Horror movies that use gory make-up to create their frights don’t seem to be very popular any more, with film companies preferring to go down the more psychological route to scare people. Back in the eighties though, such make-up techniques had just reached a point where it was possible to create very realistic looking results, so there were many films released during this period that used them extensively.
One of the best examples of this was 1986 film The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum as scientist Seth Brundle, and Geena Davis as journalist Veronica Quaife. The Fly was a remake of a 1958 film of the same name, and the two films share very similar storylines.
In the 1986 version, Seth Brundle has just invented a matter transporter device (very Star Trek!) consisting of two chambers call Telepods. Pop an inanimate object in one pod, and a flick of a switch disintegrates it in the first pod, and reassembles it in the second. Pop in a living thing though, and things go a bit awry, as a poor baboon finds out when it reappears inside out in the second pod during a test.
At a press party held by Bartok Science Industries, who fund the teleporter research, Seth meets Veronica. He convinces her to come and visit his lab for a demonstration, which is when we see the poor reversa-baboon event occur, but Seth convinces Veronica to help him out by documenting his work. This leads to the pair getting romantically involved.
Seth has a brainwave, and comes up with an idea to fix the problem of teleporting living beings successfully. He tests it on another spare baboon he happens to have lying around, and lo and behold it works! Seth wants to celebrate his achievement with Veronica, but instead she leaves to go and confront her boss (and former lover) who is threatening to publicly reveal the telepods before Seth is ready to announce them.
Unfortunately, Seth thinks Veronica has left him for her boss, and in an alcohol fuelled anger decides to teach her a lesson by becoming the first human test subject for the teleport machine. In his haste, Seth doesn’t notice that a fly has entered the pod with him, but all appears well when he emerges in the other telepod intact.
Veronica returns to find Seth has gained superhuman abilities in her absence, as he is now much stronger and fitter than before. Veronica is understandably worried but Seth believes it is just down to the telepod improving him on reassembly. However, it isn’t long before Seth realises that perhaps something did go wrong, when his finger nails start falling off!
This is where the excellent make-up starts to come into play. As the story unfolds Seth gradually starts becoming more and more fly like, a result of the telepod having fused the wandering flies DNA with Seth’s own. We see Seth go from being human through a variety of different stages, each slightly more disgusting than the last, with his skin going brown and starting to drop off, new hairs sprouting and so on. More special effects come into play to allow Seth to start climbing over the walls and ceiling of his lab.
Probably one of the most disgusting parts is that Seth even starts eating like a fly, spewing digestive juices out over his food before slurping it up. Yuck!
Sadly, the story doesn’t end well for Seth, who ends up dubbing himself Brundlefly as he becomes less and less human, and more and more deranged when he discovers the Veronica is pregnant with his child.
The Fly was written and directed by David Cronenberg, and whilst there was a sequel neither Cronenberg, Goldblum or Davis had any involvement, in that typical Hollywood “hey, the first one was a success, let’s make another” manner. Cronenberg obviously had a soft spot for this film though, as in 2008 he was involved in creating an operatic version of The Fly, and is also rumoured to be making a new film sometime soon!