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Film / The Fly (1986)

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"Be afraid. Be very afraid."

"What am I working on? Uhh... I'm working on something that will change the world, and human life as we know it."
Seth Brundle (opening line of the film)

The Fly is a 1986 Sci-Fi Horror film directed and co-written by David Cronenberg, serving as an In Name Only adaptation of a 1957 short story of the same name, and the second film adaptation of the story after The Fly (1958).

This time, mild-mannered but brilliant quantum physicist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is on the cusp of perfecting his matter transporter after meeting reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), the love of his life. The happiness is too good to last, as he is accidentally fused with a common housefly on a molecular-genetic level in a seemingly successful transportation experiment. Rather than creating an immediate monster, a slow metamorphosis begins. Soon, Veronica must cope with the pain of watching her lover literally fall apart on a physical and emotional level — and the awful uncertainty of whether the child inside her was conceived before or after the fateful transportation...

The Fly II, a B-Team Sequel as Cronenberg and his Production Posse had moved on to Dead Ringers, followed in 1989 (and itself saw a comic book continuation in 2005). In 2008 this became one of the few horror films in history to be adapted into an opera — no, seriously — with music by the film's composer, Howard Shore.

In terms of tropes, this movie is the Trope Codifier for both Slow Transformation (especially in visual media) and Gibbering Genius.

Now has a character sheet; note that spoilers are unmarked there.

This film provides examples of:

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    A - G 

  • Abandoned Warehouse: Seth has made his home and lab on the top floor of one of these. According to the shooting script he rents out the space; there appear to be no other tenants.
  • Acid Attack: Brundle uses his stomach acid both to externally digest food and, in one stomach-turning scene, as a weapon. It's actually specified as containing digestive enzymes.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the famous climax of the 1958 film, the fly with Andre's head was shrieking "Help me!" as it was about to be devoured by a spider. In this version, Seth moaning "Help me...please help me" is a plea for emotional support from his lover as he faces the prospect of further metamorphosis and eventual death.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The scientist who gets merged with a fly because of the teleportation experiment is named Seth Brundle rather than Andre Delambre.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: All the way up through Pogue's original draft of the screenplay, the protagonists were a married couple as in the original short story and 1958 film. One of the key changes — perhaps THE key change, rivaled only by the scientist not becoming The Speechless until the last possible moment of his Metamorphosis — Cronenberg made when he rewrote that draft was to change them into a couple who only meet at the beginning of the story, with their relationship developing alongside the refinement of the telepods.
  • Admiring the Abomination: Seth comes to see himself this way once he realizes he's not just dying but becoming a whole new lifeform. He points out to Veronica that "Most people would give anything to be turned into something else", shows off his Wall Crawl skills to her shortly beforehand, insists that she videotape his eating habits for posterity, and even keeps his discarded body parts in his medicine cabinet. Along with his Gallows Humor streak, the trope is a way for him to cope with his situation, safe in the knowledge that he's been stricken with "a disease with a purpose" even as he tries to find some way to retain, if not regain, his fading humanity.
  • Aerith and Bob: Seth, Veronica, and Stathis? Then again, all three of them have unusual last names.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Brundle's decision to test the teleporter using himself comes after he's had more than a few drinks.
  • All There in the Manual: The shooting script, which is available as a bonus feature on the 2-disc DVD edition and the Blu-Ray release, has some additional details about/dialogue from the characters that explains a few minor points.
    • Stathis and Veronica lived together for two years, and it's suggested he didn't take their relationship very seriously until it was nearing its end.
    • Seth takes Veronica to a fast food place for their discussion about why the telepods aren't ready because that's where he always goes for lunch. The predictability and uniformity of the cuisine appeals to him.
    • What appears to be sweat coming from Seth's fingers during the arm-wrestling match is actually pus, presaging what happens to them the next morning as the fingernails begin coming off.
    • Stathis goes skeet shooting, which is why he has a shotgun on hand for the film's climax.
    • Beyond scripts the 1986 promotional featurette reveals that Veronica's last name, which is never spoken onscreen, is pronounced cwafe with a long a.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Downplayed. When Veronica learns that Seth teleported himself while she was out confronting Stathis, she scolds "You could have killed yourself!" before the conversation turns to her clearing up the nature of her relationship with Stathis and even chiding Seth for going through when she wasn't around to witness it, seeing it as a violation of their deal. Of course, in a sense Seth has killed himself, but they don't know that yet.
  • Anxiety Dreams: Veronica's Nightmare Sequence is born of her fear that her child by Seth will be a mutant, as well as her hesitation over what to do since it might not be one.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Stathis Borans does indeed lose one of each in the climax.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: After the disastrous teleportation of the first baboon, Veronica convinces a reluctant Seth to express his thoughts on the matter and what exactly happened for the videocamera. After Seth says the computer doesn't understand flesh, she asks him "Why?" He explains that the computer can only do what he tells it to do, and "I must not know enough about the flesh myself. I'm gonna have to learn." He begs off any further discussion after this — this line of questioning having compounded his sadness over the disaster by reminding him of how isolated he is from the rest of the world and other people. That isolation doesn't last much longer, though.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Brundle's mishap results from the computer's confusion at the presence of an extra genetic pattern, and its attempt to rectify the situation by fusing them. This conveniently ignores all the genetic material belonging to the bacteria and other microorganisms that make up a sizable proportion of the human body. Probably Artistic License, as otherwise there is no movie. (Though it could be argued that the fly's genetic structure was sufficiently complex to confuse the computer, while nascent organisms were considered a part of the human body.)note 
    • Seth's body weight would not allow him to Wall Crawl, even if his bones were hollow at the time.
  • Artistic License – Awards: Seth is mentioned as having nearly won a Nobel Prize. Nominees are not publicly announced and all nomination records are kept secret for fifty years, though it's certainly possible Seth's name was leaked.
  • Asshole Victim: Sleazy creep Stathis gets mutilated and nearly killed by Brundlefly.
  • Author Appeal: Anyone who's watched enough Cronenberg's films can see his love of the concept of the flesh, sex, and machine.
