Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Who says all remakes are terrible? One only needs to look at David Cronenberg’s remake of 1958’s The Fly (itself a more faithful adaptation of George Langelaan’s short story of the same name). The film is a masterclass in special effects as well as one of the best love stories in cinema history, as tragic as it is.
The film took some time to get developed, with its beginnings starting in the early 1980s when co-producer Kip Ohman brought the idea of a remake to screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue. After showing some interest, they both went to producer Stuart Cornfield with their idea and the money was given to Pogue to write the script. Rather than do a direct adaptation of the original film or its short story, Pogue decided to tell a story of slow evolution as opposed to one of an instantaneous transformation. Once a script was complete, the investors at 20th Century Fox wanted to pull out. Pogue made an agreement with them that they would distribute the film if he could find another source of financing.
Funnily enough, the new producer that was brought on board was comedian Mel Brooks and his production company Brooksfilms. Brooks suggested Pogue be removed from the project and Walon Green was brought in to re-write the script. When that draft was also deemed unworthy, Pogue was brought back in to rework the script again.
Robert Bierman was locked in fairly early on as the film’s director, but when his daughter was tragically killed in an accident while the family was on a vacation, Brooks let him out of his contract so that he could grieve. David Cronenberg, who had just abandoned the Total Recall adaptation that he had been working on for the past year (he wrote 12 drafts for it before breaking ties with in), was finally brought in as the director and was also tasked with rewriting Pogue’s script. Many set pieces and central themes (the main character’s loss of body parts, the vomiting of corrosive acid, etc.) were retained from Pogue’s draft, but Cronenberg re-wrote all of the characters and dialogue from scratch. That being the case, Cronenberg was classy enough to be insistent that Pogue retain a screenwriting credit.
There were several scenes deleted from the film after it screened with test audiences, the most infamous of which is the one in which Seth fuses a baboon and a cat together in a desperate attempt to find a cure for himself. He then falls off the roof of the building, and sees an extra appendage protrude from his side, which he then proceeds to amputate with his teeth. This scene was ultimately cut from the film because test audiences lost sympathy for Seth when they saw it.
Howard Shore’s grand orchestral score is appropriately chilling, and one of the only scores to have ever truly haunted me upon hearing it. The truly standout moment in his score comes during the film’s climax, when Brundlefly falls out of the Telepod after merging with the merging (see video below). It’s a devastating piece of work.
Of course, it’s the performances that really make The Fly so special. Jeff Goldblum gives one of the best performances of his career as Seth Brundle. Up until his final transformation in the film’s closing minutes, Goldblum makes you feel for him even as he becomes a monster. Similarly, your heart breaks for Geena Davis as you watch her slowly come to the realization that the love of her life is lost. Even when he is clearly lost forever, she still hesitates before killing him. It’s almost unbearable to watch. Hell, even John Getz is sympathetic in what would otherwise be a throwaway jealous man stereotype.
Released on a production budget of $9 million ($19.7 million in 2016 dollars), The Fly went on to gross a respectable $40.5 million domestically ($88.9 million in 2016 dollars). Chris Walas (Gremlins) and Stephan Dupuis also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Given the climax of the film, that win is not surprising, especially considering that it is one of the few categories horror films have an edge in with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The critical success of The Fly matched its commercial success, with even Gene Siskel, who was known for having an aversion to the horror genre, named it his tenth best film of 1986. So successful was The Fly that a sequel was immediately considered. Cronenberg declined returning, since he said he had never considered filming a sequel to one of his films. Directing duties went to Walas, with four writers being credited for the screenplay (one of whom was Frank Darabont). That film grossed about half of the original’s domestic gross but was a critical failure. It is known as one of the worse sequels ever made, though it does have a small, loyal cult following. Still, the existence of a lesser sequel doesn’t take away from the fact that Cronenberg’s original is a wonderful film.
Celebrate The Fly‘s 30th anniversary today with a re-watch, or watch it for the first time if you’ve never seen it. It stands as a landmark of the horror genre and is also one of the best films ever made.