back and forth above them, when his right arm juts up automatically and catches it in his hand. Seth then wakes up, opens his hand to reveal the fly, and when it buzzes off, he has a perplexed look on his face, clearly not sure what to make of what just happened, and gets out of bed. It's a really eerie, well-played by moment by Goldblum and it's obvious that he knows something's different. That's when he learns that the difference seems to be a good thing, as he's now much stronger and more agile than he ever was before, with seemingly endless stamina, a change that he likens to the teleportation, feeling that the process is a purifying one akin to coffee being put through a filter. What Seth doesn't notice, though, is how manic he now is, rattling on in a restaurant about his theory of how he's changed at a very fast pace and a rather loud tone, to the point where he's pounding the table, much to Veronica's concern and embarrassment. In addition to a sudden, constant craving for sugar, Seth also finds that he now has remarkable sexual potency, able to do it for hours on end without stopping, which absolutely wears Veronica out. And, most notably, he's now more arrogant, impatient, and short-tempered, which we get a hint of at the restaurant when he becomes irritated with a waiter and then see full-on when he yells at Veronica when she refuses to be teleported, "You're a fucking drag, you know that?!" He refuses to listen to her when she tries to tell him that something went wrong when he was teleported, feeling that she's not worthy of being with him as she's too afraid to, "Dive into the plasma pool," and become perfect as he feels he's become, leading him to go find somebody else. He brazenly hits on a woman named Tawny who he meets at a bar and effortlessly breaks the arm of the enormous guy she's wife, taking her with him as his prize. While she enjoys his rather aggressive sex, she's not too thrilled about being teleported, which he recklessly showed her earlier (it's obvious he no longer cares about getting in trouble with his employers or peers), and is saved from doing so when Veronica intervenes. She again tries to warn him that there's something seriously wrong with him, telling him that the strange black hairs that were growing out of his back earlier proved to be similar to insect hairs when she had them analyzed, but all Seth hears is someone who's jealous of the "freedom" he now has and angrily throws her out, telling her not to come back. But, that's when he bothers to look at himself in the bathroom and discovers that there is something wrong when he's able to bite and pull his fingernails completely off. Now frightened that he's dying, Seth checks the records of his first teleportation and learns the horrific truth of what happened with the fly.

As I said back in my review of the original film, I feel that the gradual loss of humanity that Seth goes through is just as powerful as the instant loss that Andre went through, just in a different way. Here, not only do we see the person that we started out with slowly being ebbed away, but we can also hear him articulate himself about what he's going through and what he's feeling, which is more than we got with Andre typing up notes or writing on a chalkboard, although I still think that is effective in its own way. We get a sense of the fear he's going through, as the mutation gets to the point where there's something different every day (imagine having to live with a condition like that; it's bone-chilling) and how his mind is deteriorating all the while, as he goes from fear to thinking there may be an upside to his condition when he discovers the ability to climb walls and such and finally to trying to find a way to cure himself. That moment where he's suddenly so light-hearted in his feelings about becoming a new type of creature called "Brundlefly," going so far as to having her record him demonstrating the disgusting way in which he eats and joking, "I think you must chronicle The Life and Times of Brundlefly, don't you? At the very least, it should make a fabulous children's book," is really unsettling, as are the clear indications of his increasingly insect nature, like his twitching and distorting voice. But just as disturbing, and much sadder, is the "insect politics" scene, where Veronica visits Seth to try to tell him about her pregnancy and her intention to abort it. Seth, by this point, barely looks, acts, and sounds human anymore and is obviously in pain, trying to keeping himself together just a little longer, as he warns her that she must never come again. He tells her about the brutal nature of insects and that, as he now is one himself, is having dangerous, primitive thoughts that he can barely control anymore. He sums it up in the powerful line, "I'll hurt you if you stay," which horrifies and devastates Veronica, causing her to leave in tears, as he himself begins sobbing over the loss of the woman he loved, repeating, "No." Seth goes up to the roof of his building, possibly to see Veronica one last time as she leaves, and overhears her talking about the baby, prompting him to go to the hospital and kidnap her. He begs her to have the baby, feeling that it might be all that's left of the man he once was, but she's too afraid of what it could possibly be to do so. Seth then gets to take out some of the jealous rage he felt earlier about Stathis Borans, nearly killing him by melting his hand and foot, and when Veronica stops him, he puts into motion one last desperate attempt not only to cure his condition but to also keep both her and the baby: fusing himself with Veronica through the use of the Telepods. The fact that he'd already come up with this idea beforehand shows just how deranged and desperate he was by this point but trying to do this to his lover, even after he's metamorphosed into the final Brundlefly creature, takes it to a whole other level. Once he gets fused with a piece of the Telepod during the botched attempt to do so, you see that there's still a little bit of Seth left in there, as he crawls up to Veronica and puts the barrel of the shotgun she's holding to his head, begging her to end his suffering. When she hesitates, he looks up at her and tries to say something, like he's pleading with her (I like to think that he was trying to say, "Please,"), and then, she finally does it.