  • Beast and Beauty: As Seth slowly becomes the doomed Brundlefly, his and Veronica's relationship heads into this territory, albeit with physical love no longer part of the relationship. As he admits in his "insect politics" speech, however, this cannot hold because his mind is inevitably losing its humanity, so he sends her away. Alas, he then learns that she's pregnant and desperate to have an abortion, and his animalistic need to survive, combined with the thought that he might still retain some humanity by fusing all three of them together, drives him to kidnap her, viciously attack Stathis, and try to force her into the telepods. His metamorphosis becomes complete as he drags her towards it, and in the end, the most loving thing she can do for him is to end his suffering once and for all.
  • Beeping Computers: When Seth's computer displays text or graphics on its monitor (besides anything he keys in himself), it's usually with clicks or a metallic whirr...that sounds suspiciously like buzzing.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Used in an implied, mocking sense by Stathis when he asks Veronica why she's interested in Seth. The way he says it in the middle of a store with a split-second maniac wide-eyed glare shows exactly why Veronica dumped him.
    Veronica: I'm finally onto something that's big! Huge!
    Stathis: Yeah? What? His cock?
  • Bio Punk: With its accidental genetic splicing and Body Horror, this definitely qualifies even before Brundlefly gets merged with pieces of a broken telepod, resulting in a Clipped-Wing Angel.
  • Black Comedy: In the back half, beyond Seth's newfound Gallows Humor streak by way of coping with his situation, some absolutely disgusting moments are leavened with this. The most obvious might be his silent response to accidentally losing several of his teeth when he pulls a pencil he's been chewing upon out of his mouth, which could be translated as "Well, what can you do? If it's not one thing it's another..."
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: In the denouement, Veronica tearfully unloads a shotgun into the head of her broken beloved at his silent request.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Flies eat by vomiting acid. David "head explodey" Cronenberg is behind a giant fly movie. Do the math.
  • Body Horror: Just about all of the pain and horror that Seth has to endure through his slow and humiliating metamorphosis. Cronenberg told the makeup team to think of the transformation process as a form of cancer, something Seth actually mentions in the film, and it shows.
  • Boy Meets Girl: Subverted — attractive scientist meets lovely reporter, scientist becomes a mutant and ultimately has to turn her away for fear of hurting her, she ends up blowing off his head with a shotgun.
  • Bridal Carry: Seth can easily do this with his newfound strength. First he does it to bring Tawny up to his loft for their tryst, running up several flights of stairs with her in his arms, and second to abduct Veronica from the abortion clinic; later he brings her down from the roof of the loft this way.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Veronica, having learned she's pregnant, decides she needs to see Seth again before making a decision on what to do. She is already misty-eyed as she says "I wanted to see you...before..." Seth then sadly tells her that this has to be their last meeting, leading into the "insect politics" monologue. Between this and how hideous he's become since she last saw him, Veronica breaks down sobbing and leaves the loft as quickly as she can. Unfortunately, the just-as-broken Seth goes to the roof to watch her leave, and sees and hears her arguing with Stathis about wanting an abortion right away.
  • Career Versus Man: Played with. Stathis cruelly tries to manipulate Veronica into making this choice by threatening to scoop her on the telepod story unless she leaves Seth — and returns to him. She will not have any of this nonsense and is able to have both her work and her true love...for a while.
  • Carpet of Virility: Humorously discussed when Veronica first notices the strange hairs growing from the wound on Seth's back during one of their trysts. Seth not only isn't bothered by them but admits he's "been looking forward to a hairy body" as he ages, being "too boyish" as is. When Veronica decides to clip them while he's eating ice cream, he's annoyed — "Hey hey hey, not my new hairs!"
  • Cassandra Truth: After his O.O.C. Is Serious Business outburst on top of the bizarre changes she's already seen in him, Veronica realizes that something must have gone wrong when Seth teleported himself. While he sets out to find another partner, she takes the odd hairs that were growing out of his back to a lab and returns to him the next day with the news that they are apparently insect hairs, and reiterates that he must be sick and needs help. Between this and her allowing Tawny to leave before he could teleport her, Seth is so furious that he forces her to leave the loft and tells her "Don't come back!" Shortly afterward, though, he gets the Internal Reveal. When he finally reestablishes contact with her, by phone, four weeks later, he admits "You don't know how right you were."
  • Casting Gag: A subtle cameo version — Marky, the barfly whom Seth gruesomely defeats in One-Sided Arm-Wrestling, is played by George Chuvalo, a famous Canadian heavyweight boxer.
  • Ceiling Cling: In the climax, Seth does this to ambush Stathis when he arrives at the lab.
  • Central Theme: The inevitability of death, specifically by way of aging and the transformative decay that comes with it.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The larger prototype telepod, which Seth describes as "it works, but it's clunky." As his transformation progresses, he refines the prototype to serve as a receiving pod for his final attempt at a cure.
    • Seth rolling atop a circuit board (that somehow ended up in his bed — he had been wondering what happened to it...) leaves him with cuts on his back. After he accidentally merges himself with the fly, the very first physical signs of his transformation are the strange hairs sprouting from the healing wounds. It takes a few days, but Veronica comes to notice them too, and between those and the other changes she's noticing in Seth, begins to suspect that something is wrong with him.
