Original vs. Remake: The Fly (1986) [Part 2 of 2]

David Cronenberg

Jeff Goldblum - Seth Brundle
Geena Davis - Veronica Quaife
John Getz - Stathis Borans

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction

Running Time - 95 Minutes

I originally had this Original vs. Remake review for both THE FLY (1958) and THE FLY (1986) planned for months now as a single post. But with both films being vastly different, even though they do have similar premises, I decided to separate the two reviews and give each film their spotlight. Here's the link to THE FLY (1958). Now let's conclude this OvR with the 80's remake.

TRIVIA: This version of THE FLY was my first theatrical experience during the summer of 1986 at the age of 5. What my mom was thinking taking me to see this, I'll never know. But this blog probably wouldn't exist if it wasn't for that experience, so thanks Mom!

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is an eccentric and awkward physicist who is on the verge of creating something brilliant. He meets a journalist, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), at a party - who is searching for a huge story that will make her famous. After chatting with Veronica about some experiment he's been working on, she sees a major story and decides to befriend him. Taking Veronica back to his apartment, Seth shows her his invention - a teleportation system that can transfer one object to another location using pods. It only seems to work on inanimate objects, but Veronica is impressed enough to want to write an article about Seth's work. Seth tells Veronica to wait until he's able to figure out how to transfer living things, in which she could write a book about instead. Veronica agrees and the two become lovers.

After a while, Seth is able to transfer a live baboon through the teleportation system without an issue. Seth wants to try it on himself, but Veronica is sort of against it. Seth ignores her warning and attempts the experiment. Unfortunately, a tiny house fly enters the pod with him during the transfer.

The transfer seems successful at first, as Seth looks fine. However, Seth begins displaying abilities that no normal human should have, worrying Veronica. In one of Seth's wounds, Veronica finds hoarse hairs coming out of it. Taking it to a lab, she learns that the hairs belong to that of a fly. Seth scoffs at it, but soon his body begins to deteriorate as becomes less of a man and more of a human fly.


The acting. David Cronenberg's re-imagining of THE FLY works on so many levels, it's kind of hard where to start praising it. But I think if we have to start anywhere, it should be the acting, which really elevates the film for me. Jeff Goldblum, who I now can't watch in anything without thinking he'll regurgitate on someone, is excellent as Seth Brundle, and later Brundlefly. His quirkiness and awkwardness really gives Seth a ton of character and personality. This could have come across as cheesy and weird, but the fact that he overtalks and twitches in almost every scene makes him oddly charming, sympathetic, and likeable. Even as Brundlefly and he's corrupted by his "evolution", you still feel for the guy because Goldblum still keeps him human beneath the monster. I don't think Cronenberg could have had a better lead for this role. Goldblum shines brightly here.

Same goes to Geena Davis, who plays the typical girlfriend/damsel-in-distress role with a ton of depth and sympathy. Her portrayal of Veronica is great, because she's the character the audience will identify with the most. She's the one who witnesses Seth's transformation from quirky nice scientist to corrupted man-fly along with the viewer, becoming the audience's connection to the story. It also helps that Davis was dating Goldblum at the time, because they have a ton of chemistry on-screen and helps make their quick love story more believable than it should be.

And we also have John Getz in a smaller role as Veronica's editor and her ex-boyfriend. His Stathis comes across as the antagonist of the film, due to his jealousy of Veronica's relationship with Seth. But even in a supporting role, Getz gives a one-note character like Stathis a lot of depth and becomes sort of a hero in the film's final act, being the only one to help Veronica with Brundlefly.

I think the casting is top notch here and I love that it's a small cast. Cronenberg obviously wants the story and the visuals to be what people remember, and the actors' portrayals definitely enhance that.

The narrative. While still based on the 1957 short story written by George Langelaan and the 1958 adaptation starring Vincent Price, David Cronenberg and Charles Edward Pogue take the premise and really turn it on its head. In fact, the film is a character study of Seth Brundle. It just happens to turn into a horror story that'll depress and disgust you.

Having not watched THE FLY since I was a pre-teen, I never noticed until now that each act plays like its own genre. The first act, with involves Seth and Veronica meeting and falling in love, is like a romance dramedy. We meet the two characters right away and see their attraction for each other, which allows them to develop as characters from the start. We may not know much about their pasts and why they connected so quickly [if it wasn't for the acting, I wouldn't buy the love story so easily]. We also meet Stathis, who we learn is not only Veronica's boss, but her ex-lover, which creates a triangle of sorts. Allowing the first 30 minutes of the film to establish characters, locations, and especially what Seth has been working on gives THE FLY a more than solid foundation for the rest of the movie. With all these necessary things out of the way, it allows the real story to unfold without any distractions.

The second/middle act plays out like a twisted superhero film. As Seth starts realizing that his experiment has gifted him with certain abilities that aren't human, he begins to have fun with what he can do. He begins climbing walls. He begins having large amounts of sex due to his energy. He even breaks a man's arm during an arm wrestling scene that'll make you cringe. However, instead of being a happy, exciting moment, Cronenberg and Pogue turn it into a disturbing one. Seth becomes corrupt by his new abilities, in denial of the truth happening right in front of him as his body begins to decompose. He also loses Veronica [
who still loves Seth], which pushes her back towards Stathis.