Just as great as Goldblum is his real-life lover at the time, Geena Davis, as Veronica, or "Ronnie." Like Patricia Owens in the original, she goes through something of a metamorphosis as much as her doomed lover. She starts out as a somewhat cynical journalist who, at first, isn't interested in Seth Brundle or his claims that he's working on something that will change the world, probably thinking that his offer to come with him back to his lab is him hitting on her, but she eventually relents. It's obvious that she's not too sure about the whole thing when she sees the rundown-looking warehouse he lives in but, when he introduces her to the Telepods and demonstrates the teleportation, she realizes she's on to something big. She tricks Seth into talking about how the Telepods came to be and secretly records it before leaving with her tape, much to his chagrin and frustration. Fortunately for Seth, and unfortunately for Veronica, Stathis Borans believes him to be nothing more than an elaborate conman, prompting her to consider taking her findings elsewhere. That's when Seth offers her more than just a magazine article: the opportunity to follow him day-by-day as he perfects the Telepods, allowing her to eventually write the complete record of the project. It's an offer that she can't turn down, and as she spends time with him, she grows closer and closer to him, as seen by her reaction after he reluctantly talks to the camera after the failed experiment with the baboon. She eventually falls for his quirky charm and after the two of them become lovers, she gives him some inspiration about how to fix the computer's inability to teleport living matter. This inspiration proves successful and their relationship grows closer when they celebrate, with Veronica telling Seth about a little vacation she's been planning the two of them to take. However, the celebration is short-lived when Veronica uncovers a veiled threat from Borans, her editor and ex-boyfriend, to print the story about Seth's invention. She's been having to deal with Borans' undying obsession and jealousy for some time now, with him letting himself into her apartment and stalking her when she leaves Seth's home after their first night, and decides that she has to go confront him once and for all. She's able to talk him down from printing the story, on the condition that she keep him informed about what's going on, and learns that he simply doesn't want her to leave his life altogether. Unfortunately, her hastiness to leave without telling Seth what's going on leads him to his fateful decision to rush in teleporting himself.

After reconciling with Seth and telling him that there's no need for him to be jealous of Borans, Veronica, like Seth himself, realizes that he's a changed man after his teleportation. While his feats of athleticism and agility are impressive, Veronica is clearly not sure what to think about it, and she grows concerned as Seth becomes very manic and loud. He ends up exhausting her with a marathon of sex, which is when she discovers the fly hairs growing out of his back, and attempts to cut them off. She also refuses to be teleported, despite Seth's proclamation of how good it's made him feel, and when he angrily snaps at her for it, she's sure more than ever that something went wrong when he teleported himself. Horrified by Seth's reaction and refusal to listen, she takes the strange hairs she cut off his back to a lab and learns that they are very likely insect hairs. She tells Seth this and tries to warn him that he's starting to look and smell bad, that he must be sick, but he angrily accuses her of being jealous of the strength and agility he now has and throws her out. As she walks down the hallway, quietly sobbing and saying, "Oh, God," she obviously can't believe how downhill things have gone and is dreading what may eventually happen to Seth. A month later, she learns how much Seth's condition has worsened and what happened. Horrified to see what's happening to her lover, especially when she sees he now has to regurgitate on his food to eat it and his ear falls off, she tries to help him in any way she can, even though there's not much she can do. She starts to find herself barely able to be around him as he becomes more and more fly-like, and then she discovers that she's pregnant with Seth's child, which or may not have been conceived after his teleportation. Once she has that dream about giving birth to a large larva (God, what a scene that is!) and sees just how deformed and inhuman Seth has become by that point, Veronica makes up her mind that she wants an abortion. When he learns about it, Seth pleads with her to have the baby, feeling that it might be the last remnant of his lost humanity, but Veronica is too afraid of what it might be. After that, she has to talk Seth down from killing Borans in his lab and then, after he asks her to help him be human, she finds herself almost fused with him in his desperate plan to cure himself. This is when she literally has to watch her lover fall apart and become the hideous human-insect hybrid known as Brundlefly, which throws her into the Telepod. Borans, despite missing an arm and a leg, is able to save her and his damaging the equipment with his shotgun causes a malfunction that fuses Brundlefly with a chunk of the Telepod. This leads into the absolutely heartbreaking ending, where Veronica, after having watched the man she loved slowly become this creature, is forced to put him out of his misery by blowing his head off, with the movie ending as she cries over what's left of him.

