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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.37%
Average: 5.1%
Pretty Bad: 5.1%
Total Crap: 6.12%

3 reviews, 80 user ratings

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Fly, The (1986)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Postgraduate course in Cronenberg."
5 stars

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been decades since David Cronenberg was actually a horror-movie director.

Yes, some of his films of recent years have had horrific elements — say, 2014’s Maps to the Stars — but The Fly, released thirty years ago, represented Cronenberg’s farewell to a certain type of sci-fi/horror movie he’d practically patented, the icky bio-horror film that treated bodily mutation not as a threat but as a source of fascination — even self-realization. Movies like Shivers, Rabid and The Brood were 101 courses; The Fly was Cronenberg’s doctoral thesis, and it turned out to be the biggest hit he would ever have.

For a brief moment in the summer of 1986, the mass audience bought what Cronenberg was selling — a doomed romance packaged as a dare-you-to-sit-through-it gross-out. The Fly was the perfect vehicle to introduce Cronenberg to the larger mainstream, which he then wasted no time alienating (Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash). Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, never more charismatic) is the foxiest and most attractive of the Cronenberg avatars, a genius whose motion sickness has driven him to develop a means of teleportation. Seth shows his work to science reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis in a sharp early performance), though it isn’t quite ready for prime time — the “telepod” has trouble with organic material like flesh.

Cronenberg readies us for the nausea to come when an early experiment involving a baboon goes haywire. The Fly goes incredibly fast — Cronenberg’s regular editor, Ronald Sanders, clips the scenes to a bleeding edge, and it’s not long at all before Seth — jealous because his new lover Veronica still has contact with her old lover and magazine editor (John Getz) — gets drunk and decides to teleport himself. Of course, a fly stows away for the ride, and when Seth is re-integrated in the other telepod, the molecular-genetic structure of the fly has fused with Seth’s. He becomes Brundlefly, and he gains superhuman strength and speed before deteriorating into a lumpy, grotesque creature who has to vomit on his food to digest it. (Emetophobes are, understandably, not among the movie’s fans.) Eventually Seth begins to lose his humanity and pass over into insect consciousness, leading to his frightening monologue about “insect politics,” which serves to explain his personality change. “I’m an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it,” Seth clarifies (sort of), “but the insect is awake.”

Aside from having a Fox-produced (and Mel Brooks-sponsored) big-movie sheen — and Howard Shore’s most dramatic score this side of Lord of the Rings — this may be Cronenberg’s most emotionally accessible film, and it really only has the three characters, other than sidebar figures who drift into Seth’s path briefly. It’s fast, and it’s also stripped down; you’re out of there in less than ninety minutes, but by then, you might be ready to go. The Fly also marks the beginning of Cronenberg’s second phase of films, the terribly sad meditations on the fragility of sanity (his next, Dead Ringers, is among the most depressing movies ever made). The movie follows Seth through the twin breakdowns of mind and body.

The transition wouldn’t work nearly so well, of course, without Geena Davis convincing us that she still loves the man underneath the monstrosity, and without Jeff Goldblum persuading us the man is still there. There’s none of Goldblum’s later grinning, smugness in this hyperverbal turn. Seth maintains a lively scientific interest in his own grotesque transformation, more for his own edification than for posterity. Cronenberg was right to keep Seth restlessly eloquent right up to the full transformation — Seth crests on his own ersatz insights, like someone on a cocaine rush, and then collapses into rage and lust, while Veronica looks on helplessly. (Without being condescendingly dumbed-down — she does know her way around a lab, after all — Davis’s Veronica is the audience’s stand-in, staring aghast as Seth riffs mumbo-jumbo about “the plasma pool.”) Seth has a way of dancing rhetorical circles around his topic, then focusing his ire abruptly on his listener and spitting vituperation. Nobody can keep up with Seth; he’s the foremost expert on his condition because he’s its only host body.

