Thursday, August 25, 2016

Franchises: The Fly. The Fly II (1989)

Chris Walas and producer Steven Charles-Jaffe
begged the marketing people not to use the line,
"Like father, like son," which they felt was corny,
but, as you can see, they flat-out ignored them.
As I said back in my review of the David Cronenberg film, I was already aware of this sequel long before I even saw that movie thanks to our town's video rental store. Unlike the Cronenberg film, I actually looked on the back of this film video box there and always remembered the shot of the young Martin looking at a container filled with flies. But, except for a very brief glimpse of the movie on cable one morning before I had to leave for school (which I also remembered well, as it was the scene where Martin sees video footage of his mutated father), I never saw it until late summer of 2002, after I'd seen the Cronenberg film a couple of times. In fact, the only reason I ended up seeing it at all was because I bought it on a double-feature DVD with its predecessor, which was my main reason for getting that DVD in the first place. Having not heard many, if any, good things about The Fly II, and having read some descriptions of the plot that turned out to be very misleading, I wasn't expecting that much when I finally did sit down and watch it, just a few hours after having watched the Cronenberg film on that DVD for the first time. But, I have to say, I found myself really enjoying myself as the movie unfolded, especially during the third act, and by the time it was over, I came out of it smiling. To this day, I think that this movie is very underappreciated and is written off as a stupid, mindlessly gory and gross sequel to a very thoughtful, multi-layered movie. When it comes to The Fly II, you can either talk about what it is or what it isn't. What it isn't is anywhere near the level of Cronenberg's film in terms of intelligence or themes. That's a given going in. What it is is a film that I think is much more well-made, written, and acted than people give it credit for. But, above everything else, it's a very entertaining, fast-paced, gory monster movie, with lots of impressive makeup and puppet effects. And you know how I love me a good monster movie, so, of course, I was sort of prone to like it, but I still feel that the movie deserves higher marks than it gets and I hope to make it clear why I feel that way in this review.

At the main facility of Bartok Science Industries, the company that funded Seth Brundle's experiments, his lover, Veronica, gives birth to an insect-like larval sac before going into shock and dying. As the company's founder and CEO watches, the surgeons open the sac and pull out a seemingly normal baby boy. The child, whom the scientists name Martin, grows at an accelerated rate, looking like a five-year old when he's only eleven months and a ten-year old at only three years. He's also extremely intelligent, with a photographic memory that allows him to virtually consume information, and is befriended by Bartok, who asks him to think of him as his father. One day, while exploring the complex, Martin befriends a golden retriever being kept as a test animal but, when he goes to see him the next night, finds that he's been transferred to Bay 17. Martin sneaks onto an observation deck there, where it's revealed that the scientists have rebuilt his father's Telepods, and watches them use the dog as a teleportation subject. The teleportation itself is successful, but the process horribly mutates the dog, which attacks and seriously injures one of the scientists, a sight that traumatizes Martin. Two years later, Martin is now a young man, despite only being five years old, and is given his own private house on the property as well as a job: repairing the Telepods, which Bartok and his scientists still can't get to work properly. Despite being unsure about the proposition because of what happened to the dog, Martin decides to finish his father's work when he's shown his mother's video records of Seth's experiments and progress. As he begins to work, he meets and befriends Beth Logan, a company employee, and the two of them grow quite close as they work together on the Telepods. Martin, however, grows distrusting of Bartok when he learns that the mutated golden retriever, which he was told had died after the botched experiment, is still alive and being kept in a dungeon-like pen for study. After euthanizing the tortured animal, Martin reveals to Beth that he's perfected the Telepods and the two of them become lovers. However, an injury to his arm that he received earlier begins to look frighteningly mutated and Bartok is told that Martin's originally dormant fly chromosomes that he inherited from his father are now awakening. Martin learns from Beth, who's been discharged, that Bartok videotaped the two of them having sex in his home and, in a rage, tears the house apart, finding a hidden security camera. Upon breaking into the records room, Martin learns the truth about his father's mutation and is told by Bartok that he himself will soon become an insect-human hybrid, which Bartok plans to use, along with the Telepods, for a new age of genetic research. Martin, his metamorphosis beginning in earnest, escapes from the facility and, after going to Beth and telling her what's happening, the two of them become fugitives. Bartok sends his henchmen after them, needing Martin to be brought back as he's also the only one who knows the password to make the Telepods work, while Martin goes through a dramatic physical and mental change that may prove dangerous to everyone around him, including Beth.

After he'd won the Oscar for the incredible makeup effects he and his crew, along with Stephan Dupuis, created for The Fly, Chris Walas got the opportunity to make his directorial debut with this sequel. Many may feel that he was a poor choice who didn't understand why the Cronenberg film worked and simply piled on the gore and creature effects but Walas has stated that it was never his intention to try to replicate what Cronenberg had done. He knew that, due to his inexperience at directing and his own, personal capabilities, he wouldn't be able to make a movie that could rival its predecessor in intelligence and emotional power and, in fact, he almost bowed out of directing it altogether when the initial script proved to be something he didn't how to film. What he did know he could make, though, was a good old-fashioned monster movie and I think he did a pretty damn good job with it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making a movie that has no higher purpose than to entertain and I feel Walas proved that he knows how to do that. Plus, I think he should be commended for making it clear to the studio that he needed a script that was tailored to his strengths rather than pushing ahead with one he wasn't comfortable; try to imagine what a disaster that would have been. However, his directing career never panned out after The Fly II, as he only directed one other movie, The Vagrant, and an episode of Tales from the Crypt. His special effects career also seemed to take a hiatus after 1991's Naked Lunch (another Cronenberg film), with his only other credit being 2002's Dark Heaven, but in 2012, he returned to creature effects with Elf-Man and followed that up with 2015's Journey to the Forbidden Valley, both of which he also acted as a producer on and the latter of which he co-wrote.

