This is how you do a remake: The Fly
Be Afraid. Be very afraid.
What a line. Geena Davis utters this much imitated piece of dialogue roughly two-thirds of the way through The Fly, Cronenberg’s seminal horror film. The Fly has everything: nail-biting horror, hard science fiction, superb writing, outrageous special effects, fine performances, repellent imagery and is one of the definitive horror films of the 80’s.
This period of Cronenberg’s career was arguably his most impressive. He was possibly at the peak of his powers, and for some reason decided to remake an old B-movie from the 50’s. An odd creative decision, to be sure, but one that he turned into solid gold. The Fly is, according to many, his best film (I prefer Dead Ringers), and by any reasonable standard is an absolute classic of both science fiction and horror.
Just in case you’ve lived under a rock and haven’t seen The Fly, this is the plot in a nutshell. Seth Brundle is a genius, he’s cracked teleportation. Unfortunately for him, an unexpected accident involving a fly being inside the pod when he initialised his first teleportation involved his DNA being fused to the insect’s leading to horrible mutation, eventually morphing him into “Brundlefly”, one of the most grotesque monsters of the 1980’s.
This is a tough review to write, as pretty much everything in this film is flawless. Jeff Goldblum gives a career best performance (no mean accolade in his career) as Brundle, Geena Davis has never been better either and the writing, special effects, direction and score are superb.
So, instead of just writing a dull review of an obvious 4 Chang movie, I’m going to try to lay out why I think it’s brilliant. Firstly, I can’t think of another film that does this, but am willing to be corrected: Cronenberg has his monster speak. Goldblum delivers several monologues (in the form of a video diary) that explain exactly what he’s going through. This is the first film I saw that allowed such an insight into the monstrous transformation the character was undergoing, and Goldblum vocalises his torment with some sublime black humour “maybe a children’s TV show” leaping to mind.
Secondly, this is a masterpiece of body horror. There are several searing images of mutilation (the acid on the foot), but the high point in terms of fear in the film is Geena Davis’ harrowing nightmare. Giving birth messily to a giant maggot while screaming in pain is an image that I bet stays with many a woman, and I think is the perfect illustration of many of Cronenberg’s themes.
Thirdly, and this is unusual for a horror film, especially one as messy as The Fly, but there is a real sense of pathos to Brundle’s plight. He’s losing his humanity bit by bit, but still manages to elicit some sympathy from the viewer. Even at the climax of the film, where Brundle has lost all humanity he asks Ronny why she was going to have an abortion or kill “son of Brundle”. The misery and lack of comprehension that Goldblum manages to give this moment is simply superb, and the monster’s final act is to hold the barrel of a shotgun to his own head. This is, despite of the gore and carnage floating around, a touching scene.
Then there’s the monster himself. I’ve already said that this is a film with stunning practical effects, and it is, but the final version of Brundlefly is a masterpiece of creature design and makeup. It doesn’t particularly resemble a human being any more, being more of a grotesque insectoid than anything else, but it really does stand at the forefront of the great monsters of a decade with plenty of great monsters. It’s superb work.
Finally, because I can go on about this one forever, but The Fly is a funny film, it’s laced through with smart lines, brilliantly delivered by Goldblum- who is no mean comic actor, and amusing scenes. Davis boss watching the video of Brundle demonstrating how Brundlefly eats is, believe it or not, intentionally funny and the whole film is laced through with little comic moments.
The Fly is, I believe, a truly seminal movie. Cronenberg took the original from the 1950’s and made it his own. Although it may technically be a remake, this is such an original and breathtaking work in the genre that I consider it to stand very proudly by itself. The Fly is funny and frightening, gory and sad and really is an absolute gem of a film.
Overall, it should be pretty obvious that I do recommend this film. In fact, I can’t recommend it enough- The Fly is a genuine masterpiece and I give it a maximum 4 Changs.
Next up is Dead Ringers- it’s another glowing review, and as I’m sick of writing them, Mrs. Jarv may do it. She said she wants to, and she does love it.
The order so far:
The order so far ranked by preference:
Great review of this one Jarv and one of the reasons this film is one of my favorites. It’s more in line with the tragic monsters of the old 30’s classics than that of the 50’s b movies and that’s part of what makes it great. Like you said the documenting of his transformation is particularly wonderful in this movie. Cronenburg really knows how to tap into that very primal horror of change that strikes deep. This movie is a great example and I think it is very underated.
