Horror Month 2009: The Fly (1986)


Horror Month 2009 welcomes David Cronenberg to the festivities, be afraid, be very afraid!

Screenplay By: David Cronenberg & Charles Edward Pogue
Directed By: David Cronenberg

What’s the greatest horror in a movie about a man slowly turning into some sort of half man-half fly hybrid? It has to be what I just said, correct? Nope, try again. Okay then, it has to be all the gory effects used to show his metamorphosis, right? Well done yes, but they aren’t the horror of the picture. Wait, I’ve got it, it has to be the last ten minutes, there’s no way that isn’t the greatest horror in The Fly! Wrong again, at least in part, because those last ten minutes do contain the conclusion to the true horror in The Fly, but it has nothing to do with the traditionally scary moments on screen. The greatest horror in The Fly is love, in a hard as well as allegorical sense, the scariest emotion of all provides all the horror seen in The Fly.

I’m about to type a couple of words that you would never think to associate with a horror movie directed by David Cronenberg; sweet and innocent. That is the type of love story that Cronenberg gives us, he steers clear of the usual pitfalls that define romantic stories in the movies. Wait, someone else is talking to me again, asking me another question… But what about Seth cheating on Veronica and becoming physically violent with her? Ah, so glad you piped up injuriously creepy voice inhabiting my head, because I can understand how one could read his actions as he becomes BrundleFly in that light. Take a closer look scary voice and what do you see, Seth isn’t actually doing any of those things. His love for Veronica remains sweet, innocent and pure, it is his new insect like characteristics that are overwhelming him and causing him to act in ways that he normally wouldn’t. Cronenberg has found the device that legitimately excuses all the wrong actions of the man in question, if not for the bad side effects men the world over would be jumping at the chance to take on some fly DNA.

Back to what I was talking about, The Fly really is a sweet and innocent movie about how a man makes an honest mistake and as he suffers the results of that mistake his girlfriend suffers alongside him. Veronica doesn’t judge Seth, she supports him and stays with him even as he becomes less and less human. Because of this Seth is able to stave off his change at an intellectual level for small periods of time, it is only through Veronica that Seth remains the least bit human. Truly it is only because of Veronica that Seth has any strength and this in turn leaves Veronica as the strongest character in the movie. She isn’t your typical strong female lead by any means, but in the context of a love story she is the strong character, the one that makes the tough decisions and remains smart throughout.

Beyond all of the usual Cronenberg meta material, and the oddly heartrending love story, you have two key factors in the success of The Fly, the acting and the special effects. On the effects front I needn’t say much, all you need to do is look at a few stills from The Fly and the brilliance of the effects work is obvious to even the untrained eye. Seth turns into a fly and never for a second does it look unbelievable, even when it is obviously a man in a rubber suit it transcends that visual and looks real. The real surprise in The Fly was the acting, and I don’t just mean Jeff Goldblum. I’ve never been a fan of Geena Davis, matter of fact outside of A League Of Their Own I don’t think I’ve seen any of her movies all the way through. But, in The Fly she is spot on, she is soft when she needs to be soft, scared when her fear is called for and it is her face and the look of utter sadness in her eyes that makes the finale as heartrending as it is.

I can’t shortchange the man though, and that is why Jeff Goldbulm gets his own paragraph. I don’t know what to say about his performance other than that he throws himself into the role of Seth wholesale. Before he transforms into BrundleFly he pushes the mannerisms and ticks as much as he can with Seth. This is important because once he has begun to transform we can still recognize Seth underneath all the effects thanks to the mannerisms Goldbulm has instilled into the character. He’s never the villain either, in the moments where Goldblum could have played Seth as villainous he holds back, instead playing Seth as a man losing control to an inner demon that is real. Oh, and the comedy, I don’t know if any other man alive has the deadpan comedic timing that Goldblum does.

The last major element of The Fly that I want to touch on is the gore found in the film. It’s a major beef of mine when any film doesn’t sufficiently build to its gore, and while I never have that problem with Cronenberg, he does handle the gore in The Fly very differently. Usually gore is built to through suspenseful beats, that is how its meaning is ensured, that is what stops the gore from being superfluous. In The Fly the gore isn’t brought forth from suspense, rather it is brought forth from the beats of the relationship. Every bit of gore matters and serves the plot by representing another piece of their relationship falling apart. Leave it to Cronenberg to represent the demise of a relationship through the employment of special effects gore, the man is a genius.

Like any Cronenberg effort The Fly has many layers to it, I could stay here all day discussing the different areas the film explores. It can be read as a metaphor for AIDS as well as another treatise by Cronenberg on how people are obsessed with what defines them, from their own skin to the people they choose to love. The Fly is a very deep film, but what matters most about The Fly is the love story it contains. The last moments are hurtful and tear at your heartstrings, but it’s how this love story has to end. It isn’t a happy ending, but The Fly isn’t a happy movie, it’s a movie about the destruction of a sweet and innocent relationship. Think about that next time you are debating on whether or not to watch The Fly, it’s really a sweet and innocent love story disguised as a horror movie, movies don’t get any better than that!




6 responses to “Horror Month 2009: The Fly (1986)

  1. mcarteratthemovies

    G-R-E-A-T review, Bill, of a movie people tend to dismiss as horror and that’s that. “The Fly” is so much more than a horror movie; like you say, it has so many layers, and it’s as much a film about watching a relationship fall apart as it is a man morphing into a fly.

  2. Bill, that review is as out there as the film.. and just as good.
    so right about Goldblum, you forget how terrific he is in this.
    put me off arm-wrestling for life.

  3. I just found your comment at the end of my review at between the seats. I hope you lactate properly.

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  6. M – Yep, I love the horror elements, but the relationship is what really gets me.

    Ross – Goldblum is usually pretty great, even when he’s acting particularly zany.

    Edgar – Hopefully, but who knows these days.

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