Not only do we get to see the character of Martin Brundle go through a metamorphosis similar to the one his father went through but we also get to see his life unfold right from the time of his birth. We see him start out as an insect-like larva that Veronica gives birth to, out of which comes a normal-looking baby boy. At eleven months old (Matthew Moore), he looks like a really cute three-year old, with a lot of energy, a natural curiosity, no need for sleep, and a mind that practically absorbs information. This continues into when he becomes a three-year old who looks like a ten-year old (Harley Cross, who looks so much like a young Eric Stoltz that it's amazing), one whose energy and curiosity try the patience of the scientists who have to study him, especially when they have to give him the injections he's told are meant to help him with his special condition. His incredible mind and photographic memory is made clear when he glances at a maze that Dr. Shepard needs him to work on, draws a path on a piece of tracing paper, and it lines up perfectly with the correct path on the maze, as well as when we see the special helmet he's made for himself and when he's able to hack into Shepard's Zone Four security clearance and transfer it to a keycard of his own. It's in Zone Four where he befriends the golden retriever being kept as a test animal and, in a scene that shows how aware he is of his specialness, tells him about this affliction Bartok and the others have told him he has: Brundle's Accelerated Growth Syndrome, which his father supposedly had as well. He acknowledges in a very solemn tone that his sped up growth probably means that he's going to die sooner than normal. Speaking of Bartok, Martin has grown quite close to him by this point and is eager to spend time with him, asking Dr. Janeway at one point if he's coming to see him. His eagerness to see Bartok is why he gets himself Zone Four clearance in the first place, which eventually leads to his stumbling upon the dark secret the company's been keeping behind closed doors: the rebuilt Telepods. Upon sneaking into Bay 17 after learning it's where the dog has been taken, Martin watches as his newfound friend is put through the teleportation process and comes out an aggressive mutant that maims one of the scientists. Martin is utterly horrified by this and has to be comforted by Bartok as the dog is restrained and the scientist taken away.

Eric Stoltz plays the adult, five-year old Martin with the same air of intelligence and curiosity that the children did, along with a want for privacy away from the laboratories, which he seemingly gets when Bartok presents him with his own home on the property. Even though he still looks up to Bartok as a father figure, he's reluctant to work on the Telepods per his request, which he doesn't like due to what happened to the dog, but when he sees his real father's videotaped records of the experiment and he mentions that the teleportation process seemed to have improved him, he decides to take the job. While working on the Telepods, Martin meets and forms an instant bond with Beth Logan, who begins helping him with his work during her downtime. Martin also finds himself being able to sleep, which he never needed to do before, and also becomes more rebellious when it comes to his injections, refusing to take another after an initial attempt goes painfully wrong for him. It's not too long after he begins his friendship with Beth that Martin's trust and beliefs are shaken when he discovers that the mutated dog, which Bartok told him didn't live long after the failed teleportation, is still being kept alive for research and is forced to live a hellish existence in a dungeon-like holding pen. Unable to take his old friend being tortured like this, Martin later breaks into the pen and puts the dog out of his misery and later lies about the incident to Bartok, whom he's now beginning to distrust. He also reconciles with Beth, whom he initially thought was part of it since she'd invited him up to the party in the Specimens Division where the dog was being kept, and shows her that he's since perfected the Telepods, which can now teleport anything successfully. After he and Beth become lovers, Martin notices that the spot on his arm where the hypodermic needle broke previously has apparently become infected. Thinking it's a result of the mutant DNA he knows he inherited from his father, he tries to find a way to cure himself, with his computer eventually coming up with a gene-swapping program to transfer healthy DNA from another person into himself. Martin, however, is unwilling to use this method, as it would mean mutating someone else, and it's right then that his world begins to fall apart, as he realizes that the "infected" wound on his arm is something else entirely. Upon learning from Beth that Bartok videotaped the two of them making love in his supposedly private house, Martin destroys it in a rage and uncovers the hidden camera. When he breaks into the facility's surveillance room, he goes through the records and sees that Bartok has been lying to him from the beginning: every single moment of his life has been recorded. He also sees a video of his mutated father describing what happened to him, learning the truth about his inherited affliction, what he will eventually become, and what it means to Bartok. Both angry and heartbroken, telling Bartok pointblank that he loved him, Martin escapes and meets up with Beth, the two of them becoming vigilantes.

Not only is Martin's physical metamorphosis into a fly-monster portrayed differently than what his father went through, as we'll get into later, but so is his mental transformation. During the first few stages, Martin is still pretty much himself, specifically in how he resists using the gene-swapping program in the Telepods' main computer because it would mean sacrificing another human life. However, during that scene in the motel when Beth awakens in the middle of the night to find that he's really starting to change, Martin's demeanor becomes much more threatening and inhuman. Not only does he talk about how beautiful and compelling the light from a nearby bug-zapper looks, something that an insect might think, he also insists that he's getting better rather than worse and that he can feel himself growing stronger. He's adamant that he knows very much what he's saying and seems to relish freaking Beth out, pulling out his right eyeball to reveal an insect eye underneath it right in front of her and telling her, "If you stay a while, I'll show you a magic trick you'll never forget." When she runs out of the room in a panic, he menacingly chuckles to himself at her fear. Judging from this, you'd expect Martin to go from the story's protagonist to the antagonist much like Seth did and, sure enough, when he emerges from his cocoon as the new, lethal Brundlefly, which is officially dubbed "Martinfly," he seems to have become a mindless killing machine. However, as the third act progresses, you see that, while he's certainly more violent and willing to kill now, Martin's mind is very much alive and well within this creature, as he spares the life of a dog the security team sends after him at one point, attempts to use the deceased Dr. Shepard's keycard to get into Bay 17, uses a stealthy hit-and-run method in dealing with the armed guards attempting to capture him, and, most significantly, recognizes Beth and doesn't harm her when he encounters her. That's to say nothing of how he grabs ahold of Bartok, uses his hand to punch in the password for the computer that runs the Telepods, drags him into one of the pods, and motions for Beth to initiate the teleportation sequence, which activates the gene-swapping program he devised earlier. As a result, Bartok is reduced to a grotesque mutant, while Martin is cured of his fly-genes and becomes a normal human again. Small wonder why, in the Scene Selection menu on the DVD, this scene is titled, "Revenge of the Fly."

