This 1986 movie, directed by David Cronenberg, takes the premise of the 1950s version of The Fly, which I reviewed last week, but uses it as a springboard for a very different type of movie. In the 1950s version, the emphasis is much more on the effect of the scientist’s transformation into the fly on his family and the question of the guilt of his wife for killing him. This 1980s version, however, focuses squarely on the horror of the transformation for the scientist himself, in this case, Dr. Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum). As his condition progresses, Brundle must face increasingly bizarre and disgusting changes to his body, shown to the viewer in exquisite detail. As my daughter put it, “This is the most disgusting movie I’ve ever seen.”
When Dr. Brundle runs into journalist Veronica Quaife (played by Geena Davis) at the reception following a scientific awards ceremony, he tries to impress her by bragging about his world-changing research. Really, he’s trying to get her back to his lab so he can seduce her, but she is impressed by his invention when he demonstrates it–a way to teleport matter between two pods. However, when he finds out she plans to report on the invention, which he hasn’t even revealed yet to his corporate employer while he works out the bugs (ha), he first tries to convince her to hold the story back, then kicks her out.
The next day, Veronica tells her editor and ex-boyfriend, Stathis Borans, about the invention. Stathis is skeptical, believing it to be a hoax, and also uses crude language to put down Brundle and to try to entice Veronica back into a relationship. Veronica is offended and decides to take the story to another magazine.
Back at the lab, Seth promises Veronica an exclusive on the story of his invention, but only if she waits until he’s done, because the teleporter is not yet able to transport living matter. An experimental teleport with a baboon results in a disgusting organic mess. Meanwhile, Seth and Veronica start a relationship. She suggests teleporting the steaks they are having on a date night one evening, and Seth realizes he can use the meat to refine the teleporter without killing living things. Finally, he fixes the problem, and teleports a new baboon without any problems. He then tries it on himself, not realizing that a fly has gotten trapped in the teleport pod with him.
At first, he feels great, and believes the teleporter has somehow purified him. He has tremendous energy and strength, is able to have sex for hours, and needs very little sleep–along with developing an extreme sweet tooth and a rapid-fire way of speaking. He believes everybody should go through the teleporter and experience the same thing, starting with Veronica. She doesn’t want to, and Brundle reacts emotionally. He storms out of the lab and winds up at a biker bar where he arm-wrestles a burly man (breaking his wrist) in exchange for his girlfriend. The girlfriend comes home with Brundle but also doesn’t want to go through the teleporter. Brundle won’t let her leave until Veronica shows up.
By this time, it’s become obvious there’s something wrong with Dr. Brundle. He’s developed lesions on his face and nervous tics, and his fingernails have begun falling out. Over the next days, he develops new powers–he can walk on the ceiling, and leap incredibly high–but his skin condition becomes much worse and he loses an ear. As he investigates the teleporter’s computer data banks to try to find out what’s going wrong, he discovers his genetic code has been mixed with that of a fly’s.
As his physical condition worsens, his mind also becomes deranged. He becomes convinced that he can cure himself by going through the teleporter with another person to fortify his genetic code with more human genes, adulterating the fly’s influence. He decides Veronica is the obvious choice, and kidnaps her. Her ex-boyfriend, Stathis, who has been spying on her to scoop the story on the new invention for his magazine, sees what’s happening and charges into the lab. But will he be strong enough to rescue Veronica before Brundle-Fly (as he now calls himself) carries out his insane plan?
The Fly (1986)
Story/Plot/Characters— I remarked in my review of the 1958 version that this was a 1950s science-gone-wrong plot that holds up really well because of genetic manipulation. That shows here, where the 1950s premise continues to be compelling. Great actors at the beginnings of their career and a taut storyline make this very watchable. The dialogue is at times less than sparkling, but never terrible. (3.5 points)
Special Effects— Wonderfully realistic and vile effects convincingly depict Brundle’s transformation. My daughter proclaimed this “the most disgusting movie I’ve ever seen.” Sounds like full points for special effects to me! (2 points)
Scariness— Not scary, exactly, but disgusting and horrifying, certainly. Many viewers at the time saw this movie as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic. I think the horror comes from the idea that this could happen to you. Like I said, with all the advances we’re making with gene splicing and manipulation today, this continues to resonate. Still, not that scary. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— I cannot express how freaky this is. Brundle’s corrosive fly vomit near the end of his transformation is a special touch. (2 points)
Total=8.5 points (Best Horror Movies Ever)
Impressive special effects, great acting, and a willingness on director David Cronenberg’s part to go way beyond the bounds of good taste make this one of the Best Horror Movies Ever. For those with strong stomachs only.