The beleaguered Jeff Goldblum stars as the scientist who begins to mutate after his genes are scrambled with those of a fly during a teleportation experiment. David Cronenberg's terrific sci-fi remake of the 1958 original is fired by superb performances, especially from Goldblum, who has never been better. Geena Davis - later to become his wife - plays his understandably concerned girlfriend. Keep a sick bag handy for the disgustingly impressive make up effects (which won an Oscar).
After years of critical raves and indifferent box office, David Cronenberg scored big remaking Vincent Price's 50s B-movie. Along with mixing man and fly, Cronenberg spliced in wit, warmth, intelligence and icky effects to create The Fly, extreme cinema's messiest ever love story.
The basic premise mirrors the original: brilliant scientist Seth Brundle invents teleportation technology, and after a successful animal test (following a gruesomely unsuccessful one), beams himself twenty feet through space. But, a housefly takes the trip with Brundle and soon Seth's DNA succumbs to the monstrous insect molecules crawling around inside him.
Cronenberg seemed too important to be "re-imagining" fun but forgettable sci-fi flicks, but The Fly is prime meat for his obsessions with body horror, disease, and physical and mental transformation. After all, this is the director who urged audiences to think about disease from the virus' point of view.
Among the many changes to the original is the jettisoning of the scientist with a big fly head, and the Leave it to Beaver family set up. Brundle (played with pitch perfect goofy charm by Jeff Goldblum) is a virginal genius who begins a credible relationship with journalist Veronica Quaife (Goldblum's then love Geena Davis), and his transformation is believably more gradual.
In his finest screen performance, Goldblum creates one of the most pitiable figures of the horror genre since Boris Karloff's creature in the Frankenstein films, even upstaging the Oscar-winning makeup effects by Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis.
Cronenberg (who initially studied medicine and whose doctor father died of brittle-bone disease) is fascinated in the changes wrought upon his genial scientist.
First come the highs; amazing strength, agility, enthusiasm and sex drive, and then the lows, coarse hairs on Seth's back, disintegrating body parts, and a nasty habit of vomiting bile on food and then sucking it up. Yet, despite the monstrous mutations and reproductive organs in jars, The Fly is a love story with more to say about dealing with terminal illness than either of those cinematic monstrosities Love Story or Philadelphia.
Veronica's ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans (another Chris Morrisian Cronenberg name) is the ostensible villain, but the real monster is the cutely named Brundefly, and Goldblum conveys the agony of losing himself to the something inhuman, assisted by a nightmarish final transformation sequence. That he did not receive an Oscar nomination is as baffling as the Academy's decision to ignore Jeremy Irons for Cronenberg's Dead Ringers.
The Fly had the dark good fortune to come out as AIDS exploded, and many saw the film as a parable on the disease. But, The Fly is further reaching than that, and can be seen as a simple story of getting old: by the end Brundle is wrinkly, bent double and using walking sticks, his mind gone.
Not the cheeriest film ever made then, but committed performances, superb direction and effects, a typically majestic Howard Shore score, plus a nice vein of black humour (Brundle develops a real sweet tooth, Cronenberg plays a gynaecologist in the infamous maggot dream sequence) make this a triumph of horror cinema.