Coming off of Geena Davis' performance in the previous film, Daphne Zuniga has a lot to live up to in her role as Beth Logan, Martin's lover and only real friend; unfortunately, the material doesn't give her an opportunity to rise up to the challenge. I still like her and think that she's really cute and sweet and I think it's nice how she sticks with Martin when things start getting bad (alright, she does eventually tell Bartok where they are but, given what she saw in that motel room, I understand that it's too much for her to take) but, regardless, her character is problematic. Some have said that the romance between Seth and Veronica felt a little rushed but, while I can kind of see what they mean by that, it always worked just fine to me; Martin and Beth's relationship here, however, is a different matter. Martin meets her when he's just wandering around the Bartok facility one night and, immediately afterward, they're talking about how long they've been there, Martin is telling her that he's working on the greatest invention in the history of mankind (this is all before he even knows her name, I might add), and brings her down to his lab and demonstrates the Telepods for her. After said test, on a cactus she keeps on her desk, goes awry, he's asking her if she wants to visit him again and asks her to be friends, which quickly leads into a montage of them working together and becoming very close. For me, it comes across as way too fast and contrived. At least Seth and Veronica knew each other for more than a day before they began working together and becoming close. And that's to say nothing of Martin and Beth's, beautiful, but sporadic love scene. One minute, they're reconciling after Martin thought she was aware of the mutant dog's existence and he shows her that he's now able to teleport living things successfully and then the next, they're in Martin's bed. I get that they'd gotten really close over time before that but it still feels jarring and sudden, much like David and Alex's abrupt sex montage in An American Werewolf in London. (Plus, let's not forget that Martin is only five, even though he looks like a young man. Yeah, somebody's in a heap of trouble!) Beyond that, though, another major problem with Beth is that she has so little impact on the story other than being Martin's one true friend. She works with him on the Telepods but that doesn't lead anywhere, as Martin figures out the problem on his own; she helps him stay ahead of Bartok's goons after his escape and tries to care for him as best as she can but, like I said, understandable or not, eventually turns him into them; and during the third act, when Martin's rampaging through the facility, she's just kind of there and doesn't do anything significant, even when he manages to break into Bay 17. She tries to stop Bartok from shooting Martin but gets tased for her trouble and is really only able to help Martin when she activates the gene-swapping program he set up after he's pulled Bartok into the Telepod with him.

Arguably, the best actor in the film is Lee Richardson in his role as Bartok. While it is predictable from the get-go that he's going to be the film's villain, he's such a great actor that he's still really enjoyable to watch in the role, especially with how he does go from one pole to another in his performance. He comes across as benevolent enough at first, asking Dr. Jainway to treat Martin as if he were his old child rather than just as a laboratory specimen and being very gentle and sweet to little Martin when they first meet, asking him to think of him as his dad. He also performs a little magic trick with a quarter for him and tells him about knowing the right "magic word," something that Martin takes to heart when he installs a password into the computer that controls the Telepods, and comforts him when he's horrified at the mutated monster the dog becomes after being teleported. When Martin becomes an adult five-year old, Bartok apparently sees to it that he gets his privacy away from the laboratories and the constant surveillance by giving him his own private bungalow, as well as the opportunity to finish his father's work. However, it's not too long after this that both Martin and the audience begin to learn that Bartok is not what he seems to be, when it's revealed that the mutated dog is still being kept alive for research, even though Bartok assured Martin, "He didn't suffer long." He seems quite amused when Martin lies about not knowing anything of the dog's death, noting that he's growing up, and when Jainway tells him that Martin's dormant fly chromosomes are awakening and that his metamorphosis will soon begin, Bartok coldly tells her to begin the necessary preparations. It's when Martin discovers the video camera in his home and breaks into the facility's surveillance room that he learns that Bartok has been lying to him from the very beginning, recording every single aspect of his life, even after he supposedly got his privacy, keeping secret from him the real reason behind his condition and his father's death, and is even told by Bartok himself that the injections he's been administered since he was a child were only to give him false hope that he was being cured. Bartok also reveals his true plan for Martin: he's been waiting for Martin's transformation ever since his birth, explaining, "With you as the model, and the Telepods as the tool, Bartok Industries will control the form and function of all life on Earth." When Martin, after slamming him against the wall, hurtfully tells him, "I loved you," Bartok just stares at him blankly, proving that it means nothing to him whatsoever. He's none too pleased when he manages to escape, telling his men that he wants him back, especially when he learns that only Martin knows the "magic word" to make the computer work and that he's booby-trapped it with a virus that will erase its entire memory if they enter an incorrect word.

When he's unable to get Martin to tell him the magic word before he goes into his cocoon, Bartok tries to make Beth tell him, which, of course, she doesn't (whether she does actually know it or not is never made clear), and when Martin emerges as a very lethal fly-monster, he makes it known to his security teams that Martin is to be captured, not killed. Even after Martin kills three people, Bartok insists that he still be taken alive, showing absolutely not sympathy for those who have been killed and that they've come too far, a mindset that he maintains when Martin bursts into Bay 17 and continues his rampage by killing one of Scorby's men, Hargis. His admonishment of Scorby for firing at the creature gets an assault rifle pointed at him for a few seconds but, when everyone besides him and Beth are killed, Bartok threatens Martin with a gun of his own. Yeah, the others had to put themselves in danger in trying to take him alive but when Bartok himself is threatened, it's okay for him to shoot (he also threatens Beth with the gun at one point). While Bartok manages to get a shot into Martin, his ultimate fate is one much worse than death: Martin pulls him into one of the Telepods and when Beth teleports them both, it activates the gene-swapping program, curing Martin of his mutant DNA while Bartok is reduced to a disgusting, barely humanoid mass of flesh. And, in the ultimate payback, he's kept in the same hellhole of a holding pen that he forced Martin's beloved dog to live in after his mutation. Again, "Revenge of the Fly" indeed.

Even though he's the main villain, Bartok is far from the most unlikable character in the film: that dubious honor goes to Gary Chalk as Scorby, Bartok's head of security. This is just a dickhead from the first time you see him. He and his subordinates have a serious dislike for Martin, apparently because of the attention he gets and how they feel he can get away with anything, with Scorby making it clear that he's waiting for Martin to screw up so he can punish him. He's very crass and mocking towards Martin, whom he calls "Marty" (which could be a subtle reference to the fact that Eric Stoltz was the original Marty McFly before he was replaced by Michael J. Fox), when he interacts with him, making a comment about how he seems to have found himself a girlfriend in Beth and when Martin says that's not the case, Scorby comments, "Too bad. Nice ass." He's also more than happy to let Beth know that she's been let go and that it's because of her relationship with Martin, commenting, "I guess that's what you get for fucking around with Bartok's pet freak." He even goes as far as to give her the footage of the two of them having sex in Martin's supposedly private home, telling her, "For your eyes only," something I'm sure he came up with rather than it being an order from Bartok. When Martin attempts to escape from the facility, Scorby confronts him and takes delight in not only punching him to the floor but disrespecting Beth, sneeringly telling him, "I enjoyed that tape of you and your girlfriend. Girl goes like a jackhammer, doesn't she?" Scorby isn't laughing for long, though, as Martin uses his newfound strength to grab him by the throat and throwing him through the glass of the main door, allowing him to escape. He proceeds to head the search for Martin and Beth when they go on the run, although they don't have to look long, since Beth calls them when Martin's metamorphosis becomes too much for her to handle. Once Martin emerges from his cocoon as the new, deadly Brundlefly and begins killing people, Scorby becomes resistant to Bartok's orders to take him alive, firing upon the monster when he bursts into Bay 17. And when Bartok angrily admonishes him for trying to gun Martin down after one of his subordinates, Hargis, is killed, Scorby points his assault rifle at him for a few seconds, motioning for him to back off, and, after putting in a fresh clip, heads upstairs to find and kill the creature. However, Scorby ends up with his hand horribly scarred from Martin's corrosive vomit, accidentally kills Dr. Trimble, and is finally attacked by Martin and killed in a slow and painful manner as his body is bent backwards in sections.

John Getz is the only actor from the Cronenberg film who returned for the sequel, a decision he seems to regret given how, in the Fear of the Flesh documentary on the making of that movie, he refers to this as a, "Sad sequel." In his brief return as Stathis Borans, he only appears briefly at the beginning and on a video recording that Martin comes across before his main scene when Martin and Beth somehow manage to track him down to his house in the middle of the woods. In the years since Veronica's death, Borans has become a very bitter, alcoholic recluse (although he somehow managed to get his hands on a really nice cabin), who only reluctantly lets Martin and Beth in and makes it clear that he's always hated Seth for becoming close to Veronica, impregnating her, and melting his hand and foot. He venomously tells Martin that the only cure for his condition is to have his brains blown out, like Veronica did Seth, and tells them to go away. And when Beth asks him where his compassion is, he jokes, "I had to give it up. It cost me an arm and a leg." Not only is he very bitter and angry but he's also downright eccentric about some things, telling Martin not to sit in a certain chair but refusing to elaborate on why. Borans hasn't completely lost his heart, though, as he does assure Martin that a cure does lie within the Telepods and when Martin lets on that he has possibly found something that could help, Borans insists, "If you've found the answer, use it!" And finally, he lets them use his jeep to throw Bartok's men off their trail but, in the end, he just wants them to leave him alone, bitterly taking a drink in his last shot in the movie. I always thought it was a shame that he wasn't in more of the movie, maybe have him redeem himself in some way, but it's still nice to see him again, regardless. Although, I have to mention the horrendous fake beard that they put on him, no doubt to make him look exactly the way he did in the previous film. Couldn't they have just let him be clean-shaven, instead? It's not that far-fetched to think that somebody would change their look over time (just look at Getz nowadays) and plus, I think people would know who he was, beard or no beard.