John Getz's performance as Stathis Borans, Veronica's editor and former boyfriend, often gets overlooked whenever people talk about the film and I think that's a shame because he plays the role really well and is another character who goes through a change as the story progresses. At first, he seems like the typical douchebag ex-boyfriend who can't accept the fact that his relationship with Veronica is over and continues to pry into her life, going as far as to use a key that he still has to get into her apartment and take a shower. While he initially thinks that Seth Brundle is a conman, he begins to believe that there might be something to his supposed teleportation device when he researches his background and learns just how brilliant he is. This and his ongoing obsession with Veronica collide when he follows her to a clothing store after her first night with Seth and he rather crazily confronts her about it, almost seemingly delighting in making a public spectacle of himself as he reveals his jealousy and makes it clear that he's not going to stay out of her life. When she refuses to tell him anything about what happened the night before, his jealousy prompts him to use his position as her editor to threaten to blow the lid on the Telepods, forcing her to confront him at his office and setting in motion the tragedy to follow. She's able to talk him out of printing the story, so long as she keeps him informed of what goes on with the project. This is where Borans opens up a little bit and reveals that, underneath his dickish exterior, he's hurt that they're no longer together and still genuinely cares about her, admitting, "I don't want you to disappear from my life." Of course, he has to ruin that by asking a sleazy joke of a question as she leaves, but, again, it's more than likely another example of him trying to protect himself by putting up a front.

Borans' demeanor begins to change around the same time the deterioration of Seth's body and mind kicks into high-gear, when Veronica goes to him for advice about how to help Seth. While it's safe to assume that his advice not to go back to him is motivated partly by his lingering jealousy, it's also apparent that he's genuinely concerned for her safety and, seeing how upset she is, he asks her to film Seth so he can see how bad he is and come up with something. What he gets is footage of Seth demonstrating the disgusting way he now eats, which utterly horrifies him, and right on top of that, he learns that Veronica is pregnant with Seth's baby. This is where he really starts to become a decent guy, as he shows real horror and concern at the prospect of Veronica being pregnant with the child of Brundlefly and does what he can to help her, arranging for an abortion in the middle of the night. I like how, when he's explaining why she wants the abortion, he keeps the details of what's going on a secret by simply saying that Veronica's pregnant with, "The child of... a man who is deformed." And when Seth kidnaps Veronica, he takes a shotgun with him back to his lab to try and save her, only to nearly get killed by the rapidly-mutating Seth, with his hand and foot being melted by his corrosive vomit. Regardless, though, Borans is able to use what little strength he still has to shoot the cables connecting the Telepod that Veronica gets thrown into with the computer and is also able to get her out as Brundlefly is fused with a section of his Telepod. You could say that he ultimately managed to be the hero of the piece but, even so, he was still unable to keep the story from ending on a tragic note, as happens immediately after he saves Veronica.

Even more so than the original, David Cronenberg's version of The Fly is a very compact, isolated story, with only three main leads and no other supporting actors of any consequence. They're so inconsequential, in fact, that they're virtually never mentioned whenever people talk about the film, but, since I like to be thorough in my reviews, I'm going to be one of the few who does talk about them. This'll be quick, though, since there are only four of any note, with the biggest one being Tawny (Joy Boushel), a woman who Seth meets at a bar when he's looking for somebody worthy of being with him. She's really nothing more than a sex object, with Seth having little interest in her other than taking her back to his home and having his way with her. He's not the only one; even before he gets to the bar, she's being treated as a trophy for two guys who are arm-wrestling over her. But, despite what standards about herself she may have, as she goes along with Seth's kind of rough, animalistic sex, she has enough sense to want nothing to do with the Telepods, protesting when he tries to make her go through. She's saved just in time by Veronica's intervention and leaves, thanking Seth for a "wonderful time," and is never seen again (I always wondered if she ended up getting pregnant from her time with Seth as well). One guy I feel really bad for is Marky (George Chuvalo), the big guy who's arm-wrestling for Tawny and makes the mistake of taking up Seth's challenge. For one, I think the guy had a right to get irritated when Seth comes in and starts brazenly hitting on Tawny right within earshot of him. Girlfriend or just hopeful shagging partner, aside, that's still a dick thing to do. And then, thinking he has an easy shot at a hundred bucks, he decides to wrestle Seth, leading to him getting his arm broken in a really nasty way. Plus, the poor guy's screaming and crying always got to me, as you can tell he's really in pain and doesn't know what hit him (John Getz's screaming when his arm and leg get melted is similarly unsettling to me). Les Carlson, who played the villainous Barry Convex in Cronenberg's Videodrome, has a small role here as Dr. Brent Cheevers, the doctor who Stathis Borans takes Veronica to in order to have the abortion. He's only in a very small section of the movie and yet, I find myself kind of interested in him because it seems like he and Borans have known each other for a while, as Borans pleads with him to perform the operation, calling him by his first name when he does so. And finally, you have David Cronenberg himself making an appearance as the gynecologist in Veronica's nightmare about what she may give birth to. The only reason he even did the part was because Geena Davis was uncomfortable with the scene and what someone she could trust... down there. It's a tiny role but I think he does okay and I actually think he's better actor than he gives himself credit for (see Clive Barker's Nightbreed for proof).

