Halloween Every Day (for a Month)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Day 15: The Fly (1986).
Between 1978 and 1988 four legendary science fiction/horror films were remade, and it is arguable that in each instance the remake topped the original. It all began with Philip Kaufman’s much more urban 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Next, in 1982, came John Carpenter’s now-legendary take on paranoia and xenophobia with The Thing. Then in 1986 David Cronenberg completely overhauled the overtly campy 1958 B-movie silliness of The Fly. And finally, Chuck Russell injected contemporary gore F/X and monster-movie mayhem into his 1988 retelling of The Blob. While John Carpenter’s The Thing is viewed by many of my generation (myself included) as the most entertaining film of this bunch (and maybe the greatest monster movie ever), it is David Cronenberg’s The Fly that is easily the most prophetic, intellectually curious, psychologically damaging, and intimately human film of any of the remakes and one of the best sci-fi/horror ever films ever created.
To say that the film is intimate is to state the obvious, but it would be easy for the casual fan to overlook just how intimate the film really is. There are, for example, only a handful of speaking parts and only a small collection of locations, each of which is, not coincidentally, extremely intimate. There are a few apartments, including one that doubles as a laboratory. There are a couple of offices. There is a bar (very casual, yes, even intimate). There is also a rooftop setting that becomes increasingly important to the story. But that’s about it. All of the film’s drama, tragedy, and horror plays out among a very few characters in only a few different locations. But the intimacy theme doesn’t stop there.
The Fly is, strangely enough, a very human story. It can be viewed as a metaphor for the life and death of romantic relationships or as yet another powerful example of a Frankenstein-style tragedy, in which the birth of a scientific discovery inevitably leads to calamitous horror and death. (Interestingly, The Fly even manages to inject great intimacy into the Frankenstein metaphor, allowing Dr. Seth Brundle to physically experience what he has wrought by casting him as both the creator of the monster and the monster itself.) The film also provides a refreshing take on overused story devices and narrative clichés. The idea of two obsessed workaholics trying to make a relationship work is explored without including the usual banal sitcom patter. When these two fight, they really fight. There is also a great performance by John Getz as the ex-boyfriend. This character begins the film as a weaselly, jealous letch and possible stalker. Slowly he becomes more and more sympathetic, and, before you realize it, you find yourself kinda liking the poor bastard; and then, by the time we reach the film’s dazzling conclusion, this character transforms into a fully realized heroic figure, willing to sacrifice his own safety to protect the woman he loves. This specific character arc provides the perfect counterpoint to the journey taken by the main character: The sleazy ex-boyfriend who resembles an insect ultimately finds his humanity after acting selflessly and courageously, while the noble, upstanding scientist (played to techno-geek perfection by Jeff Goldblum) loses his humanity in the hubristic pursuit of personal glory and literally transforms into an insect. That kind of commitment to character and theme is not something you see in most films, let alone horror films. But then again, The Fly is vastly superior to most films, regardless of genre.