Among Bartok's scientists, there are two who are worth mentioning. One is Dr. Jainway (Ann Marie Lee), the ill-tempered female scientist who, despite finding Martin fascinating as a biological specimen, often loses her patience because of his constant fidgeting when she tries to give him his injections. And despite spending as much time with him as she does, she doesn't grow any kind of bond with him at all, continuing to see him as nothing more than a creature to be studied and coldly goes about her research, doing what Bartok tells her to. She's the first one to get killed after Martin emerges from his cocoon. Another notable scientist is Dr. Shepard (Frank Turner), although he has less screentime than Jainway and, like her, also doesn't have much patience for Martin, becoming quite exasperated with the boy when he refuses to pay attention to his tests and when he gets sprayed in the face by water from his tricked out helmet. He also lies to Martin about the strange wound that appears on his arm, assuring him that it's just an infection that'll be cleared up by a simple injection, although Martin, by this point, has become distrustful enough not to believe him. Finally, there's something of an interesting callback with Shepard during the third act. When Martin was a boy, he hacked into Shepard's security clearance to gain access to Zone Four himself, and when Martin becomes Martinfly, he kills Shepard and attempts to use his security card to enter Bay 17, where Bartok and Scorby have barricaded themselves with Beth and the Telepods. And last but not least, while John Getz may be the only actor from the previous film to appear in the sequel, Stathis Borans is not the only returning character: Veronica appears at the very beginning but dies after giving birth to Martin. Chris Walas wanted Geena Davis to return but she declined, one because she didn't like that Veronica was killed off so quickly, and two, she couldn't go through another birth scene after the nightmare one in the Cronenberg film. In her place, they put Saffron Henderson, who looks enough like Davis, and is also not shot in any stationary, tight close-ups, that you could think it was her... although the voice gives it away, as they sound nothing alike. And technically, Seth Brundle himself does return, as he's seen on video recordings a couple of times, the first of which is actually a deleted scene from the Cronenberg film (Henderson dubs over Davis' voice there). Although, how in the hell can they have video footage of his explanation to Veronica about the accident with the fly when that wasn't even recorded?!

While the previous film was basically David Cronenberg putting his own twisted spin on the basic plot and concept of George Langelaan's short story, The Fly II owes much more to the original movies, particularly Return of the Fly. Like that film, the story focuses on the son of the doomed scientist trying to carry on his father's work but eventually becoming a similar fly-creature like dear old dad. In addition, the movie's conception of being more of a typical monster movie following on the heels of a very thoughtful, sophisticated first film, is right in line with Return of the Fly, as is the fact that the new monster does kill people, unlike the first one, and the happy ending, where the son manages to cure himself of his mutation. Even the official trailer is similar to that movie's, with the opening being the sound of a fly buzzing and a narrator saying, "Listen. Do you hear (it)?" Surprisingly, the film, whether intentionally or not, incorporates some elements of Curse of the Fly as well, not the least of which is the fact that the main character is again named Martin and he, as in that film, takes injections to stave off a physical affliction he's inherited from a past generation (in this case, though, the medication turns out to have been a mere placebo to give him false hope). You also once again have the idea that the teleportation process causes mutations in the subjects, a problem the leads spend a good portion of the story trying to fix, and to me, the deformed creature that Bartok becomes at the end of the movie is very similar to the writhing mass of the flesh that the two mutants in Curse of the Fly became when they were teleported together. And in what could be a subtle reference to the original film, one of the teleportation subjects is a cat; although, fortunately, this cat, which is a cute little kitten Martin names Prometheus (make your own Ridley Scott joke there), has a lot more luck with it than Dandelo did.

Even though the movie is primarily meant to just be an entertaining monster movie, there are some deeper aspects to the story. One of the film's four writers (given that, it's a miracle that the movie is as coherent as it is) was an up and coming Frank Darabont, who had just wrote the screenplay for the 1988 version of The Blob with director Chuck Russell, and Chris Walas feels that he wrote Bartok as the absolute worst embodiment of corporate America. The idea of corporate science had been touched on a little bit by Cronenberg, with the notion that, even though Seth Brundle had created something that could change the world, possibly in a positive way, it would eventually be owned by Bartok Science Industries for them to do with it what they choose; here, that is what's happened. Bartok has had the two intact Telepods brought over to his main facility and is trying to get them working again. And sure enough, as you might expect, he has no intention of using it for the greater good of mankind. He tells Martin that it could mean a new age of surgery, one where cutting people open would become obsolete and outdated, but in reality, he plans to use Martin's eventual metamorphosis as the prototype for what he refers to as, "A new age of genetic research." Using the Telepods as the tool and Martin as an example of the potential, his intention is to create a venue of genetic manipulation for profit. In short, it's the absolute worst use possible for these amazing machines, worse than anything you could have imagined when Seth told Veronica the company would end up owning anything he invents.

Design-wise, The Fly II looks about as good as its predecessor. I can't find any information about the film's budget but it must have been pretty substantial given the size of the main set, which is Bay 17 where the Telepods are kept. They built that on an enormous soundstage in Vancouver and it's a whopper of an environment, managing to look both high-tech and somewhat menacing due to its sheer size. A similarly notable set is the dungeon-like holding pen that the mutated golden retriever is forced to live in. It's striking in how medieval and inhumane it looks, especially when compared to the otherwise high-tech facility. It's basically a large, metal pit, with straw lining the bottom, water running down the side of one of the walls, a small little nook where the dog typically stays, and a door that can be opened from the outside, usually to slide in the creature's food. Said food, by the way, is a nasty-looking gruel in a little dish, as if the environment wasn't cruel enough. It really drives home how horrible of a person Bartok is and makes the ending all the more satisfying. Save for the air-ducts that young Martin uses to snoop around the facility (why are air ducts in horror films always conveniently big enough for people to fit through?) and the pipe-filled, steamy basement where the guard dog encounters Martinfly, the rest of the sets are pretty everyday in their look, like the other parts of the Bartok facility, such as the operating room where Martin is both born and reborn, the offices, and the examination rooms, the houseboat where Beth lives, the rather luxurious cabin in the woods Stathis Borans now lives in, and the small motel Martin and Beth stay at. If I have any qualms about the film's settings, it's that we don't get as much of the sense that we got in the previous film that all of these bizarre and horrific things are happening just out of sight of townspeople going about their everyday lives. While we have more main characters than we did before, the film feels much more isolated, as about 85% of it takes place at the Bartok facility and we never see the rest of the city it's supposedly located in (if it weren't for Beth's mentioning it at one point, you'd never know it was in a city). And even though Martin and Beth briefly go on the run from Bartok's men, the only person they interact with, aside from Borans, is the manager of the smalltime motel they stay at. We do see that the story of their disappearance is being featured on the news, no doubt an attempt by Bartok to find them quicker, but that, and the team of men in decontamination suits removing Martin from the motel while helicopters fly overhead after Beth contacts Bartok, is about as wide a scope of the outside world as we get.