Whenever people talk about remakes and how some of them are better than you might expect, The Fly is one that always come up as being one of the best of the best. While it is an excellent movie, no doubt about that, I've always felt that describing it as just one of the best remakes and leaving it at that is an injustice to it as it's so much more. Like John Carpenter's The Thing, I see this movie as less of a remake of the 50's film of the same name and more of a different take on the original source material that they're both based on. In this instance, it's Cronenberg taking the same basic plot and title of George Langelaan's short story, which he's said he doesn't think much of, and adding his own unique touches and sensibilities to create something totally different from what had been made before. And yes, even though Charles Edward Pogue wrote the initial screenplay and Cronenberg insisted that they share screenplay credit, as he said he wouldn't have been able to create the final script if he didn't have Pogue's to act as a foundation, I do consider the movie that was made to be Cronenberg's vision from start to finish.

One of the things that makes Cronenberg's films so palpable is that he always sets them in real, everyday environments. The fact that the story is taking place in a typical, ordinary-looking town (while it's never made clear where, my guess is that it's probably Toronto, where it and a lot of Cronenberg's movies were filmed) that we've all seen or lived in is so effecting. In fact, I always find it disturbing to think about all those people you see going about their daily lives, unaware that something absolutely horrific is happening in their very neighborhood or possibly even right next door. All of the sets, from Stathis Borans' office at Particle Magazine to Veronica's apartment in the city and even the clothing store and hospital, have a real feeling of authenticity to them that adds to the film's sense of reality. Of course, the most notable location, as it's where most of the story is set, is Seth's home/laboratory. First, it's in a rundown-looking warehouse in a neighborhood that looks like it's seen better days, giving you a sense of the isolation Seth lives and works in, as well as that being a scientist is far from a high-paying job. The inside is, as Seth himself puts it, a little more inviting than the exterior, but its high ceiling and large width and length, as well as the very long hallway leading to it, still give off an uncomfortable feeling, mainly of loneliness and claustrophobia since this is Seth's whole world. Moreover, except for a piano, there's nothing there aside from the essentials, like a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bed, and there's no separation between his workspace and his living-space, meaning that he's not kidding when he later tells Veronica that he has no life aside from his work. And the place's condition mirrors Seth's gradual deterioration, as it becomes messier and more damaged over time, to the point where, when Veronica visits him to try to tell him about the pregnancy, it looks like he had an off-camera fit of rage as you can see an overturned table and it's now much darker in there than it once was. And fittingly, Borans' destruction of the equipment with a shotgun mirrors the death of its creator when Veronica uses the same shotgun to kill the creature that was once Seth.

One thing that immediately struck me when I first saw the movie was the design of the Telepods. The minute I saw them, I thought they were so cool in their design and lot more interesting-looking than the Disintegrator-Integrator of the original films, which looked like little more than a walk-in shower (in fact, it looked like a phone-booth much more than the Telepods, as Veronica describes them). These things, which are based on the cylinder-head of a Ducati motorcycle, are much more memorable, conveying a sense of high-tech as well as menace. They're controlled by a central computer which, admittedly, is rather advanced for something that's supposed to exist in the 1980's, with an interface that can provide answers to questions that you type into it, as well as analyze teleportation subjects and give complete, computer-generated readouts and records of past experiments. What's more, Seth tells Veronica, "My teleporter turned into a gene-splicer." How would it know how to do that, given what it's programmed and meant to do? Maybe Seth's "teaching" it to be crazy about flesh allowed it to do so, given that we don't know exactly what he programmed into it once he had his inspiration, but still, that's quite a leap. And if it's going to combine every living organism it senses inside the Telepod, no matter how small, then what about all the bacteria and other microscopic lifeforms present? Mind you, I'm not insulting the film at all, as it is still brilliant, but hey, everybody criticizes the original for its perceived inaccurate science, so turnabout is fair play in my book. Finally, some might find the hand-drawn graphics that the computer displays when Seth checks the records of his first teleportation to be primitive but I find them to actually be much more unsettling than anything computer-generated. Seeing hand-drawn, slightly cartoonish images of DNA strands combining and the gradual reveal of a housefly as the "secondary element" in the experiment is pretty disturbing, especially when it's juxtaposed with the graphic, realistic nature of the film's special effects.

