When you think of body shock horror the first director’s name to come to mind is probably David Cronenberg. Always delighting in pushing the boundaries of shocking human disfigurements and transformations in film, arguably Cronenberg’s most lasting and commercially successful body shock horror is The Fly. Loosely based on the 1958 original, also called The Fly, itself based on a short story by George Langelaan published in Playboy magazine in 1957 Cronenberg’s The Fly was his most commercially successful film to date.
Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is an eccentric scientist and inventor who meets journalist Vernoica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a fundraiser while she is trying to find an interesting story. He takes her back to his house/laboratory and shows her his invention, telepads that transport matter from one location to another, although have failed to replicate the procedure with living matter. The two become close as she documents his advancements and become a couple.
Inspired by his new-found love, Brundle successfully transports a baboon and pushes ahead and tries the machines himself. Unfortunately he is joined in his telepod by a common housefly and the machines fuse his and the fly’s DNA. Initially unaware, he begins to experience slow, but drastic changes to his physical appearance leading to the shocking realisation that he is becoming less human and more like the fly.
Only David Cronenberg would portray the shocking events of The Fly’s narrative as a twisted love story. Thrust forward by Jeff Goldblum’s powerhouse performance, possibly the best of his career, The Fly simultaneously shocks and inspires. Goldblum’s acceptance of his predicament and relationship with the equally well-cast Davis provide the central heart of the film and without this The Fly would have joined a host of mediocre shock horrors.
The most lasting memories of this slickly edited and incredibly directed horror masterpiece come from the visceral and astounding make-up as the Brundlefly slowly makes its appearance. Each frame sees Brundle slowly deteriorate, with truly standout scenes like the arm wrestling in the bar and the walking on the wall lasting long after the final credits roll.
The Fly is one of the most memorable, horrific and touching horror films you’re ever likely to see. The fact that Cronenberg, Goldblum and Davis are able to convey so much emotion in the darkly comic yet terrifying transformation from Brundle to the fly is testament to their talents and to the strength of the B Movie origins.