I broke my tradition of never going out on a Monday night during a working week to watch this 1986 David Cronenberg horror film at the Astor Theatre.
The Fly is yet another 80s classic I’ve never watched, and going in I knew a few basic things: a) it’s about a guy who turns into some sort of fly monster, b) there’s a love story and c) it stars Jeff Goldblum. I have to take a detour here and gush for a bit about how utterly adorable young Jeff Goldblum is early in this movie. At one point his love interest, played by Geena Davis, exclaims that he’s so cute she could just eat him up. I understand her feelings exactly.
With his natural oddness and large protruding eyes, Goldblum is perfectly cast as eccentric scientist Seth Brundle who, in the opening scene, meets Davis’ Veronica, a reporter, at a science convention, and tries to impress her with his latest invention that is bound to change the world. Seth’s contraption is a variation on the Star Trek transporter, a device that teleports matter, limited for now to inanimate objects (an early attempt to transport a live baboon goes very graphically wrong). At first Veronica wants to break the story, before Seth convinces her to hold off while she documents his progress. The two fall in love, and Seth finally makes the breakthrough by successfully transporting a live creature.
Everything looks rosy, but when Seth is left alone one night, fretting needlessly about Veronica’s relationship with her asshole editor/ex-boyfriend, he gets reckless and decides to test the telepods on himself. What he doesn’t realise is that he’s not the only passenger – a small harmless house fly also goes along for a ride, and the confused system combines their DNA. So begins Seth’s oozy, gory, icky transformation into the stuff of nightmares. At first the fly mash-up seems a benefit, with Seth suddenly gaining super-agility, strength and hightened libido. But when his skin begins to deteriorate and his personality changes for the worse, things look very bad indeed.
The Fly benefits enormously from its tight focus, with essentially three characters and very few locations to concentrate on, an off-beat sense of humour, and strong chemistry between Goldblum and Davis, who make you feel invested into Seth and Veronica’s relationship before everything goes terribly wrong. For all the silliness of its scenario, the doomed romance gives the film a rock-solid dramatic core. Though make-up and practical effects look inevitably dated, they lend the movie a certain revolting physicality that the modern CGI often can’t pull off. Cronenberg sure likes to shove your face into the gruesome; there’s one particularly grotesque scene tapping into the primal female fear of giving birth to a monster which made me squirm in my seat.
The Astor Theatre is pretty much the only place where I’ve heard the audience applaud the film after it’s finished, and the predominantly young Monday crowd gave The Fly a big cheer. Another cool fact I wasn’t aware of is that the film spawned the ubiquitous be afraid, be very afraid phrase!