An eccentric scientist has an accident in his lab that changes his life forever.
As far as Cronenberg goes, I’d venture to guess this is his most mainstream horror film. “The Fly” was the first Cronenberg film I saw, and it was here that my intrigue with ‘The Baron of Blood’ started. Though I wont go so far as to say that this is Cronenberg’s best film, I would say it’s probably his most quintessential entry in his oeuvre; it’s the film that get referenced the most in pop culture, it’s one of Jeff Goldblum’s best roles, it boasts some of the best special effect makeup to ever come to screen, and it’s images enough to make even the initiated viewer squirm in disgust. In short, this is a great horror movie, one that I would almost go so far as to say is required viewing for horror fans and cinephiles in general. If you’re unfamiliar with Cronenberg, this is the perfect place to start.
“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.”
“What am I working on?” Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, “Jurassic Park”) says nervously in the opening scene. He’s at a convention, talking to Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis, “The Accidental Tourist”), a journalist. “I’m working on something that will change the world, and human life as we know it.” Intrigued, Veronica follows Seth back to his capacious apartment, which doubles as his laboratory, there, Seth shows Veronica his project: a teleportation device. Veronica insists that she has to report on what she’s seen, but Seth is resistant, saying that there are still some bugs to work out, and that currently, the teleportation machine only works with non-living things. He instead asks her to stay with him, and examine his work as it progresses, so that she might write a book about the discovery. Veronica agrees and the two quickly form a relationship that goes beyond a professional working partnership. Veronica’s ex-boyfriend (and current editor), Stathis Borans (John Getz, “Blood Simple”) complicates things when he calls Veronica away in the middle of the night. Seth, thinking that Veronica has left him for Stathis, attempts the teleportation himself, unaware that there is a housefly caught in device with him.
The most memorable part of this movie are the brilliantly graphic effects and makeup, almost all of which are practical (I believe the only special effects in this film were the scenes when Seth transports something through the film). I could argue that the effect in this movie are what almost every other body horror film is compared to- the effects are just that good. What really makes them stand out is the incredible attention to detail, and also the transformative stages that Seth goes through. Even from the beginning, when Seth first starts to change, there are little things that hint at the horrors of what’s to come; the acne that starts to appear on Seth’s face, the hairs that sprout from his back. But as we near the end (I suppose spoilers- meet me at the next paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers), and the fly’s DNA really starts to take hold of Seth’s being, the effects grow more and more disturbing, and far more detailed. Even the way that Goldblum moves, while completely encased in a silicon skin of what looks to be rotting flesh, is enough to make your skin crawl.
One of the best parts of this film, however, is the fact that there aren’t any characters that are inherently evil; everyone in the film starts as a likeable character. Seth isn’t a mad scientist whom intended to turn himself into a insect-human hybrid; he’s a scientist, who, when put under pressure, made a mistake that caused an irreversible change to himself. His reasons for creating a teleportation machine weren’t rooted in a want for fame or money; Seth is truly a scientist that is doing experiments that he believes will better society. In that way, Seth’s character becomes incredibly tragic; he’s a character that we want to succeed, not only because his intentions are noble, but because even when you strip away the man’s profession, as a person, he’s generally likeable. A lot of that likeability has to do with Goldblum himself, who has, in recent years, gained something of a cult following for his unique mumbling acting style (similar to Nic Cage’s cult following). The way that Goldblum portrays Seth makes him slightly vulnerable; from the first scene, we know that Seth doesn’t get out much- he’s a bit of a recluse; but not out of distaste for other people, simply because he’s a man completely enraptured with his work. Likewise, Veronica is a likeable character. Geena Davis portrays Veronica as a strong independent woman that is, like Seth, heavily engaged with her work. At the beginning, they seem to be a good team that will work well together, which further emphasizes the horror and tragedy as Seth sinks deeper into the depths of his disease.
Furthermore, the overall story that Cronenberg tells with this movie is really compelling as well. I personally have not seen the 1958 original version of this movie, but this film is widely regarded as better than that version. The story is rather straight forward and simple (it’s only an hour and thirty-five minutes long), but it succeeds in transcending the material it presents onscreen. This is not just about a man turning into a fly, but a man loosing his humanity for the sake of something he believes in. In a way, it’s an examination of a theme that Jeff Goldblum would expound upon further in “Jurassic Park”; that theme being, ‘Just because science allows us to do something, doesn’t mean we should do it.”
This film is a masterpiece of body horror, but it’s also a psychological treat. It’s a film that gets beneath your skin and messes with your DNA, lingering long after the credits roll. If you haven’t seen this film before, I absolutely recommend it; if you have seen it, this flick is always worth revisiting.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
Review Written By: