The Fly is a 1986 American science-fiction body horror film directed and co-written by David Cronenberg. Produced by Brooks films and distributed by 20th Century Fox, the film stars Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz. Loosely based on George Langelaan’s 1957 short story of the same name, the film tells of an eccentric scientist who, after one of his experiments goes wrong, slowly turns into a fly-hybrid creature.
The score was composed by Howard Shore and the make-up effects were created by Chris Walas, along with makeup artist Stephan Dupuis.
The film was released on August 15, 1986 to massive acclaim by critics and audiences, with praise mainly regarding the special effects and Goldblum’s performance. It grossed $60.6 million at the box office against its nine-million-dollar budget, becoming the largest commercial success of Cronenberg’s career. Walas and Dupuis’ work on the film resulted in their winning an Academy Awardfor Best Makeup, the only film directed by Cronenberg to win an Oscar.
A sequel, directed by Walas, was released in 1989.
Seth Brundle, a brilliant but eccentric scientist, meets Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife, a science journalist, at a press event. He takes her back to his warehouse home and laboratory and shows her his invention: a set of “telepods” that allows instantaneous teleportation from one pod to another. Seth convinces Ronnie to keep the invention secret in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, and she begins to document his work. Although the telepods can transport inanimate objects, they mutilate live tissue, as is demonstrated when a baboon is turned inside-out during an experiment.
Seth and Ronnie begin a relationship. Their first sexual encounter inspires Seth to reprogram the telepod to cope with living tissue, and he successfully teleports a second baboon. Ronnie departs before they can celebrate, and Seth worries that she is rekindling her relationship with her editor Stathis Borans; in reality, Ronnie has left to confront Stathis about a veiled threat, spurred by his jealousy of Seth, to publish the telepod story without her consent. Seth decides to teleport himself alone, unaware that a housefly has slipped inside the transmitter pod with him. He emerges from the receiving pod seemingly normal.
Seth and Ronnie reconcile. Seth begins to exhibit increased strength, stamina, and sexual potency, which he believes is a result of the teleportation “purifying” his body. He has sugar cravings and Ronnie is concerned about Seth’s deteriorating sanity and also strange, bristly hairs growing from his back. Seth becomes arrogant and violent, insisting that the teleportation process is beneficial, and tries to force Ronnie to undergo teleportation. When she refuses, he abandons her, goes to a bar and partakes in an arm-wrestling match, leaving his opponent with a compound fracture. He meets a woman named Tawny and brings her back to his warehouse, where Ronnie rescues her from teleportation. Seth throws her out, but when his fingernails begin falling off, he realizes something went wrong during his teleportation. He checks his computer’s records and discovers that the telepod computer, confused by the presence of two lifeforms in the sending pod, fused him with the fly at the molecular-genetic level.
Seth continues to deteriorate, losing body parts and becoming less human in appearance. He reconnects with Ronnie and theorizes that he is becoming a hybrid of human and insect. He has nicknamed this “Brundlefly”. He has also begun vomiting digestive enzymes onto his food to dissolve it and has gained the ability to cling to walls and ceilings. He realizes he is losing his human reason and compassion, driven by primitive impulses he cannot control.
Seth installs a fusion program into the telepod computer, planning to dilute the fly genes in his body with human DNA. Ronnie learns that she is pregnant by Seth and has a nightmare of giving birth to a giant maggot. She has Stathis persuade a doctor to perform an abortion in the middle of the night. Having overheard their conversation, Seth abducts Ronnie before the abortion can take place and begs her to carry the child to term, since it may be the last remnant of his humanity. Stathis breaks into Seth’s lab with a shotgun, but Seth disfigures him with his corrosive vomit.
Seth reveals his desperate plan to Ronnie: he will use the telepods to fuse himself and her, together with their unborn child, into one entity. As Seth drags her into one of the telepods, she accidentally rips off his jaw, triggering his final transformation into the insectoid-human Brundlefly creature, which bursts from Seth’s decayed human skin. Brundlefly traps Ronnie inside the first telepod and enters the other. The wounded Stathis uses his shotgun to sever the cables connecting Ronnie’s telepod to the computer, allowing Ronnie to escape. Breaking out of his own pod just as the fusion process is activated, Brundlefly is gruesomely fused with the metal door and cabling of telepod 2. As the deformed Brundlefly/telepod creature crawls out of the receiving pod, he begs Ronnie to end his suffering with the shotgun, and she tearfully shoots him.
- Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle
- Geena Davis as Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife
- John Getz as Stathis Borans
- Joy Boushel as Tawny
- Leslie Carlson as Dr. Brent Cheevers
- George Chuvalo as Marky
- David Cronenberg as Gynecologist
In the early 1980s, co-producer Kip Ohman approached screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue with the idea of remaking the classic science fiction horror film The Fly. Pogue began by reading George Langelaan’s short story and then watching the original film, which he had never seen. Deciding that this was a project in which he was interested, he talked with producer Stuart Cornfeld about setting up the production, and Cornfeld very quickly agreed. The duo then pitched the idea to executives at 20th Century Fox and received an enthusiastic response, and Pogue was given money to write a first draft screenplay. He initially wrote an outline similar to that of Langelaan’s story, but both he and Cornfeld thought that it would be better to rework the material to focus on a gradual metamorphosis instead of an instantaneous monster. However, when executives read the script, they were so unimpressed that they immediately withdrew from the project. After some negotiation, Cornfeld orchestrated a deal whereby Fox would agree to distribute the film if he could set up financing through another source.
The new producer was Mel Brooks and the film was to be produced by his company, Brooksfilms. Cornfeld was a frequent collaborator and friend of Brooks, who together also produced David Lynch’s film The Elephant Man. Cornfeld gave the script to Brooks, who liked it but felt that a different writer was needed. Pogue was then removed from the project and Cornfeld hired Walon Green for a rewrite, but it was felt that his draft was not a step in the right direction, so Pogue was then brought back to polish the material. At the same time, Brooks and Cornfeld were trying to find a suitable director.
Their first choice was David Cronenberg, but he was working on an adaptation of Total Recall for Dino De Laurentiis and was unable to accept. Cornfeld decided on a young British director named Robert Bierman after seeing one of his short films. Bierman was flown to Los Angeles to meet with Pogue, and the film was in the very early stages of preproduction when tragedy struck. Bierman’s family had been vacationing in South Africa and his daughter was killed in an accident.
Bierman boarded a plane to go to his family, and Brooks and Cornfeld waited for a month before approaching him about resuming work on the picture. Bierman told them that he was unable to start working so soon, and Brooks told him that he would wait three months and contact him again. At the end of the three months, Bierman told him that he could not commit to the project. Brooks told him that he understood and had freed him from his contract. Brooks left his name off the credits so as people would not go to the movie expecting what one would expect from Mel Brooks.
Cornfeld then heard that Cronenberg was no longer associated with Total Recall and once again approached him with The Fly. Cronenberg agreed to sign on as director if he would be allowed to rewrite the script.
Despite the extensive rewrite of Pogue’s script, Cronenberg insisted during Writers Guild arbitrations that he and Pogue share screenplay credit, since he felt that his version could not have come to pass without Pogue’s script to serve as a foundation.
With a script that everyone approved of, Cronenberg assembled his usual crew and began the process of casting the picture, ultimately deciding on Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davisfor the leads. Chris Walas, who had designed the creatures in Gremlins, was hired to handle the film’s extensive special effects. Filming took place in Toronto in 1985–1986.
The producers also commissioned musician Bryan Ferry to record a song for the film for promotional purposes. The resulting track was entitled “Help Me”. A music video was made for the song, and footage from the film was prominently featured in it. Cronenberg admitted to liking the song, but felt that it was inappropriate to the film itself. Brooks and Cornfeld originally wanted to play the song over the closing credits, but after Cronenberg screened it for them, they agreed with the director that it did not mesh with the movie. As a result, the song is featured only briefly in the film, in the background during the scene where Brundle challenges Marky in the bar. “Help Me” became rather obscure as it was not included on the film’s soundtrack release. The song resurfaced in 1993 on the Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry compact disc Ultimate Collection.
The design of Brundle’s telepods was inspired by the engine cylinder of Cronenberg’s Ducati Desmo.
The Fly was critically acclaimed with most praise going to Goldblum’s performance and the special effects. Despite being a gory remake of a classic made by a controversial, non-mainstream director, the film was a commercial success, the biggest of Cronenberg’s career, and was the top-grossing film in the United States for two weeks, earning a total domestic gross of $40,456,565. Audiences reacted strongly to the graphic creature effects and the tragic love story, and the film received much attention at the time of its release.
Whereas the 1958 original was followed by two sequels, Cronenberg has said that the stories in his films have definitive beginnings and endings, and he has never considered making a sequel to one of his own films, although others have made sequels to Cronenberg films, including Scanners (1981).