The film's more modern view of science is something else that makes it a completely different animal than the original. Like I said earlier, it's made clear that being a scientist isn't a high-paying gig at all; while both Andre Delambre and Seth Brundle live and work in the same place, Andre lived in a really nice house with a maid, while Seth is confined to a rundown warehouse where he has virtually nothing except his work to fill his time. Another thing is, while Seth freely admits that the Telepods will change the world when they're unveiled, he didn't set out to do so when he began the project. Really, his only motivation for creating a device that can teleport matter is that he suffers from severe motion sickness and can't stand vehicles, rather than any grandiose plans of ending world hunger and the like as Andre proclaimed. And when he teleports himself and comes out feeling really good, his dream of never suffering from motion sickness again and his original intention to reveal his invention to Bartok Science Industries once it was finished gets diluted by his obsession with how he thinks teleportation is a purifying process that allows a person to realize their full potential and getting a woman to become "freed" the way he has. Speaking of Bartok, Seth tells Veronica that they'll eventually ending up owning anything he creates and, given what we know about corporations, it's unlikely that they'll be as noble as to use the Telepods to send food to starving countries or instantaneously transport troops where they're needed (this notion of science for hire is one of the main themes of 1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante and the idea of corporate science would be explored much more so in the sequel to this film, which also came out that year). Finally, while this may seem on the surface to be another movie whose ultimate message is that there are certain areas where science must not go, that man must not try to play God, and the like, but Cronenberg insists that's not the case. For one, Cronenberg is an atheist, so there's that right there, and for another, he feels that the horrible fate that befalls Seth is more a case of things simply going awry for no real reason other than human error and the fact that you're working with something potentially dangerous to begin with. For him, it has nothing to do with science going too far but rather, is simply a matter of chance: sometimes things go right, other times they go wrong, and unfortunately for Seth, they went very wrong.

While many people have seen Seth's mutation into Brundlefly as a metaphor for diseases like AIDS, especially around the time it was released when AIDS was in the public consciousness, Cronenberg has always maintained that it's actually meant to represent disease in general, rather than one in particular, and, most specifically, the aging process. As he himself once said, "There was something about The Fly story that was much more universal to me: aging and death—something all of us have to deal with." Let's face it, your body does pretty much fall apart as you get older, leading to your own personal museum of natural history like Seth has in his medicine cabinet, and Cronenberg also sees Seth's deterioration and eventual death as an accelerated version of that eventually happens to any couple, even when they stay together: one dies before the other. As he once said, "Every love story must end tragically." In his audio commentary on the film, Cronenberg mentions how the scene in the bathroom where Seth first realizes that there is something wrong with him is indicative of something that's happened to so many people: you go into the bathroom to do something you've done hundreds of times before but, this time, you see or feel something that shouldn't be there, giving yourself a death sentence by discovering it. Indeed, that scene is rather palpable, as you watch Seth notice that his face does look strange, that the hairs on it are apparently full of nerves, and that his fingernails are coming off, taking his breath away and prompting him to sit on the rim of the bathtub and wonder, "What's happening to me? Am I dying? Is this how it starts? Am I dying?" And if you'll indulge me for a bit, I'd now like to talk about how this film has become much more personal to me in recent years. Back in 2010, my aunt, who was like a second mother to me, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and, over the next three years, my mother and I had to watch as she fell apart physically and mentally, to the point where I couldn't be around her anymore as she would suddenly become very verbally abusive and would say horrible, hurtful things to anybody who was near. What's more, my mother ended up being her caretaker to the very end, so the notion of watching someone who you love slowly become, for all intents and purposes, a monster really hit close to home for her especially. Maybe I'm like those people who focused specifically on AIDS as the metaphor but the bottom line is that, while this is a science-fiction/horror film, its themes are very, very real once you've lived through them.

While we're on the subject, if there's one qualm with the film that I have, it's that I wished it was a tiny bit longer, maybe another ten minutes, and we got to see more scenes of what Seth is going through. He teleports himself fairly early on but it's around the hour mark when his metamorphosis kicks into high gear, in a movie that's only 95 minutes long (which is just about the same length as the original, which is ironic given how producer Stuart Cornfeld thought that the new concept would make for a longer story), and while we do get plenty of Seth's plight in the movie as is, I would have liked a couple of more scenes of him by himself as he becomes aware that he's really starting to go downhill. For instance, he tells Veronica in that insect politics scene that he's becoming dangerous and can't control himself, so maybe it would have been nice if we had a scene where he first realizes it, like if he thinks of killing someone or hunting Veronica down. One moment that was deleted that I wished they'd kept in is when Seth is on the roof of his warehouse, falls down the side, and an insect leg bursts out of his side that he has to bite off. I know why they cut the bit leading up to that scene, the infamous "monkey-cat" sequence, because it made it hard to feel sympathy for him when he's being so cruel to those animals, but it would have nice if they'd filmed something else leading up to the moment with the leg, like maybe have Seth become frustrated with his debilitating condition and the hopelessness of it and then climb up on the roof. The movie is still great the way it is and I wouldn't remove anything but I just feel that a couple of moments like those would have added to its power.

