The Fly (1986) | Sci-Fi Saturdays

by Jovial Jay

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The 1986 remake of The Fly updates not only the plot but the horror. It continues to stand out as a strong expression of characterization in monster films.

First Impressions

In a remake of the classic 1958 film, the trailer for The Fly shows a man working on a method for teleportation when something goes wrong. A fly gets into the chamber with him and infects or combines with him, slowly transforming the scientist into a human/fly hybrid. David Cronenberg is behind this version, so there is nothing cute about this film.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

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The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986) title card.

The Fiction of The Film

In an industrial section of Toronto, scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) escorts reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) into his warehouse apartment/laboratory and demonstrates his newest experiment, a pair of telepods. He transports one of her stockings between the two chambers, fascinating her. She takes the story back to her editor at Particle Magazine, Stathis Borans (John Getz), who believes it to be a con; a magic trick. Seth, shocked that she might write a story about this before it is complete, convinces her to stick with him and write a book instead.

The two become romantically involved as she follows his daily experiments, including attempting to transport a baboon, which results in the animal being turned inside-out in the reception chamber. One night after some pillow talk, Seth realizes the flaw in the design of the computer and why it can’t teleport living flesh. As Veronica returns home the next morning, Stathis follows her. He confronts her in a clothing store spouting jealous nonsense about her spending time with Seth. He is upset because he used to be her lover until a short time ago.

After some programming, Seth tries a second baboon experiment and it works without incident. When Veronica returns she finds a package from Stathis containing cover art to the Particle Magazine story on Seth Brundle’s telepods. She apologizes to Seth and leaves to confront Stathis who is still obsessed with her. Seth realizing that she has left to see her old lover, but not why, gets drunk and decides to try the telepod on himself. Unfortunately, a fly enters the chamber with him.

The Fly (1986)

Veronica watches the telepod transmit matter across the room.

Seth reveals later to Veronica that he used the machine and now feels energized, cleansed. He tries to force her through as well, but she refuses. Upset and manic, he visits a bar and engages a man, Marky (George Chuvalo), in an arm wrestling match. Seth snaps the man’s forearm and leaves with his girl Tawny (Joy Boushel), who he has sex with. He tries to convince Tawny to use the machine, but Veronica shows up worried that something is wrong with Seth.

Veronica has some strange hair samples from his back analyzed and discovers they belong to a fly. Seth lashes out that she’s jealous and Veronica leaves. But soon, as his fingernails and other body parts start falling off, he realizes the truth: a fly was fused with him at a molecular-genetic level. Seth realizes he’s slowly turning into a human/fly hybrid, he calls “Brundlefly.” Veronica realizes she’s pregnant, but can’t tell Seth, and instead asks Stathis to help her get an abortion.

Brundlefly overhears the conversation and snatches her from the doctor’s office that evening. Stathis shows up at Seth’s lab with a shotgun looking for Veronica. Brundlefly, now more mutated and stronger, vomits on Seth’s hand and ankle, dissolving both, and slowing the man down. It places Veronica in a telepod and gets in a second, hoping to fuse the two of them and the unborn baby into a strange hybrid family. Stathis shoots the connection line on Veronica’s pod. Brundlefly teleports with some of its pod and comes out worse than before. Seth’s last act is to raise the shotgun to its head so Veronica can pull the trigger.

It’s the flesh. It makes you crazy.” – Veronica

The Fly (1986)

Seth is as dextrous on the computer keyboard as he is on the piano.

History in the Making

David Cronenberg’s The Fly is one of the better remakes of its time. Notably based on the 1958 film of the same name, this version updated the story and the special effects to create a modern interpretation of the sci-fi/horror classic as well as Cronnenberg’s most popular film to date. Both versions of The Fly have been based on the 1957 short story (originally published in Playboy magazine of all places) by George Langelaan. While both films take the elements of the story, the 1958 film follows the text closer, using the French-Canadian characters. This 1986 version alters much of the characters but leaves the core story intact: a man investigating teleportation accidentally fuses himself with a fly and must rely on the woman he loves to put him out of his misery.

