The Fly

Walk into a bar anywhere in the world, jiggle your hand under your chin, and squeal the following soprano-voiced plea: “Help meeee! Help meeee!” Barflies everywhere will recognize the cinematic reference and clamor to buy you a drink.

Well, maybe not that last part. But everybody knows that famous phrase from the 1958 science fiction movie, The Fly, in which David Hedison’s head, through a terrible mistake in a teleportation experiment, is transposed onto the body of a fly, and vice versa. At the climax, the tiny Hedison-fly finds himself trapped in a spider web, and calls out to Herbert Marshall and Vincent Price to perpetrate an insect mercy killing before the spider dines on him: “Help meeee!”

The mishap occurred when the scientist transported himself across space, and unwittingly mingled his atoms with those of a fly that found its way into the teleportation chamber. This is also the cause of the mishap in David (The Dead Zone) Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, but it’s one of the few details retained from the first film.

This version is also a love story, and a much more interesting one than the original. The scientist (Jeff Goldblum) meets a science reporter (Geena Davis), who’s trying to uncover the top-secret project this guy’s been working on for so long.

It’s teleportation, of course, wherein an object’s molecules are broken up in one chamber and beamed to another one. Except that, so far, the process works only on inanimate objects. When Goldblum tries to send a baboon through, the teleporter turns the monkey—ugh—inside out.

Meanwhile, Goldblum and Davis fall in love, despite the obnoxious presence of her ex-lover publisher (John Getz).

Then, drunk after a successful baboon transmission, Goldblum sends himself through—and makes it. We see, but he does not, that a fly has gotten into the chamber with him.

The next day, he’s suddenly full of energy, chinning himself in acrobatic fury, wolfing down sugar and fancying himself a sexual superman. There are also these ugly coarse hairs coming out of his back.

The twist that Cronenberg and screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue have given to the human-fly transformation is that the two beings have been fused into one—so Goldblum looks like a man, but gradually becomes a fly (or some awful hybrid).

It’s pretty spooky, and Chris Walas’s special effects makeup of Goldblum’s disintegration is state-of-the-art stuff. Also repulsive; the process involves shedding of ears, teeth, flesh.

Somehow Cronenberg and his actors maintain a tenderness in the love story. In fact, it turns out to be the film’s most important element. David and her overbite are sweet and attractive; Goldblum, probably the Hollywood actor who most resembles an insect (in an appealing way), gives a very funny, crafty, nervy performance—good enough that you can’t imagine another actor playing the part.

He does, at one point, say, “Help me,” but not with the soprano jiggle. There are some cinematic traditions you don’t mess with.

First published in the Herald, August 19, 1986

A good movie, and Cronenberg hitting a certain pitch between his bread-and-butter and popular cinema. In Seattle, for the record, it opened at the UA 70, Lake City, Lynnwood, and Grand Cinemas; I never knew what the Lynnwood was, but I think they’re all gone now.

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