This leads into the final act, which plays out like your traditional horror/monster film. Seth officially becomes Brundlefly, regurgitating on those standing in his way of keeping Veronica in his life, melting certain limbs. He also becomes more fly-like, easily climbing and leaping across buildings to kidnap Veronica and make sure she doesn't abort the baby [his baby] she's carrying. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of King Kong - kidnapping the love interest until the monster self-destructs as the human side wins out in the end. We also get more horror moments, like Veronica dreaming that she'll give birth to a larvae, and Brundlefly's skin falling apart to reveal a giant fly underneath. We don't get a happy ending and we don't know what happens to the other players in the film - until the unnecessary sequel, that is. Even as the film ends, both the characters and the audience are unnerved by what happened.

What also gives the narrative weight is the theme of THE FLY. While many have speculated that the film is about AIDS, although the disease was still very new and fresh in 1985/1986, Cronenberg has said that THE FLY is about the idea of mortality and aging. In a lot of ways, what Seth goes through could be compared to a man dying of cancer. It's as if the experiment he does on himself is a form of chemotherapy, and the treatments are destroying his body. Instead of dwelling on the fact that he's dying, he's enjoying the last days of his life as a human being and being selfish if he doesn't fulfill his final wishes. And Veronica has no choice but to watch the man she loves die in front of him, not knowing what to do and wishing she's not forced into the hand she has to play by the end of the film. It's sort of sad that Seth gets everything he had ever wanted in THE FLY. He gets the beautiful girl. who actually loves him no matter what he does or what he looks like. He creates a project that will immortalize him in the science world. This guy is the epitome of a success story, yet his obsession with his project ruins it all. THE FLY is a tragic tale, and that's probably the most horrific thing about it.

The screenplay works because you're never wondering why these characters do what they do, and why things happen. Everyone's motives are convincing and credible. It raises the human drama for THE FLY, which is why people still love this film today.

- The direction. David Cronenberg breathes new life into an old tale. Unlike the original film, Cronenberg creates a world of dread and bleakness - even during the happier moments. The film does have a ton of subtle style, letting the story and the acting visualize his script rather than weird angles and surreal images. I'll get into the special effects next, which help visualize the story, but Cronenberg directs THE FLY very straightforward and doesn't infuse a message that's all that hard to decipher, unlike some of his other films around this time. THE FLY is probably the Cronenberg film many people have seen the most, due to the fact that it's the most mainstream up to this point and easily accessible to audiences. The editing is sold. The cinematography is sort of gritty, which gives THE FLY interesting atmosphere. And the score by Howard Shore is brilliant and poignant, matching the story really well. The visuals just click in THE FLY, which makes it stand the test of time.

- The gore and special effects. Helping the direction are the awesome practical special effects and make up. Imagine being five-years-old and watching what you see in this film. Even today, I'm still disturbed by Jeff Goldblum's transformation from man to monster. Decomposing flesh, melting skin after regurgitation, finger nails being peeled off, teeth and ears falling off, and heads being blown off. Let's not forget that broken arm and that pull of the jaw that rips Seth's skin off to reveal a giant fly underneath. Just really gross "body horror" that leaves an impression on you. And it's all done wonderfully. I believe it when Seth climbs walls. I believe it when things get transferred from chamber to chamber. I believe it when Seth reveals to be a giant fly, which still looks awesome and creepy as hell. The practical effects really make everything look real and scarier. I'm sure if another remake is made, the effects will be all CGI, which would suck. THE FLY proves that practical effects still work better than most CGI these days - and this film was made 26 years ago. Just awesome stuff.


David Cronenberg's version of THE FLY still impresses almost 26 years later. The narrative is a tightly written character-study with a theme that still resonates today. The special effects are still believable and disturbing. The acting is just excellent, thanks to a small cast. And Cronenberg directs a mature film with subtlety, allowing the actors and story do the work for him. I was really effected by this film at 5 years old and it still effects me today, but for different reasons. Just a fantastic film and remake, proving that they sure don't make films like this anymore. Definitely recommended if you haven't watched this film for whatever reason. THE FLY won't bug you, as it's in a class all of its own. Still an amazing work of art.

4 Howls Outta 4


  1. My absolute favorite remake. This movie holds a special place in my heart, and is, to me, Cronenberg's best movie. And, that is saying a lot!

    1. I think THE THING (82) is my favorite remake, but I love this film for personal reasons. Definitely in the Top 3 of remakes IMO. And I think it's Cronenberg's most accessible film. I still think his work on VIDEODROME is more interesting in terms of direction.

  2. Fred, i actually think that Chris Walas's 1989 sequel film "The Fly II" is even better than Cronenbergs movie.

    1. I respect your opinion. I prefer this film over the sequel, but the sequel is a good film. I just watched it last night. It'll be reviewed in September since it'll fit the theme set for that month. But it's a positive review.

  3. I agree that this is Cronenberg's best film - though a couple of others are thisclose behind it. It's funny, dramatic, thrilling, gross, and sad. Most movies have a hard time pulling off one or two of those - this one hits the ball and touches them all. Grand slam! Excellent review, Fred!

    1. I still like VIDEODROME more, but you're right - definitely a very suitable contender for Cronenberg's best film. Just a fantastic re-visioning for a classic sci-fi film. I hear he plans on remaking this one again, and I don't think he can make it better. It doesn't need to be updated. It's perfect the way it is. Thanks, Craig!

  4. You`re right Fred, VIDEODROME is Cronenbergs supreme masterwork although i like THE BROOD as well (but only because of Cindy Hinds obviously, WOW).


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