The Effective Ickiness of David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986)
Horror movies come and go, but some, like David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), live on and terrorize us with great acting, tragic heroes, and icky vomit scenes forever.
This is a guest post by Carol Kavanagh.
The Fly: A Classic Horror Film
I’ve always been a huge fan of creature feature horror movies, especially the ones produced by Universal Pictures from the 1930s to the 1950s. From Frankenstein to Creature From the Black Lagoon, these films are horror gold. And with the 1980s came a revival of a certain campiness that breathed new life into that golden age of horror.
Take 1986’s The Fly.
David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986)
A must-see classic, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a genius remake of the 1958 sci-fi B-movie of the same name starring the legendary Vincent Price. But Cronenberg’s version boasts legends of its own, including Jeff Goldblum and Gena Davis.
As the story goes, Seth Brundle, a wild scientist, invents a teleporter, only for his wacky machine to get the better of him. He gets so excited – wouldn’t you? – that he doesn’t even notice when that pesky little fly sneaks into the telepod. This results in their genes mixing, eventually turning him into a giant, acid-splattering fly.
Jeff Goldblum as Seth
Jeff Goldblum was the perfect actor to play Seth.
Goldblum captured Seth’s intensity perfectly. He nailed Seth’s obsession with his crazy teleporter invention. Goldblum even looks the part, with his beady eyes that resemble a real-life house fly.
Goldblum and Davis, the two leads, were apparently an item during the making of this movie and would later marry each other in real life. For her part, Davis is natural and endearing as the determined journalist and girlfriend Veronica, who hopes to get a story out of Seth’s invention (along with some sweet, sweet love action).
Their chemistry is obvious, and it sets the stage for a perfect story. In The Fly, the worried girlfriend tries to help her boyfriend, who is slowly unraveling. Tragically, she ends up having to put the remains of him down.
Let’s talk icky, sticky, special effects. Created with animatronics and rubber suits and even some baking ingredients, The Fly’s special effects team manages to shock and impress. Yet CGI effects were not possible at the time! For a lot of us, that is exactly what makes 80’s horror movies so loveable and gruesome.
We need to appreciate all the effort that was put into making The Fly, from the excruciating way Seth’s nails peel off one by one to the acidic puke he spurts out onto his once-appetizing doughnuts. Special creature effects artist Chris Walas, and make-up effects supervisor Stephan DuPuis, helped to create this transition from man to insect.
No slouch, Walas brought his weird creature experience to The Fly‘s special effects team, having previously worked on the delightful Gremlins.
It is said that Goldblum spent 5 hours each day holed up in the makeup chair. It was well worth it as Cronenberg bagged his only Oscar for this movie.
The Fly: Seth’s Transformation
Seth’s quick descent into becoming a giant fly occurs in stages. First, we see his skin turn lumpy and begin to blister; then his nails fall off; finally, his teeth collapse right out of his mouth.
Seth’s body changes, but his transformation in The Fly is more than just skin-deep.
His body gets twitchier. Moreover, his once-brilliant rants become incomprensible: “I’d like to become the first insect politician”, he blabs out while licking his lips, making me squirm in my seat.
The Fly Vomit Scene
Let’s talk about The Fly vomit scene.
There are some gruesome scenes in The Fly I will never be able to erase from my memory, such as the ‘vomit scene’ where Seth’s severe deterioration is obvious for the first time. Veronica witnesses him puking onto a doughnut in true fly fashion. Seth sees the disgust in her face and he agrees: “Oh, that’s disgusting”, in shame and defeat.
We feel sorry for him as well as embarrassed. After all, regurgitating on food is something a fly can’t help but do. To create the acidic vomit, they used a mixture of milk, eggs and honey, so think about that the next time you’re doing some baking. I felt like I needed a hot shower to wash away the ickiness of this scene.
Poor Veronica is also cursed with the fact that she is expecting Seth’s disgusting fly baby! Her dream, which would make any woman CROSS HER LEGS in pure HORROR, involves Veronica giving birth to a giant, wriggling, blood smeared larvae. I wish they had left this scene out because that’s one image that left a dent in my brain.
One scene they considerately deleted was the half-monkey half-cat scene. After experimenting with the two animals in his telepod, Seth manages to fuse the two together by mistake and he ends up trying to resolve the issue by beating them to death. Definitely not a scene for the faint-hearted.
In another scene, Seth manages to take advantage of his acidic puke by using it to injure Veronica’s manipulative ex-boyfriend (she really knows how to pick them!). He vomits onto his limbs one by one, burning his flesh to the bone while he screams in shock. He contemplates doing the same to his face but luckily Veronica interrupts and he decides to spare him. This showcases just how much his human characteristics have been depleted, nearly resorting to the murder of another human being.
This finale really goes all out with some gritty special effects. Seth is in a desperate state and as Veronica places her hand on his face, half his jaw falls off in slow motion. Davis stated that this scene alone took a few weeks to film and by the end of all that crying and howling, she was completely exhausted. His whole head then splits apart to reveal the head of a fly. His transformation is complete. That’s not a good thing by the way. Apparently, they used springs to push his head apart and in fairness, it’s very effective.
The Fly 1986 Ending
Poor Seth ends badly with Veronica having to finish off what’s left of him by blowing him to bits with a shotgun. We can see her anguish though, she clearly loved him, even as a giant, hairy insect. True love in all it’s gruesome, icky glory.