After the Cronenberg film had finished shooting, the Telepods were destroyed (I don't know, since they're such cool-looking props), meaning that they had to be rebuilt from scratch for the sequel, and I think they did a superlative job at it. Design-wise, they look exactly as they did in the first film, except that they're much blacker in color, whereas they were more of a metallic color before, and the inside of them lights up as an orange color instead of a white-blue. I like the teleportation effects here much more than I did those in the previous movie. Instead of simply seeing the atoms slowly coming apart before the subject vanishes in a flash of light, here bolts of purple electricity envelop the subject and then it disappears, accompanied by a thunder-like sound as it's reintegrated in the receiving pod. The effect is still outdated by today's standards but, for the time, it looks pretty damn good. Also like in Cronenberg's film, the graphics on the main computer's interface are very cartoony in how they look but, while don't say they serve a disturbing contrast this time since this movie doesn't get under your skin the way the previous one did, they serve their purpose well enough and are easy to overlook.

Like before, Chris Walas' effects company, CWI, provides jaw-dropping makeup and creature effects and it's a shame that they didn't at least get a nomination for this film too because this stuff is truly excellent. Like before, the centerpiece is the gradual metamorphosis that the main character goes through, although what's different about Martin's transformation is that, because he's had fly-genes in him from the beginning, it's more of a natural evolution rather than a diseased mutation as Seth went through. When Veronica gives birth to him at the beginning, which is a very painful birth that includes a rapidly undulating, pregnant stomach, he's encased in an insect-like, larval egg-sac that, after they cut the umbilical cord (a shot that's really cringe-inducing to me), the surgeons open up, and out of the mass of white-colored goop inside comes a normal-looking baby. Except for his accelerated life-cycle, Martin comes across as perfectly normal until the moment after he and Beth have sex where he notices that the wound on his arm where the hypodermic needle broke looks as if it's becoming infected. Later on, the wound looks worse and it's now excreting a web-like substance(since the change doesn't start until his first sexual encounter, it's very possible that that's what awakened his mutant chromosomes). As his father did before, he also begins to look progressively haggard in his face, particularly during the scene in the surveillance room, where there's some noticeable puffiness underneath his eyes. The metamorphosis really kicks into high gear after he escapes from Bartok Industries and meets up with Beth at her houseboat. His face is really starting to look deformed, with more prominent cheekbones, shifting brows, and skin that's becoming bumpy, akin to what Seth looked like during the later stages of his change. By the time they track down Stathis Borans, his entire head is now deformed, with a receding hairline, and that web-like substance is beginning to come out of his face now. Unlike his father, Martin doesn't seem to be in pain but rather just tired and out of breath, and his voice is getting deeper. That night at the motel, Martin's voice is now extremely deep and, though it's hard to tell because of the bright, blue light from the nearby bug-zapper, his face and head have become even more distorted, with his ears appearing to recede within his flesh, bumps can be seen on his body, and some of his fingers are now webbed together, with claw-like protrusions growing out of the knuckles. Not only is he scratching off loose skin but he also pulls out one of his eyes to reveal an insect-like eye underneath, which is revealed to be orange in the scene where he's been removed from the motel. Out in the daylight, you can see that his skin has become discolored and that his lower half is encased in a cocoon. After he's taken back to Bartok Industries, Martin is now completely cocooned and, at first, the structure is transparent enough to where you can see him inside but later on, it's completely closed up by its green and yellow texture. It reminds me a lot of the cocoons the Mogwai went into before they became the Gremlins (another movie Walas worked on).

Dr. Jainway's prediction that it would take at least a week for Martin's metamorphosis to become complete proves to be very inaccurate, as he only gestates for a few hours before breaking out of the cocoon in a mess of yellow slime and sticky, transparent stuff. Going into this film for the first time, I wasn't sure what to except Martin's ultimate form to be after the horrifying surprise I had over what Seth finally became and also from a very misleading description from the Horror Movie Survival Guide book, where they said, "Martin's body was a time bomb, and began mutating into a super-race of human flies." I guess they were trying to say he was about to become the first creature of his kind or they were alluding to how deadly he became but, still, that's a very weird way to describe the ultimate creature. In any case, when I finally saw it, I instantly thought it was one of the coolest movie monsters I'd ever seen. Yeah, it looks just as much like a reptile as it does an insect, with its green color and lizard-like face, but it's still a well-done design, with its impressive height (unlike Brundlefly, it can stand up straight rather than being hunched over), four insectoid arms, fly hairs strewn across its body, orange-red eyes (which don't look at all like fly eyes but whatever), and segmented mouth full of sharp teeth. And this thing is also much deadlier than Brundlefly, as it's very quick and agile, very strong, and can actually spray its corrosive, digestive enzymes like a fire extinguisher, as one unfortunate security guard finds out. Like the final Brundlefly creature in the first movie, Martinfly is brought to life by a series of well-made puppets, some being cable-controlled and others being rod puppets, and it's amazing how successful they are in creating the illusion that this thing is alive, breathing, and thinking. One of the my favorite moments with Martinfly is when it throws Scorby's right-hand man, Hargis, into an elevator shaft and, instead of running away right then, coldly watches as the guy struggles to crawl out but is unable to before the car comes down and crushes his head. It really gets across that this is a creature that knows exactly what it's doing and isn't going to stop until it gets what it wants. Another part that I like is when, instead of killing the security dog that confronts it down in the basement, Martinfly gently pets him and calms him down, showing that Martin's consciousness is still in control.