Seth's transformation into Brundlefly starts off very subtly, with slight but noticeable changes that start to ratchet up very quickly once the film hits the hour mark, all the while with incredible, disgusting, Oscar-winning makeup effects courtesy of Chris Walas and his company. The first sign is a collection of fly hairs that begin to grow out of some healing cuts on Seth's back, which start out very slight but have grown quite a bit by the time Veronica notices them. It's also around this time that Seth's complexion begins to become a little blotchy, looking as if he's developing some sort of skin rash akin to acne, and over time, it degenerates more, with warty lesions and small fly hairs popping up, the latter of which you can really see in the close-up of his face when he learns that he was fused with the housefly on the genetic-molecular level. That scene where he goes into the bathroom and finally realizes that something isn't right has a couple of moments that always make cringe. One is when he takes an electric razor to one of the fly hairs on his face and he flinches as if it's full of nerves, prompting him to throw the razor into the bathtub, shattering it. He then bites the nail of his right index finger, a common habit of his, only to take it completely off. He squeezes his finger, shooting a bluish, pus-like substance all over the mirror and he then slowly pulls off the nail of his right middle finger, an effect that never fails to make me wince, especially when combined with the awful sound effect of it coming off. Anything having to do with fingernails always gets to me and that's by far the most nightmarish example in any movie that I can think of.

A month passes after Seth learns what's happened to him and by that point, when he reaches out to Veronica, he's really gone downhill physically, as his skin has become completely discolored and covered in nasty bumps, his hair has developed noticeable bald-spots, and he now walks in a hunched over posture, having to use two canes and wear gloves. At this point, he's become unable to eat solid foods and, like a fly, must now regurgitate a corrosive, digestive fluid he later calls "vomit drop" in order to liquefy whatever he intends to eat. I saw the shot of him doing it in that advertisement of Sci-Fi Channel I mentioned in my introduction but it went by so fast that I thought he shot out a long tongue or something. As he had gotten used to doing this all the time, he doesn't think twice about doing it right in front of Veronica, although when she recoils and gasps, it then hits him, "That's disgusting." Just as disgusting and even more horrifying is when he reaches up to touch his right ear and it comes off, something he doesn't realize happened until he sees Veronica's reaction. This leads into a moment that freaked a lot of people out: as repulsed as she is, she can see how frightened he is and hugs him, except she does it on the side where the ear fell off. Like the filmmakers, I didn't think about it when I first saw it but, now that I think about it, it is pretty nasty to think about. When Veronica visits him again, he's gotten even worse, as he now has more hair missing, his skin, which we can see more off since he's wearing a short-sleeved shirt, is now clumpier and has turned a nasty orange color, and his teeth are now crooked and seem sharper. Most significantly, he's now able to climb the walls and the ceiling like a fly, an effect that they accomplished very well using a big, rotating room. The stage of his metamorphosis that I had seen the most images of before I first saw the movie is the last one to feature actual makeup, where he's now naked and has become seriously mutated, with red, diseased skin, misshapen hands, feet, and head, almost no human hair left, a noticeable swelling around his eyes that make me think of the eyes of a fly, and a lack of body parts, which now include some of his teeth, that he's now keeping in his medicine cabinet (that shot of what's in there is nuts, to say the least, and there's no denying what some of those... things look like). There's nothing else that can be said about it other than he really does look like a diseased mutant and Jeff Goldblum's acting ability is quite evident here, as he's able to project through the makeup and rubber the pain and constant internal struggle that Seth is going through. And I've heard some, including Cronenberg himself, say that the rubber bodysuit Goldblum is wearing hasn't aged well but I think it still looks incredible and beats anything that a computer could come up with.

While I'd seen images of that last part of the metamorphosis before I went into the movie, I had not seen anything of the ultimate Brundlefly creature and was totally unprepared for the ending where he becomes it. I had seen a quick glimpse of Veronica tearing his jaw off (which makes good use of an articulated puppet) in a montage of movies shown on Sci-Fi Channel but it went by so fast that I had no idea what movie it was from until I saw it here. In any case, that really got me, especially the shot of it twitching on the floor after she throws it down, and things get worse very quickly, as insect claws grow out of his hands, his flesh begins popping and falling off, his left foot cracks open, and other insect appendages sprout from his body. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing when his head cracks apart, his eyes fall out (a bit that still makes me queasy), and the flesh falls off, revealing the fly-like head underneath, and I was floored when I saw the full-body shot of the creature, which is mostly a bug but with a humanoid form and has misshapen human appendages here and there, like its left hand and foot. More than likely, those appendages are just loose bits of flesh covering insect-like appendages underneath. Again, like I said, I had no idea that Seth actually managed to become a fly-monster; I thought it got as far as that last stage of makeup. The puppets that Walas and company used to bring this thing to life are still impressive-looking to this day and make it look nothing less than like a living, breathing creature. It makes you wish that Hollywood would stop forcing filmmakers nowadays to use nothing but CGI and let them go back to using practical effects for everything that can possibly be accomplished by them. Of course, this isn't the only incarnation of Brundlefly that we see: when Stathis Borans shoots the cable connecting Veronica's Telepod to the main computer, Brundlefly tries to smash his way out of his own pod to attack but ends up getting teleported along with a big chunk of it. When he comes out of the receiving pod, he's now a mangled mish-mash of flesh and machinery, with a chunk of metal sticking out of his back and the lower half of his body a gnarled mess of cables, tapering off to a kind of tail. Clearly in pain and only able to walk on his arms, he crawls over to Veronica, silently begging her to end his suffering by shooting him. After hesitating, she puts him out of his misery, blasting his head away in an explosion of blood and flesh chunks.