  • Coming of Age Story: Seth's character arc is a very dark take on the delayed version of this trope. He's in his thirties but due to his intellect and self-imposed isolation has never known romantic love prior to his relationship with Veronica, and he proves unable to maturely handle the passion it awakens in him. When it collides with his passion for his work, he makes his Tragic Mistake and his body and mind begin to "mature" in horrifying ways as he becomes stronger, more virile, emotionally unstable, and violent in the early stages of his transformation. When he realizes what's actually happening to him, his better self reemerges — but he cannot hold back the physical and mental decay that comes with his transformation forever...
  • Cooldown Hug: When Seth allows Veronica to see him again he manages to retain his composure as he explains to her exactly what's happening to him and why, even as she's increasingly upset to learn these things. However, as he tries to find the words to explain why he asked her to come see him after he refuses to seek outside help, he attempts to consume a doughnut...forgetting that he hasn't yet told her about how he eats now, leaving her gasping at the sight of him vomiting upon it. On top of the resultant embarrassment, his right ear suddenly molts away. His composure breaks and with that he finally can tell her why he needs her — "I'm scared" — and reaches out to her for an embrace, which she returns without hesitation despite her own distress, effectively making this trope apply to both characters.note 
  • The Corruption: Seth accidentally brings this down upon himself via his Teleporter Accident. He's Drunk with Power for a while, until he realizes that this trope is in play and returns to his senses and sweet self. However, since he cannot stop his physical decay and The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body is in play, he eventually succumbs to it entirely.
  • Crazy Consumption: Seth's appetite grows exponentially, especially for sugary foods. To say nothing of how he eventually has to break his food down to eat it...
  • Creator Cameo: David Cronenberg appears as the doctor in Veronica's "maggot baby" nightmare, in what is presently his only straight-up cameo in one of his own films (as opposed to appearing as an extra in some of his '70s efforts). Geena Davis actually requested that he play that role.
  • Credits Gag: Not in the actual film, but on 20th Century Fox's Collector's Edition/Blu-Ray disc releases, the "Attention" copyright screen has a fly buzzing about it.
  • Creepy Souvenir: A tragic version — Seth comes to keep his own rotted-away body parts in his medicine cabinet, calling them "Artifacts of a bygone era."
  • Darker and Edgier: Complete with Body Horror and nightmares!
  • Daydream Surprise: Or rather Nightmare Surprise, as the Nightmare Sequence (see below) is not revealed to be one until Veronica wakes up with a gasp. What helps disguise this is that she believes she's suffering a miscarriage in the sequence, which could take place relatively soon after her learning of her pregnancy. This was even more of a surprise in the rough cut, as the entire "monkey-cat" reel took place between the reveal of the pregnancy and the nightmare, suggesting more time passing in the interim. (In the original Charles Edward Pogue script draft, the nightmare would have been part of the denouement and also invoked this trope before revealing the heroine was coming to from giving birth to a fully human child.)
  • Decomposite Character: In the original story André Delambre tests the telepod on the family cat only to lose it in the process. Then in the end he uses the telepod on himself for the final time and gets fused to both the fly and the cat. In the movie the unfortunate test animal role is given to a baboon, while the thing Seth Brundle fuses with in the end is the telepod itself.
  • Despair Event Horizon: As Seth's mutation and resultant Split-Personality Takeover progresses, he becomes desperate to retain/regain some of his original human self and, failing that, simply survive at any cost just as an insect would. Thus he doesn't reach this point until his attempt to fuse himself with Veronica and their unborn child results in his being fused with part of a telepod instead, whereupon he silently begs for death — and is granted it.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The first third of the film follows Seth's efforts to perfect the telepods, intertwined with the development of the Love Triangle, with Veronica and Stathis being the other corners of it. These three characters are the only major ones, allowing the development to be richer than the norm for this trope and setting up huge emotional payoffs later. In Serge Grunberg's book of interviews with Cronenberg, the latter explains that he didn't set out to create a love story but "a death story" that happened to have a romance as a setup for tragedy; neither he nor his crew ever expected that audiences would respond to it as the former.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Cronenberg has stated the film is an allegory for getting old, with all the decay and death that inevitably comes with it. This being The '80s, many critics and fans analogized the film with the AIDS epidemic; Seth himself compares his condition to "a bizarre form of cancer" (which is how many people described AIDS before they fully understood what it was).
    • Others compared Seth's situation to drug (especially cocaine) addiction, and the fact that he does say teleporation has affected him "like a drug, but a perfectly pure and benign drug!" at one point definitely feeds into that interpretation. William Beard's commentary track on the 2019 Blu-Ray release gives a few minutes over to it.
    • The telepods resemble cocoons/chrysalises or alternatively, as Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein noted in his review, "vaporous womb[s]". The latter take is particularly apt as Seth sees himself as reborn in the early stages of his metamorphosis, and later explains his mutation to Veronica as his being "the offspring of Brundle and housefly."
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Downplayed. Upon learning that Seth is mutating and, as far as he can tell, dying, Veronica tearfully suggests that they could seek help from others. He promptly shoots this down, as he doesn't want to just be "another tumorous bore" detailing his deteriorating condition. He knows they wouldn't be able to help him, so to them he would only be a figure of pity and analysis. Veronica then asks why he asked to see her. As Seth breaks down in despair upon his right ear falling off (leading into the Mythology Gag described below) it becomes clear that she's the only one who can provide the help he actually needs — help in enduring and accepting the encroaching darkness — because she genuinely loves him, as borne out by her desperate attempts to convince him that he wasn't well.