What makes the film still an amazing watch is the makeup and special effects provided by Chris Walas and team. Walas, who provided the designs and creatures for Gremlins, created a multiple stage process for making the transformation of Seth Brundle into Brundlefly. All of the elements to portray the evolution of the character was achieved with various makeup appliances on Jeff Goldblum’s body, starting with simple make-up making it look as if he had acne, to a much more complex body suit and prosthetics to show the transformation of his flesh. The final stage of the process was the fully articulated Brundlefly creature, which features large fly-eyes, a mandible, backwards facing leg joints, and proportions that were decidedly not-human. Without Walas’ work, the transformation from man into mutant becomes another cheesy effect of the actor wearing a fly-shaped mask, as in the original film.

The Fly (1986)

After his first teleport experiment, Seth communes with the baboon used for an earlier test.


At its core, The Fly is a horror film that uses the trappings of scientific discovery to push themes about mortality and meddling in things better left alone. It draws from other famous science-fiction/horror genre-benders including Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, all of which feature the quintessential “mad scientist” running unethical experiments and ultimately paying the price (well except for Dr. Frankenstein who survives, but his monster pays the price). Seth follows in a long line of scientists that chose to run their experiments on themselves, without proper procedure, in order to save time, get answers, and sometimes avoid other moral questions. The ‘man was not meant to meddle’ medley strikes an important chord with the reimagining of The Fly, as Cronenberg infuses the film with more elements from both sides of the genre aisle. The main character is still working on teleportation, but this time his experiments take on a much slower metamorphosis echoing new ideas about the technology and also emphasizing the horror aspects.

The 1958 film, which is told through a flashback after the wife of the scientist kills him with a pneumatic press, has the transformation from man to monster appear instantaneously, even though audiences are kept from seeing the results for about 75% of the film. It has the memorable, if goofy ending, where the characters discover a fly with a human head and hand stuck in a spider-web, screaming “help me!” Gone is the swapping of body parts between man and insect. Science in the 1980s understands so much more than it had three decades earlier, so now the film deals with gene splicing and genetic fusion. Cronenberg, already a master at the body horror genre, with films like Scanners and Videodrome, explores the horrific effects of how modern science would handle the integration of two species.

The Fly (1986)

I’m sorry, that’s disgusting.

Societal Commentary

The Fly speaks to an existential concern that all people have. The longer you live, the more your body changes. Yet sometimes that change happens sooner or quicker than expected due to infections and disease. Seth inadvertently “infects” himself with non-human genes which begins a slow and torturous ravaging of his systems. At first he is full of energy, believing that the process cleansed him. He is reborn and worships at the temples of the telepod, trying to convince others to join him in his new world. But soon he discovers that something is ultimately wrong. He first believes that it may be contagious or even cancer, he says. Amusingly it takes him days to review the scientific data on the teleport to realize that he was mated with a housefly. Reviewers of the time saw the film as speaking specifically to the ravages of the AIDS crisis in the mid-80s, but Cronenberg has always considered that too narrow of a reading. Brundle’s decline is reminiscent of a variety of prolonged illnesses that ravage the body, taking the youth and vitality of the person, and leaving them with nothing except the idea that death would be better.

The film also deals with some other, perhaps less graphic, interpersonal issues. Veronica is troubled by the overt jealousy and controlling nature presented by Stathis. Presumably she was in a relationship with him just prior to the events of the film. Maybe she told him it was over and maybe he chose not to listen, because his character appears not to realize the relationship is done. He shows up unexpectedly at her apartment in the shower using a key she neglected to get back. He propositions her for “just stress-relieving sex” when she tells him get out. He follows her to Seth’s apartment and waits outside overnight, stalking her to the clothing store to make a scene. His behavior was atrocious then and is still horrible now. He’s a man that uses his power over this woman, first as his grad-student, and now as reporter. But there’s probably part of Veronica that enjoys the attention of this chauvinist. When Seth confronts her and asks if Stathis loves her, she replies “how could he not.” Later, she finds that she needs to go to Stathis for help, but even then he’s not sure if Ronnie’s choice to have an abortion is warranted. “We should wait a few days,” he says, unable to comprehend the panic going on inside her. In the end, he provides the impetus to save her, and ultimately Seth, by arriving with the shotgun, though he pays a price by losing parts of his body.