The emotions as well as the intellect carry us through the gushers of goop. At its best, the movie comes close to the power of classic tragedy — the moods are exaltation, dread, disgust, grief. Some have taken it for an allegory about AIDS or cancer, but Cronenberg means it to be less ripped-from-the-headlines and more timeless: a meditation on anything that changes us physically, and the corresponding mental changes.

After "The Fly," there was really nowhere else Cronenberg could take his body-horror obsessions. It’s a remarkably economical distillation and commercial apotheosis of his pet themes, and it works brutally well in the realms of heartbreak and skin-crawl. It’s a full package.

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originally posted: 04/30/16 04:04:22
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell gross the original is better 2 stars
1/17/14 Spencer T. Chang A true masterpiece. Goldblum is superb, but Geena Davis gives the film its heart and soul. 5 stars
6/07/13 David Hollingsworth A very superior remake that makes you cringe in a great way 5 stars
6/27/09 brian Help him. Please help him. 4 stars
4/13/09 Dane Youssef One of the greatest sci-fi ever made. Goldblum and Cronenberg, Davis and make immortality. 5 stars
3/29/09 Phineasandhiskillerspear Worst vomit-inducing moment? Jeff Goldblum in his BVD's.BUUUUULEEEEEGGGHHHH 1 stars
1/20/09 Camilo Espinoza A Cronemberg's masterpiece 5 stars
4/19/08 mark madsen one of a kind movie 4 stars
4/05/08 smrtpants has hollywood appeal while yet maintaining that cdn/indie film quality - bravo! 5 stars
4/04/08 Colleen Cousineau Excellent remake, and the special effects were tops for the time. 5 stars
4/02/08 Kaijumorpher Great movie, and those who give this movie 1 star don't have an eye for what's good. 5 stars
3/17/08 Zachary Don't bother, it's a terrible movie with a very lame story. 1 stars
3/14/08 Wes Dave did a great job bringing this up to date! 4 stars
2/18/08 blyskalp Good Movie ok 3 stars
2/18/08 debdahlin Loved the original movie - thought this was well done 4 stars
2/17/08 Donald D A horror masterpiece, simply put. 5 stars
1/15/08 mb Nothing there to watch ... empty substance ... degrading to viewer 1 stars
8/22/07 Jubei A sci-fi nightmare/ tragedy.The final 20 minutes leave you speechless. 4 stars
1/29/07 action movie fan a rarae remake that.s good! engrossing as well as slimy-recommended 4 stars
10/27/06 David Cohen Gory special effects almost make up for the paper thin characters, almost 3 stars
10/23/06 Lindsay the ending was bad, over all not a great movie it looked cheap too 2 stars
6/27/06 millersxing Kafkaesque and grotesque. A monster movie for grownups. 5 stars
5/03/06 Josh Standlee What are you people talking about?! You're all witches! Witches!! 2 stars
3/11/06 Dillon A horror movie thats able to raise the hairs and stir the emotions 5 stars
1/22/06 Sam Justus One of the greatest horror movies ever. Really emotional. I fucking cried at the end. 5 stars
11/20/05 Bestit I of the best horror films in the last few decades. 5 stars
11/16/05 Adrian Definately reaches the Classic status, and possibly goes past it. 5 stars
11/14/05 Kumble Yes, it's brilliant...don't listen to that last skid mark. 5 stars
10/30/05 K. Sear Very enjoyable but not brilliant. 4 stars
10/26/05 Crumbcake David Cronenberg's best film. 5 stars
10/25/05 ShadowFace5 On my Top 10 Horror list. 5 stars
10/24/05 Suk-R-Punch A science-fiction/horror masterwork! Cronenberg is the MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/19/05 Gumbo Yes, the "Collector's" DVD is just amazing...for an amazing film. Incredible! 5 stars
10/15/05 OodlesofOs A sci-fi/horror masterpiece and Cronenberg's best film! Get the CE DVD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/14/05 Agent Sands One of the greatest horror movies ever. Really emotional. I fucking cried at the end. 5 stars
10/14/05 gasp Truly is one of the greatest horro films of the last 20 years. 5 stars