As disgusting and disturbing as it is, Seth's gradual transformation is far from the only gruesome sight in this film. Like I said in my introduction, I knew I was in for it very early on when the teleportation of the baboon goes awry and the poor thing is reintegrated inside out, with no flesh and is a squealing mess of tendons, intestines, and blood. It's a quick effect but it really hits you, letting you know what kind of movie you're in for. The same goes for the scene where Seth arm-wrestles Marky at the bar. It starts off innocuous enough but things become more and more tense as it becomes apparent that Marky has picked the wrong person to arm-wrestle. You get a shot of what looks like some sort of goo pouring out of Seth's hand onto Marky's (I used to think it was a lot of sweat), possibly corrosive material like his vomit-drop that makes what happens next easier: Seth snaps Marky's arm like a twig, giving him a nasty compound fracture with a fragment of bone sticking out of the torn skin. Before the scene ends, there's a nasty close-up of the effect, with blood leaking out of the tear, as Seth leaves the bar with Tawny, as Marky screams and cries in agony. Like the inside-out baboon, it's a quick effect but it's so well-done that it leaves an impact and makes you squirm for those few seconds. The scene that absolutely horrified me when I saw it was the nightmare that Veronica has about giving birth to an enormous fly larva. Again, I saw a little bit of that effect on that Sci-Fi Channel advertisement but it went by so fast, I had no clue what it was, other than it looked so gross. But, man, does that scene hit you like a ton of bricks, especially since the lead into it gives no indication that it's a dream. The larva itself, which I think was just a slimy rod-puppet, is another effect that's onscreen for only a few seconds but it's more than enough. That scene, to me, brings the movie to a whole new level of horror. Seth slowly mutating into a fly-man hybrid was already disturbing but the idea that he may have impregnated his lover with something that'll be an insect creature from the start is nightmarish on every level, twisting the normally beautiful idea of pregnancy around and making it akin to having a parasite inside your body. Combine that with the cold, clinical feel of the room and the generally messy, invasive procedure of birth and... ugh! Is your skin crawling yet, because mine is. And it's kind of fitting that David Cronenberg himself plays the gynecologist who delivers it since he's the one who came up with it, don't you think? Finally, there's Stathis Borans getting his hand and foot dissolved by Brundlefly's vomit-drop, a scene that I had read about in John Stanley's Creature Features book but was not enough to prepare me for the real thing. Watching the hand slowly melt down to a bloody stump is bad enough but the foot is what really gets me, as you see it melt right above the ankle, accompanied by nasty bubbling and sizzling sounds, as well as a horrible scraping/breaking sound for the foot losing what little it has left connecting it to the leg. I look at stuff like this and some of the gross moments in his other movies and I think, "Cronenberg, you're an awesome director but, man, you're sick!"

Except for things that are unavoidably 80's, like Jeff Goldblum's hair, the oversized mobile phone he uses at one point, and the TV Stathis Borans watches at another, the only part of the movie that's really dated are the teleportation effects in the Telepods. Whenever something is teleported, be it Veronica's stocking, the two baboons, the steak and plate (why don't those two get fused if they're disintegrated together), and Brundlefly with a section of the Telepod's outside at the end, you can see old-fashioned optical effects of the atoms coming apart before the subject disappears in a blinding flash of electrical light. As dated as they are, though, they look quite good for the time, especially when the inanimate objects are put through, and they certainly don't make me cringe as much as similar effects in other movies do. It just goes to show you that Cronenberg is a director with a magic touch (in fact, I've never seen a really bad effect in any of his movies, now that I think about it).