The Fly (1986)

Brundlefly now wants to use his discovery to fuse Veronica and their unborn child with his body.

The Science in The Fiction

Seth admits early on that he really doesn’t know how the technology he has works. He just farms out components to subcontractors that build the necessary pieces and he builds everything, with no oversight. All very convenient explanations for the plot of the film. His character appears on one hand to be a brilliant scientist that can dictate “the craziness of the flesh” into his computer, but also dumb enough to get drunk and ignore all the protocols he has put in place for safety. Purely plot contrivances aimed to keep the story moving along to his ultimate doom. He is fascinated in solving the problem of teleportation, not just because it’s novel, but he wants to solve the problems of transportation. From a personal level, in which he gets motion sick with even the simplest car ride, to a global level, where commuters can get where they need instantaneously, his new technology would be a boon to humanity. He doesn’t look at it from a money angle, as many other films depict. His greed is in check, but it’s his ego for solving the problem that gets him in trouble. Being the scientist to crack this Star Trek-like technology would be the ultimate accomplishment.

His major problem is transporting organic matter. His computer, doing what they do, cannot understand the breaking down and rebuilding of living tissue and warm flesh. It’s weird science for him at this point. Both he and Veronica speak of the craziness of the flesh, which he is able to magically impart into the computer after a few evenings of coding. This would have been his breakthrough were it not for the computer, doing what it does, recombining him with a second piece of organic material in the chamber. You would think that there would be some protocol in place for this, otherwise dust and air from the chamber (basically anything within the volume) would get combined when teleported to the second chamber. The discussion of the problem of the flesh also seems reminiscent of quotes from the previous body-horror film from Cronenberg, Videodrome, which has characters quoting, ”long live the new flesh!” In that film there is a pseudo-science that combines technology and humanity in new ways based on rogue video signals from a pirate station. As with many scientific discoveries, Seth creates a new device separate from his original intentions, elevating him to be like one of his heroes, Albert Einstein.

The Fly (1986)

A comparison of the modern re-imagining of the monster with the 1958 version.

The Final Frontier

The Fly is many things, but it’s certainly not a comedy. That’s why one of its most famous producers opted to leave his name off the credits, lest fans believe the film was something it was not. Actor and writer Mel Brooks, famous for films like Blazing Saddles and The History of the World Part One was an uncredited producer on this film (along with Cronenberg’s The Elephant Man). He chose to protect the integrity of the film rather than take an on screen credit. Though an opening credit does list Brooksfilms as one of the production companies.

This 1986 version may have been a remake of the 1958 film, but it was actually the fourth film based on the subject matter. After the relatively successful 1958 version, two sequels were spawned: Return of the Fly (1959), also with Vincent Price, and Curse of the Fly (1965) which changed the continuity of the films by going a different direction than its predecessors. A 1989 sequel, the ubiquitous The Fly II, continued the events of this film with Veronica (no longer played by Geena Davis) giving birth to Seth’s offspring. The child (played by Eric Stoltz) grows to age 25 in a matter of only 5 years and craziness ensues as he finds out about his true lineage.

Thanks for stopping by and reading these last five horrific articles during the annual crossover of Sci-Fi Saturdays and 31 Days of Horror. Things will return to the more normal sci-fi review starting next week with a look at the 1986 Walt Disney adventure, Flight of the Navigator.

Coming Next

Flight of the Navigator

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