Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #221
Number of Views: Three
Released Date: 15 August 15, 1986
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Body Horror
Country of Origin: Canada
Box Office: $60,629,159
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Stuart Cornfeld
Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg
Story: George Langelaan
Special Effects: Louis Craig, Ted Ross, Chris Walas
Visual Effects: Hoyt Yeatman
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Score: Howard Shore
Editing: Ronald Sanders
Studios: SLM Production Group, Brooksfilms
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo, Michael Copeman, David Cronenberg, Carol Lazare, Shawn Hewitt
Suggested Audio Candy
Howard Shore “The Fly”
“Something went wrong”
Nobel prize nominee Seth Brundle must be cursing his lousy fortunes. It could have been any other creature which crashed his pod; a squirrel, badger, hell even a snail would have been preferable to a domestic fly. At least he would have somewhere to sleep if he locked himself out of his apartment. While I’m not questioning that the brilliant mind of mental contortionist David Cronenberg could have come up with a film called The Badger and still manage to make it iconic, maybe a fly is just a better fit.
Universally loathed, these filthy heathens are never welcome in the home. Let’s study the facts; they first find a discarded turd, anything foul, they’re not choosy, and then proceed to do the Foxtrot all over its surface until donning a pair of makeshift brown boots. Then they sneak inside our abodes and commence replicating same dance routine all over our freshly sanitized work surfaces until which time as they’ve spread sufficient plague. It’s not over by a long chalk however as they have a penchant for ralphing on our polished fruit and trampling that in also. Then, to top things off, they buzz around the joint mocking us in their indistinguishable fly dialect while we frantically search for a suitable swatting device to force their assholes through their stupid smug faces.
The next time you’re chasing one of these petulant pests around your living room, spare a thought for poor old Seth. Having already watched his favorite gibbon reemerge from Pod number two looking like a plate of over-warmed chili con carne, he then had to share his DNA with one such shit-kicker. I’m sure the fly wasn’t fazed and would no doubt lead a contented existence with Jeff Goldblum’s surplus genes floating around inside them but, for Seth, the deal wasn’t quite so illustrious. Sure there were benefits, superhuman dexterity and strength are always a good talking point at the local tavern but, the moment his body parts started dropping off like a leper in a heat wave, it was looking far less rosy.
If you think Seth got it bad then consider how the hapless Veronica Quafe must be feeling. It’s bad enough that she would be forever known as that chick that fucked an insect but what about the venereal disease she opened herself up to contract? Even more disparagingly, Seth turned out to be rather fertile and impregnated her with his progeny. Again, not ideal by any means and one would imagine bottle feeding would be the way to go. If there was ever a potent commercial for safe sex then surely Ronnie would be it. As for Stathis Borans… well he’d saved up for three or four pay checks for that wrist watch.
“Without body there is no mind; there is nothing left of us when our bodies are dead, as far as I’m concerned. That’s it” David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a film which should be more than familiar to most of you. For the uninitiated, it is his modern-day retelling of a short story by George Langelaan which was augmented into a 1958 B-Movie classic by Kurt Neumann.
It almost wasn’t Cronenberg’s movie as it was originally intended to be directed by Tim Burton until Mel Brooks of all people sold it to the studios and the Canadian entered the fray. He rewrote the original screenplay from the ground up and the result was a place in Time magazine’s All Time 100 Greatest Movies. Is it that good? It’s superb, it really is, and Jeff Goldblum’s performance as the ill-fated Seth is utterly transcendent but I can think of more than a hundred features which left a greater imprint.
At its heart lays a love story. However we aren’t talking Rose and Jack clinging to that plank of wood while Cal Hockley flips them the bird from his luxurious yacht. Being Cronenberg it sidesteps all the usual pitfalls associated with romantic love stories and, once Seth’s metamorphosis reaches stage three, the phantom headaches appear and the seal on Veronica’s still packaged vibrator mysteriously breaks. Primarily that is the focus and Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis make a credible screen couple, both kind of gangly, both effervescent characters and both fine actors in their own right.
This is Goldblum’s film and, on this form, nobody was ever likely to argue with him. His full facial repertoire is put to good use and he exudes edgy energy and menace. Yet we feel for his plight and wish for his well-being throughout. Even once he has burned through Stathis’s forearm with gloriously gloopy and highly toxic upchuck, the guy kind of had it coming, we still tip him our hats albeit from a secure distance. He displays all idiosyncrasies, mannerisms and ticks with perfection but also gives a wonderful display of his deadpan comic timing on occasion, as if we weren’t in awe enough already. Goldblum spent countless hours in a make-up chair and, this alone, warrants munificent kudos.
The film is a treatise on people’s obsession with what defines them as individuals for one but so multifaceted that I could sit here waxing philosophy for hours if I felt the slightest urge to do so. I don’t. I will say this however, the grue has a narrative entirely of its own and that is some feat pulled off by Cronenberg. Every icky moment represents the couple’s idyllic dream being wrenched further from their grasps and it uses grotesque imagery to relay the tragedy of their doomed affair. If you really care for somebody and their teeth, hair and ultimately ears begin to vacate their allotted spaces then you do what you can. Veronica, whilst not the most typical strong female lead, shows her strength in character and this makes it all the more heartrending when things become untenable.
Long-time collaborator Howard Shore’s astronomic score implements quiet to a stunningly masterful degree and fits hand in glove with one of the most subversive and tragic love stories of our time. Suspenseful, horrifying and ultimately calamitous; it demands to be seen regardless of whether you consider it science fiction or tragidrama. On both levels it works and it totally trumps the original film but then we are talking Cronenberg here after all. Martin Scorsese once remarked that he looked like a plastic surgeon, which is why he chose to play a gynecologist here, but I would be more inclined to say consultant psychiatrist. I’d give it all to take one lick inside his cranial perimeter and, until such time as the opportunity presents itself, I’ll lick up Seth’s puke like the famished insect that I am.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: The make-up by Chris Walas and team bagged an academy award and it is not a stretch to deduct why as the SFX is nothing short of astounding. Brundle’s steady corrosion is gloriously documented from the first clump of hair lost to his eventual ‘butterfly moment’ when he breaks free of his bodily restrictions and we are presented with a wildly deformed asymmetrical parasite which we wouldn’t desire to share a toothbrush head with. Right then, anyone for an arm wrestle?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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