10/13/05 Bryant Gumby This has been in my all-time top ten list for's just incredible. 5 stars
10/11/05 Biz-e One of the best horror films ever made. Pure genius on every level. 5 stars
9/23/05 Jakub This is Cronenberg at the top of his game! EXCELLENT!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/19/05 mung An amazing, emotional, grotesque thrill-ride...Kafka-esque and brilliant! 5 stars
9/16/05 drippy Perhaps, the finest remake ever crafted. 5 stars
8/01/05 Jeff Anderson Disgusting special effects aside, this was a great & emotionally effective horror remake. 5 stars
5/15/05 Indrid Cold Surprisingly weighty and emotional. The graphic horror is secondary to the drama. 4 stars
2/18/05 Naka Cronenberg's most accessible film, and that's not an insult. Great! 5 stars
10/25/04 Keith A remake that is 100 times better than the original! 5 stars
10/20/04 Andile A visual surealist orgy 5 stars
8/14/04 Alien assassin A great sci-fi thriller - shame about the gross content 5 stars
7/10/04 Daveman Better characterisation would have risen the film above the level of competent remake. 3 stars
3/26/04 Teddy Bear one of the best horror/sci-fi movies ever made! Higly recommented to horror fans 5 stars
10/22/03 Aut Gore at its worst without any reprise 3 stars
3/10/03 Matt Thiel A good remake of a good film. 4 stars
1/13/03 Jack Sommersby Flat-out gross rather than grotesquely artistic 2 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum A remake better than its original? 5 stars
10/11/02 sheren that's is a great horror i had never seem before 5 stars
9/17/02 Adam I loved it, and all you whiners who are obsessed about the 50's version need to shut up. 5 stars
9/03/02 Latricia Bradford Loved it! 4 stars
7/27/02 I Can't Swim Goldblum's best hour; Cronenberg is at the top of his game too 5 stars
6/24/02 Baal A bit gory at times, but very entertaining. Over-the-top-ending though... 4 stars
3/30/02 dan maurath gory but interesting concept, a little lame at times 4 stars
1/16/02 David A. A big bore. If you want the Fly, watch the real one from back in the 50s 1 stars
11/03/01 Greg Truly Awesome. 5 stars
9/26/01 Shane Robert Myers!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its gory & disgusting but you don't have to be afraid,very afraid its only a 7ft fly!!!!!! 4 stars
9/03/01 The-Dude great sci-fi modern monster film with a great ending 5 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Cronenberg is twisted...this movie is twisted...I highly recommend it. 5 stars
6/28/01 Judith Latham It will blow you away. Shocking, Gory, Tension filled. LOVED IT!!!!! 5 stars
5/23/01 Bada Bing Crosby Be Afraid 5 stars
2/24/01 R.W. Welch Not as much fun as the original but more realistic. 4 stars
12/05/00 Terrie Smith Not a bad horror flick; special effects can be a turnoff. 4 stars
11/30/00 Latasha Renee Nelson Sabrina It sucked 1 stars
11/15/00 The EVIL Penguin Amazing but not that scary 4 stars
4/10/00 Matthew Bartley Fantastic. The birth scene is unbelievable 5 stars
3/17/00 David Rogers Both disgusting and boring. It wasted my time. 1 stars
11/10/99 JED! Somewhat not bad but it seems to be more of a MST3Kish movie. 2 stars
10/27/99 Glitter Berry I suppose it would've been better if I wasn't so traumatized by it 4 stars
1/09/99 Jo Mama one of the best sci-fi flicks in recent memory 5 stars
11/23/98 little jerry More spectacular than the original but not as unnerving. Lacks the stark contrast. 4 stars
11/14/98 Jules What a horror film should be 5 stars
11/13/98 Lord Of The Dunce Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Great movie. 5 stars
10/06/98 Tommy Maguire Excellent shocker. Gross, gory and at times very frightening. Cronenberg at his best. 5 stars
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  15-Aug-1986 (R)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2005



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