Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) is a journalist at a science convention for new ideas, but is currently finding little to occupy her mind. Even the man who is talking to her, one Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), appears to be only interested in getting her back to his apartment, and while that's true, it's for a good reason other than sex: he wants to show off his new invention. He says it will revolutionise technology and bring humanity into a new phase of scientific evolution, but Veronica will believe it when she sees it. When she does, and it turns out to be a teleportation device, she doesn't grasp the implications...
But knowing the title of the film, we certainly do. David Cronenberg was an inspired choice to bring a remake of the fifties science fiction horror favourite to the big screen, and the man who hired him was Mel Brooks, who had made a similarly excellent decision to get David Lynch to direct The Elephant Man at the start of the decade. Like Lynch, Cronenberg was a highly individual filmmaker with a particular vision ushering in the so-called "body horror" trend of the eighties with his previous films, but here finding hitherto reservoirs of emotion in the genre.
The result was one of his finest works, taking the original George Langelaan short story, paring everything away except the brilliant premise, and adapting it to a new tale of romance gone tragically wrong. Once Seth has piqued Veronica's interest, she becomes very intrigued in not only the maverick boffin's ideas, but his personality as well, and soon they are in love. In fact, for almost the entire movie there are only three actors with speaking roles, and it's over halfway over before a supporting performer gets a chance to say something.
This illustrates the great simplicity of the narrative, leaving anything extraneous out but discovering depths in keeping that purity. The other character in this love triangle is Veronica's editor Stathis (John Getz), something of a sleaze who still carries a torch for her but does little to endear himself when he refuses to give up the key he has for her apartment (he lets himself in to use her shower at one point!). It is his presence which depicts the real fear in The Fly: it's not that teleporting yourself with an unwelcome insect in the pod will turn you into a monster, it's the dread that modern relationships can go horribly wrong all too easily, and more easily than they can go right.
Cronenberg described his take on this as what happens when a loving couple's lives are torn apart by cancer, with Seth the one who succumbs to the disease, but this is a horror movie after all and expert special makeup effects man Chris Walas does not skimp on the scenes of utter disgust: Brundle vomiting on his food to digest it, having parts of his body such as fingernails and ears fall off, that sort of thing. But there has been a definite effort to make Seth and Veronica seen as a couple who would have been just right for one another if fate had not intervened, so in amongst the repulsive imagery and the sick humour there is a true sense of loss as Brundle disintegrates. Rarely in eighties horror was there a film that was so weirdly moving, but thanks to superb performances by Goldblum (was there ever an actor so perfect to play scientists?) and the luminously engaging Davis The Fly was the decade's most revolting yet effective tearjerker. Music by Howard Shore.
Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.
The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.