The Face February 1987, No 82, p. 67-68

A Fly in the ointment


By Neil Norman

The adult horror movie is reborn with a David Cronenberg´s The Fly. Based on Gerorge Langelaan´s short story, the films owes little to the 1958 original which has David Hedison wandering around in a fly mask and rubber arm. Cronenberg expands the limited horror narrative into a broader social context inclusive of the genetic mutation themes which have obsessed him since Shivers.

"It seems to be manifesting itself as some form of cancer," remarks scientist Seth Brundle as he hobbles into the presence of his horror-struck girlfriend, journalist Veronica Quaife, who has been recording the details of his experiments which "will change the world as we know it." A corrumpting mess of meting flesh, recalling Vincent Price´s frightful melting flesh in Roger Corman´s Tales Of Terror, Brundle is reaping the rewards of his teleportation experiments during which he inadvertly fused his genes with those of a common housefly caught in the transmitter. Previously we had witnessed the scientist evolve internally through dramatic changes in his personality, his superhuman strength, sexual voracity and an alarming appetite for sugar. As the 'disease' progresses, he becomes a new creature, discarding redundant appendages like ears and teeth which he stores in his bathroom cabinet, now designated the Museum of the Evolution of Brundlefly.

Of all the original and challenging films he has made, The Fly is without doubt Cronenberg´s masterpiece and advances him into the first division of directors. Basically a three-handed chamber piece, (consisting of Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz from Blood Simple), The Fly is of both humour and truth.

Classical references abound, from Beauty and the Beast to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but The Fly is in reality a modern love story, with the central preoccupation of social disease brilliantly combined with a re-evaluation of the future of the the family unit in the nuclear age. And despite the appallingly graphic special effects, Cronenbergs handles his material with greater restraint than Carpenter managed the gratuitous excesses in his bleak parable The Thing.

Goldblum may get the Oscar but the film is such a perfect combination of talents (Charles Edward Pogue´s script and Shonagh Jabour´s make-up included), it seems churlish to separate the plaudits. Certainly horrific, The Fly ascends into the realm of tragedy with a humanity few horror movies have ever equalled. Magnificent.