Something I've noticed about the Fly series of movies is that there's a lot of cruelty towards animals within them. Think about it: in the original, you had the family being disintegrated and never reintegrating; in Return of the Fly, you had that moment where Alan Hines kills that guinea pig with human feet by trying to squish it and then dropping a heavy piece of equipment on it; and in the Cronenberg film, you had the first baboon getting turned inside-out (as well as the deleted "monkey-cat" scene). However, The Fly II trumps them all by having the saddest instances involving an animal in the series and one of the saddest in movies, period. After he gets put through the teleportation, the golden retriever that Martin befriends becomes a vicious mutant that attacks one of the scientists, and years later, Bartok tells Martin that the dog didn't suffer for very long. Of course, that turns out to have been a big lie when Martin discovers that the dog is still being kept alive for research, forced to live in that awful, dungeon-like pen. As with the final Martinfly creature, it's amazing how much life the effects artists are able to breathe into what's essentially nothing more than a ragdoll of a dog puppet but the scenes with this thing are not only believable but very heartbreaking. It's hard to watch when you see him crawl across the floor of his pen, almost unable to move, grab ahold of the food dish with his mouth, slurp up some of the gruel, and give out a mournful wail due to the pain he's in, getting across that it's a hellish existence. Even more effecting is when Martin goes inside of the dog's pen and, while he at first snaps at him, the dog realizes who he is and wags his tail before crawling up to him. I'm not gonna lie, I get emotional during this scene. I've never actually cried but I have gotten a lump in my throat many times, especially due to Eric Stoltz's performance, as he's on the verge of tears at the sight of the misery his childhood friend is in. He then makes the hard but merciful decision to put the dog at peace by suffocating him with some chloroform, although hearing him whine and squeal as the life drains out of him also hard to bare, as is the last shot of Martin crying over the body.

The dog is such a definitive example of what a horrible, uncaring person Bartok is that it makes his comeuppance at the end, when Martinfly teleports with him and the gene-swapping program reduces him to a misshapen creature while Martin becomes a normal human, all the more satisfying. There's no other way to describe the "Bartok Beast," as this creature is called by Chris Walas and his crew, other than a vaguely humanoid mass of mutated flesh that's unable to walk and whose only vocalizations are inhuman growls and howls. When Martin is reintegrated as a normal human, he's initially attached to the creature in a nasty sac of flesh and blood that Beth has to peel him out of. It's nasty, to say the least, and I always cringe when Beth actually hugs him right after she's ripped him loose. I think, "I know you're glad he's back but couldn't you have waited until he showered before that? Ugh!" And like I said before, not only is Bartok now a mutant monster but he's also treated as nothing more than a research specimen, kept in the same pen and forced to eat the same slop as the dog, which is just perfect payback. It has nice closing shot as well, where the creature notices a common fly on the rim of the dish, which I like to think is the filmmakers saying, "The little insect that started it all."

Of course, you got to have some gore as well, and the film does deliver on that score. The first gore effect is the shot of the scientist's hand when the mutated dog bites off two of his fingers and it's a quick but very wince-inducing shot. Of similar effect is the moment where, while he's getting an injection, the hypodermic needle breaks in Martin's arm and some blood squirts out. Again, really painful to look at. However, it's not until Martin emerges from his cocoon that the gore gets very extreme. We don't see Dr. Jainway's death but rather the bloody aftermath of it, with Dr. Shepard finding her mangled body up in the ceiling above a puddle of blood on the floor. Shepard's own death is completely bloodless, as Martinfly simply strangles him with his own necktie and drags him down to the Bay 17 door to try to use his keycard to open it. I can't say the same about the security guard who ends up encountering him, though. While Stathis Borans was lucky to come away from his encounter with Brundlefly with only a melted hand and foot, this guy gets sprayed right in the face, melting his flesh off down to the skull... and he's still alive the whole time! Some other security guards find him afterwards, lying on the ground, gasping for air, and moaning in agony, which is really disturbing to say the least. After that gruesome spectacle, you have the moment where Hargis, Scorby's right-hand man, gets thrown into Bay 17's elevator shaft and is unable to crawl out in time before the car comes down on him, crushing his head against the edge of the floor in a big splatter of blood. What's crazy is, apparently, that was the scene the MPAA had the biggest problem with: a bloody but very quick death, rather than the drawn-out, torturous face-melting scene right before it. The ratings board sure makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? After that, the only really bloody bit of business is when Martinfly gets the side of Scorby's hand with his vomit and burns it very badly but doesn't completely melt it. The last two deaths in the movie are fairly mild: Dr. Trimble is accidentally shot to death by Scorby, who himself gets his back slowly snapped backwards by Martinfly.