Howard Shore is to David Cronenberg what Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton. Except for The Dead Zone, he's scored every one of Cronenberg's films since The Brood and his score for The Fly is definitely a highpoint in both his career in general and his collaborations with Cronenberg. What I've always found odd is that, in the otherwise excellent documentary on the movie's special edition, the music is never mentioned, which is a major oversight in my eyes. The score is interesting in that it changes as the film itself does. It starts out with an opening title piece that brings to mind the wonder and majesty you often get with science fiction (in fact, I wondered if I was watching the right movie when I first heard it), a feeling that continues through the first third of the movie, as you get a piece with vocalizing voices that almost gives off a sense of magic when the first baboon is teleported, a rather poignant bit of music when the thing is reintegrated inside out, a nice, sexy romance theme for Seth and Veronica that's done through a soft horn and piano, and a continuing feeling of wonder and even playfulness when the steak and second baboon are teleported. The piece that plays during Seth's ill-fated teleportation is interesting in that it recognizes the suspense of the sequence when the fly gets into the pod without Seth noticing and the horror that is to come from it but there's still that feeling of wonder, as the music builds up to a fever pitch until we get a loud release when Seth goes through. When he comes out of the other Telepod, seemingly normal, the music becomes airy and mystical again... but, later on when you get your first look at the fly hairs growing out of the cuts in his back, the music starts to become more eerie, leading into the moment where Seth catches a fly in his hand while he's still asleep and realizes that there's something different about him. The eerie feeling doesn't long but it's the first cue that something isn't right.

The film's main theme, which is that well-known, doom-laden piece that sounds like it's descending as it plays, is first heard when Seth tries to drag Veronica into the Telepod and continues when he becomes angry at being refused and heads out to find somebody. The music builds as he rants about taking the dive into the plasma pool and hits full on when you see him walking down the street, hunting for a sexual partner worthy of him. The music grows progressively nightmarish from then on, with loud, bombastic pieces hitting you in scenes like the arm-wrestling match and when Veronica dreams about giving birth to the larva, and quieter, more unsettling themes for moments such as when Seth goes into the bathroom and finds that his fingernails are coming off (the part where he pulls of his middle one is accompanied by a really creepy sound) and when he checks the records of his first teleportation and learns what happened. The latter moment and one that happens afterward, when Veronica returns to his home and sees how far he's deteriorated after a month, both have stings of music that I often hear whenever the movie is shown on TV but that I never hear on the DVD. As the computer screen gradually shows Seth the graphic of the fly, there's a musical buildup to a very frightening sound when the insect is fully revealed, and when Seth steps out and Veronica sees him during her visit, there's a loud screeching sound that accompanies the music. Like I said, neither of these are on the DVD, although I can hear the latter during Cronenberg's audio commentary (I can't hear the other one because he talks all the way through that scene). Speaking of the latter piece, the buildup to Seth's reveal when Veronica arrives is a low, haunting version of the main theme, alluding to how far he's fallen by this point and how it's only going to get worse from here. The theme skips to a more tranquil bit after Seth steps out but on the soundtrack, it goes on through an even more nightmarish version of the main theme's second half. Another noteworthy use of the main theme is used during the "insect politics" scene, with the music starting out quiet and building as Seth talks, the main theme hitting hard when he tells her, "I'll hurt you if you stay," signifying that there's no going back now. The music during the climax is just absolute chaos and horror, going well with the hands and feet getting dissolved and the flesh falling off to reveal the final Brundlefly creature, with the music swelling to the main theme after Brundlefly is fused with the Telepod and Stathis Borans uses his remaining strength to free Veronica. You get a repeat of the music from the insect politics scene when Veronica is ultimately forced to kill Brundlefly now that he's been fused with the Telepod and is hopelessly in pain, leading into a full-on suite of the main theme during the ending credits, followed by some other pieces before ending with the dramatic music the score began with.

As hard as it to believe, Mel Brooks and Stuart Cornfeld wanted a rock song to help promote the movie and had Bryan Ferry compose a song called Help Me, which I feel has to be an ode to the famous spider-web scene from the original. Apparently, there was even a music video made for the song and it was originally supposed to play over the ending credits. Cronenberg, however, despite liking the song itself, felt that it was inappropriate to go from the tragedy of the ending into this rock music and when he showed it to the producers, they understood what he meant and dropped it. It's still in the movie, playing in the background in the bar when Seth first comes in and meets Tawny, and from what I can hear of it, it doesn't sound that bad, but I think Cronenberg made the right decision in not playing it over the ending credits. It was a much better idea to just stick with Howard Shore's music.

Like the original 1958 film, The Fly is nothing less than a true classic of both the horror and science fiction genres. Other than wishing it was maybe a little longer, it's a movie that I have no problems with: it's a great example of a truly talented filmmaker taking a well-known story and film and making it his own, the cast and the performances are fantastic all-around, the reality-based locations work very much in the film's favor, the themes of disease and aging and the modern view of science are very palpable and resonant, the makeup and puppet effects are just as horrifying and jaw-dropping today as they were in 1986, even the more dated optical effects look nice when compared to other films of the time, the music by Howard Shore is nothing less than superb, and the film, all-in-all, is very disturbing and unsettling on many levels, making it one of the greatest examples of the "body horror" subgenre there is. Bottom-line, if you can stomach it, there's no reason why you shouldn't have already seen this flick. It's an incredible movie from a man who's proven himself to be one of the most unique and gifted filmmakers of his or any generation.

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