A sci-fi horror about the dermatological impact of unsanitised telepods.
Photograph by Attila Dory. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.
Directed by everyone’s favourite body-horrorist David Cronenberg, The Fly (1986) is based on George Langelaan's 1957 short story of the same name - previously regurgitated onto screens in 1958 by Kurt Neumann with Vincent Price as the titular bugman. It follows wide-eyed inventor Seth Brundel, this time played by Jeff Goldblum who, resembling a cross between a praying mantis and a young Jerry Lewis, cops the wrong end of an insect-laden teleporter that splices their respective genomes, triggering his insectoid transfiguration. Hard to splain to the Mrs - portrayed by Gena Davis.
Interestingly the crucial incident occurs when, in an act of jealousy-fuelled drunken buffoonery, Brundel enters his still-embryonic telepod-invention and, well... you know the rest. At first, all seems peachy until his body begins to fall apart forcing the increasingly panicked Seth to uncover the root of his woes: Brundel and the stowaway housefly have become one. Crumbs!
What ensues is an expertly paced, prosthetics-heavy metamorphosis of human to giant insect, with enough rubber and vaseline to make a BDSM Dungeon Master blush. And although the practical effects were groundbreaking, it is JG's trademark off kilterness that sells the role. The same otherworldly quality that made him a perfect fit for Body Snatchers eight years prior serves to convince us of his inherited insect traits.
Performances from Golders and then-girlfriend Gena Davis, as journalist love-interest with a heart of gold, are career-best and it would appear that their real-life romance lent credibility to the equally doomed onscreen relationship rendered here.
Cinematography and set design help the film whizz crackle, with Carol Spier’s iconic pod-design resembling something between a pinecone carved from malice and a cancerous robot-bollock, all beautifully shot by Mark Irwin, complementing the organic with the clinical as if he were painting with the contrasting neon glow of techno invention and the inky sputum of ruptured pupae.
Dazzling technical accomplishments aside, beneath it all resides an ephemeral tale of lost love. One that many speculated was an AIDs metaphor but Cronenberg has since refuted this stating 'it is about a much more universal disease, that of growing old.’
The film was a modest box office success but has since gone on to achieve cult status, and is certainly regarded as one of the great modern science fiction horrors, not to mention the most culturally relevant body horror; a sub-genre its director conveniently helped pioneer.
Such accolades suggest Cronenberg was the obvious helmer but his path to the director's chair was no short-haul flight. It was sometime after not directing Return of the Jedi and pre-finding a star with sufficient cojones to tackle Dead Ringers' idiosyncratic twin gynaecologists that the Canadian auteur was approached by Mel Brooks to take on the project. Initially intrigued he asked permission to make changes to the script, something Brooks actively encouraged and thus a classic was spawned.
And so it appears the true jewel of this production was its unlikely producer, Mel Brooks: a name instantly at odds with the source material but one also credited with affording David Lynch The Elephant Man directing duties, a bold and generous gesture indeed and suggestive of something much deeper than the madcap funny man we've all come to lurv. If only purse-holders of equal vision were more present today perhaps we might have been gifted Cronenberg's touted sequel/reimagining of The Fly after all, instead of having to read about its cancellation back in 2012. Let's hope in time this travesty is reversed and the aforementioned flick is allowed to transcend the larval stage.