This is the first score by Christopher Young that I ever heard (at least, the first one where I was actually aware of his name) and it remains one of my favorites of his. It's a completely different score from the one Howard Shore composed and, like the music for Return of the Fly, doesn't reuse any of the previous film's themes, but it's no less effective. I think that even people who don't care for the movie itself would have to agree that the music is one of its best aspects, because it's everything you'd want in a score for a monster movie like this: big, sweeping, and absolutely majestic, managing to capture the mood of each scene and moment brilliantly. At that time, Young was just coming off doing the music for the first two Hellraiser movies and you can definitely hear some crossover here but those scores are also awesome, so it's a nice crossover. As he himself mentions on the special features on the DVD, there are three main themes that hold the score together. The first, which you hear in all its glory during the opening and ending credits, is a loud, bombastic but also mournful and tragic-sounding theme that's meant to signify the mutation that Martin inherited from his father and the sad circumstances surrounding it. It comes up in a much quieter form whenever his condition is mentioned or alluded to, like when he's telling the dog about it or during the climax when Martinfly pets that security dog and when Beth comes face-to-face with him, getting across that Martin's consciousness is still in there, and it's used in other places for things that are related to his condition. You hear another loud, powerful version of it when the Telepods are first revealed in Bay 17 and when Martinfly drags Bartok into the Telepod at the end, as well as a solemn, lonely version during the scenes with the mutated dog, emphasizing how both he and Martin are victims of his father's work. The second theme has two distinct versions: the first is a plucking piece that plays when young Martin is exploring the Bartok facility and is meant to be childish and mischievous, and the second is a slow, more solemn-sounding string piece that you hear when Martin sees his father on the videotape. The third is a nice, gentle love theme for Martin and Beth, which you first hear when Martin asks Beth if she'd like to work with him on the Telepods and it reaches its full zenith when they have sex. Ironically, it's the piece that reminds me the most of Young's Hellraiser score, but that's meant as a compliment, because that score is quite beautiful in places. After those three main themes, you have music that's meant to be either eerie, like this quiet little piece you hear when Martin realizes that what's happening to his arm is more than just an infection, ominous, like the string piece when Martin learns that Bartok has been lying to him his whole life and also learns the truth about his father, percussive and driving, like when Martinfly is stomping his way towards Bay 17, dragging Shepard's body, or just downright scary, as is most of the music during the third act. Narrative-wise, the score ends with a piece that starts off bombastic but grows quiet and eerie when the Bartok Beast is revealed in the pit at the end, alluding to the payback he's been dealt. Bottom line, it's a great score, and one you should like, even if you don't care for the movie itself.

I'll admit, there are a number of country songs that I do like (when you grow up in Tennessee, you kind of have to like country), but I don't care at all for k.d. lang's Lock, Stock and Teardrops, which plays during the montage of Martin and Beth working together on the Telepods and becoming closer as a result. I don't know whose decision it was to put that there but, in a movie that has a very powerful, orchestral score, it's quite jarring and doesn't fit to suddenly go into a country song, one whose lyrics don't even match what they're accompanying, I might add. Yeah, you still heard the Help Me song in the Cronenberg film after he decided it didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the music but at least it was in the background and not overbearing like this. And are they supposed to be listening to the song, like when Martin has the headphones on at one point? I could at least deal with that but, again, suddenly hearing a country song in this kind of movie does not work at all. According to the soundtrack listing, there's another song in here by Wall Street called Deep Inside Your Love but it must have been playing in the background of the office party scene, because I don't remember it all.

If you're expecting something as deep and thought-provoking as Cronenberg's film, The Fly II will leave you disappointed and maybe even a little angry. But, if you can forget that and just enjoy a fun, gory monster movie, you'll have fun with this flick, because it does have a lot to offer. It has a pretty good cast, especially with Eric Stoltz and Lee Richardson, an above average script, very competent direction for a first-time director, a fast pace (the movie is 105 minutes long, making it the longest of these films, but it goes by quick), a very entertaining third act, lots of impressive creature and makeup effects, and a great score. It has problems, like the Beth character, its missing the idea from the Cronenberg film that this film happening out of sight of people going about their daily lives, minor continuity errors with the previous film, like a scene from that movie playing on a videotape when it wasn't recorded to begin with, and the out of place country song, but to me, the good outweighs the bad, leaving us with an enjoyable creature feature. In my opinion, if you like monster movies, especially those great ones from the 80's that featured so many wonderful makeup and animatronic effects, there's no reason why you shouldn't like this.

As far as what the future holds, for a while it seemed like David Cronenberg was actually going to return with a very unusual sequel to his own film. It was a surprising notion, since he never does sequels to his own movies, feeling that they're all self-contained stories, but I guess after he and Howard Shore created that operatic version of the film, he was open to going back to it. He said he actually came up with this idea back when Mel Brooks was first thinking about a sequel but Brooks turned it down because he felt it was too much of a departure. As to what the story for the film would have been, Cronenberg was vague, describing it in a 2012 interview with Indiewire as, "A meditation on fly-ness. None of the same characters or anything and, of course, with an understanding of modern technology." God knows what that means but, since it's Cronenberg, I'm pretty sure it would have at least been interesting (I said, "Pretty sure," because I hated Cosmopolis). But, for various reasons, mainly due to budget problems, it never happened. There have been other attempts to do another film version of George Langelaan's story, like an aborted Todd Lincoln film in the early to mid-2000's, but nothing has come of it and, really, I don't think we need any more Fly movies. You're never going to be able to top the original or Cronenberg's film, so I think this is one franchise that you should definitely be laid to rest. But, we shall see what we shall see.


  1. Thank you for this very well written and thought-out review and analysis. Like many people I too many have placed too much expectations on the sequel due to the first one by Cronenberg having hit the mark (and then some) quite admirably. However as you mentionned in your essay, THE FLY II does stand up on it's own when viewed for what it is rather than what it is reguarded as what it "should" be. Yes, perhaps for the most part, the sequel is "un-necessary" and is principally a decently-produced horror fest, it nonetheless does deliver quite impressive moments and very decent acting. Anyway I just wanted to thank you for writing up such a strong article on the film.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and responding.