I’m running out of superlatives in this series.
This film is a genuine classic, and proof positive that it is possible to remake something well.
I think we are going to need more than just one example if you want to prove that you can possibly remake something well…
oh, yes. The Thing.
It is now a scientific fact. Remakes can be done well.
Scarface, Magnifecent Seven, Fistfull of Dollars.
It can be done.
Goldblum was born to make this film.
Man, I watched Dead Ringers again the other night. High quality to be sure, but fuck did it bum me out.
Hahah, I love Dead Ringers. But is a massive bummer of a movie. It’s got this weird meanness to it too….one of those movies that leaves limited options on what to do once it’s over.
Loosely based on a pair of twins in new york- I think they killed themselves as well.
Oh yeah don’t get me wrong, DR is brilliant. I just felt like I needed to maybe weep for a while afterwards.
This movie is great. It is only 9 in the morning, but I’d watch it right now if given the chance.
What is the scene where Goldblum is smashing the doorframe, shrieking ‘Sick? Does this look like the actions of a sick man??’ (dammit–I am totally fucking up that line) That part always cracked me up…You are right, there’s a lot of humor in this, but not in a way that detracts from what’s going on…just a really good balance.
Love Geena’s smarmy asshole ex as well. There is pretty much nothing wrong with this movie.
That’s just a great scene- I also laugh at the “Gibbon” line as well.
Funny and sad.
Also-the ultimate macho arm-wrestling scene-“You want Over The Top?!? I’ll give you Over The Top!”
Nice review, not long enough though (think I’ve accused you of that before)!
The Fly remake is a classic and a film I find quite repellent. I’m not squeamish when it comes to movies but I frequently wanted to look away from the screen during The Fly.
I can’t put into words my emotions when he’s fused with the pod – it’s heartbreaking seeing this pathetic broken creature, seeing the pain, but then there’s disgust, it’s sickening. When he puts the gun to his head, the only thing going through my mind was ‘shoot it, just shoot it, I can’t look at it anymore…’
Fuckin powerful. Not a film I can watch again comfortably.
Another great review. This movie is probably a career best for Cronenberg, too – no mean feat in a career festooned with stone-cold classics as his is.
And yes, the ending with the pitiful half-pod fly pushing the gun to its own head has got me weeping manly tears on more than one occasion. It’s a truly brilliant movie, in many ways – and the way it has the viewer empathise as much with the creature as with the humans trying to alleviate its suffering is what makes it so classic.
Although I do feel the original is unfairly maligned – I saw it recently on some UK cable channel, and I’m suprised (period affectations aside) how well it holds up. You feel very much for the fly-headed man the way you feel for the half-pod fly in the remake – and when the fly-headed man goes to his doom in the paper press, it’s genuinely upsetting.
Looking forward to your (and Mrs Jarv’s) review of DEAD RINGERS. That’s a movie I need to revisit – I remember really enjoying it back in the day…
I’ve never seen it, Spud, so can’t comment. But that Paper Press idea sounds superb.
Sorry ’bout that minor spoiler, then. I shouldn’t have assumed that everyone who saw the remake will have seen the original FLY…
No biggie Spud. I always meant to and never got round to it. It’s not exactly a huge spoiler, though.
I always forget that Cronenberg directed this since it’s actually good.
Oh that’s harsh- Scanners, The Fly, The Brood, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, History of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Dead Zone.
That’s a good resume. Admittedly Naked Lunch, Existenz, Crash and Fast Company suck.
Videodrome is a just OK to me and barely at that.
Dead Ringers, History Of Violence, Eastern Promises haven’t seen
Dead Zone and Fly are good becasue they came from other sources and forced Cronenberg to not work on his issues with women. Scanners is probably his second best movie and he was more or less straight up in that one and put aside his vagina fear.
All the other movies are unwatchable.
Well, that’s fair enough. That’s most of the films covered.
I haven’t seen this for a long time. Might have to take another look.
And Mrs Jarv needs to review Avatar before anything else.
She’s being very stubborn about Avatar. So it may be me wittering on instead.