All right, I’m just going to come out and say right now that David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly is quite probably the saddest horror movie ever made. It’s the kind of tragedy that Shakespeare or one of the classical Greek authors would write, if they were into sci-fi and splatterpunk horror, though Polanski’s Macbeth has taught me that Shakespeare did have the potential hidden in him. It is a tale of love and madness and the deterioration of the human condition (and some of the most grotesque makeup effects in film history), and is one of the horror films that has been most cheated out of some serious Oscar nominations.
At a scientific symposium, brilliant physicist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) meets magazine writer Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) and boasts about having created something that will change the world. Taking her back to his lab, he shows her that he has nearly perfected teleportation. Though she wants to take this public, he charms her and offers her exclusive book rights if she can keep this quiet until he has perfected the process, as it still has difficulty transmitting living organisms. As he works to perfect this, the two fall in love, and with her inspiration he finally manages to successfully transport a baboon. However, her jealous ex-boyfriend and editor, Stathis Borans (John Getz; also, what the hell kind of character name is that?) threatens to reveal his discovery. Looking to head off his reveal, Veronica goes to talk to him. Drunk and jealous, Seth teleports himself. He comes out of the machine feeling better than ever, but soon becomes aggressive and violent, deteriorating mentally and physically. Checking the machine, he sees that a common housefly had gone through with him, and that the two of them are bonding at a genetic level, creating a monstrous hybrid that threatens to consume him in body and mind.
In any other hands, this remake of the 1950’s Vincent Price camp classic could have been silly, or at the very least a standard 80’s monster movie. However, in the hands of David Cronenberg it becomes something special. Focusing on the mental as well as the physical deterioration of Seth, it becomes a truly painful film to watch. If this film had had him suffering from AIDS or cancer instead of him becoming a grotesque fly-beast, it would have been some of the best Oscar bait. Instead it was one of the many great films that the Academy ignored because it fell under the horror banner.
Though the acting is stellar all around, this movie is really made by Jeff Goldblum’s tour de force performance as Seth Brundle. His gradual evolution throughout the movie shows more range than most actors do in entire careers, as he starts out as a nerd, transitions into a hopeless romantic, then to an arrogant jerk and a sad, mad monster, all within the course of two hours, and all without anything feeling forced. His chemistry with Geena Davis is palpable (the fact that they were really sleeping together at the time couldn’t have hurt either), and through their interactions we get an epic and truly sad rise and fall of a great man sort of story. This film could easily have worked as a stage drama, given its small cast and intimate setting, and I am not surprised in the slightest that this film was successfully made into an opera a few years back. He should have gotten an Oscar nomination for this movie, no question.
Of course, you cannot talk about The Fly without talking about its Oscar-winning and truly disgusting makeup effects. David Cronenberg’s penchant for body-horror stories manifests quite well as Seth’s body falls apart (literally) throughout the movie, as he becomes this lumpy, diseased-looking monster that sheds more pieces of humanity with every passing minute. Though subtle at first, he quickly transitions into full-body makeup and animatronic effects that make him (or at least, “Brundlefly”) into one of the most horrifying and sympathetic monsters ever put onscreen, though the less said about the vomit-drop scenes the better. Those must be seen on their own. Again, though, I cannot stop giving credit to Goldblum, for offering a remarkably deep performance under pounds of latex and paint.
The Fly is not an easy film for me to watch (I’m a crier, so sue me), and the ending gets me almost every time. Though this is a film that scares and repulses with ease, the fact that it tears at the heartstrings separate it from its peers and make it into a true classic.
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-- Matt Carter
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