  • Doomed Protagonist: Seth is one of the most agonizing examples.
  • Double Feature: In one of the last examples of this trope in the U.S., this movie and 20th Century Fox's other big sci-fi horror hit of the summer of 1986 — Aliens — were reissued as a double feature come Halloween weekend!
  • Downer Ending: If you couldn't guess. Seth mutates near-completely, goes insane, and nearly kills his girlfriend — or worse. Stathis manages to rescue Veronica from Seth's attempt to fuse the both of them together, but Seth's attempt to escape before the final teleportation results in him becoming a horrible, mangled jumble of organs, steel, and blood. He begs wordlessly for Veronica to end his suffering, and she woefully complies. The film fades out on the image of Veronica fallen to her knees, sobbing in despair.
  • Dramatic Irony: The audience knows the nature of Seth's Slow Transformation right away, but no characters do — though Veronica comes to suspect that something went wrong when he teleported himself and vainly tries to convince him of such...until almost a half-hour of screentime has passed. That's plenty of time for the audience to cringe at his Drunk with Power attitude and wait with bated breath (and queasy stomach) for the truth to come out.
  • Dramatic Shattering: As Seth examines his ravaged face in his bathroom mirror at the end of the second act, he tries to shave with his electric razor only to find that it can't cut his coarse stubble. Already in a furious mood, he hurls the razor into the bathtub, smashing it to bits. This may be his way of avoiding Rage Against the Reflection, since he needs to further examine himself.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Veronica leaves to confront Stathis over the latter's plan to jump her on the telepod story, Seth — who has figured out that Stathis is her old boyfriend as well as editor — gets drunk on the champagne he and she were sharing to celebrate his success. A tragic case of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy ensues.
  • Drunk with Power: Seth works up a huge ego in the second act as he experiences amazing new abilities and stamina as a result of the botched teleportation — not realizing that he's actually mutating (and in the very early stages of a Split-Personality Takeover, which isn't helping his state of mind). Rather, he believes he's created a machine that can improve its users. Veronica comes to realize that something's very, very wrong with him, and between this and her general unease about the machine refuses to be teleported herself. Finally he forces her to leave his loft, telling her he doesn't need her anymore. Shortly afterward though, he realizes that she was right all along and figures out what actually happened to him, which breaks his haughtiness immediately. The reason he doesn't communicate with her for a month after that isn't because he's angry, but rather scared.
  • Dying as Yourself: Tragically, Seth realizes that he cannot do this; by the time he dies as Brundlefly there will be nothing left of his original mind and morals. Or so he thinks. The broken Brundlefly managing to silently request that Veronica end his life with the shotgun means Seth Brundle dies as himself.
  • Ear Ache: Seth's ear falls off during his first conversation with Veronica after their month-long estrangement. It marks the first time he visibly loses his cool over what's happening to him.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: When Veronica comes to see Seth to tell him about her pregnancy, he initially conceals himself (having mutated further since last seeing her) in the shadows provided by a doorway. Just before he explains to her that "I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man, and loved it..." he emerges and she takes a step backward at the sight.
  • Environmental Symbolism: Seth's lab/living quarters, the film's primary setting, is initially tidy. However, when Veronica is finally allowed to visit again after a month in which she couldn't so much as talk to him over the phone despite her efforts, most every work surface and much of the floor is covered in garbage (especially discarded food/soda containers) — and she quickly learns it's a match for the disfigured state of Seth, who no longer cares about tidiness given his situation. By the end of the movie the place is even more of a wreck.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The film's first scene sets up Seth's personality as an amicable, but awkward and excitable geek. Then during his ride home with Veronica, he explains about his motion sickness and how much he hates vehicles because of it, thus establishing exactly why he came up with a way for people to teleport and thus travel without the need for vehicles.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Seth gets one — a hint as to how to solve the problem of the computer not knowing how to teleport animate objects (or, as he puts it, flesh) — that is entwined with his blossoming relationship with Veronica. Her playful pillow talk about how "It's the flesh — it makes you crazy" inspires him to immediately conduct an experiment in which he cuts a steak in two, teleports one piece, and then cooks both and serves them to her. When she says that the teleported piece "tastes...synthetic", he explains that the computer's "rethinking it, rather than reproducing it" because it doesn't realize what makes flesh unique. "I haven't taught the computer to be made crazy by the flesh." He sets to work to fix this, and soon the telepods work as intended on a second baboon.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Downplayed. The morning after Seth's fateful teleportation, he and Veronica stroll through a street market. He purchases a simple necklace with a golden, heart-shaped pendant for her, fastens it around her neck, then whispers "Kiss me." She obliges. Earlier it was established that she didn't wear jewelry, but just as she expanded his Limited Wardrobe of five identical suits with the gift of the more casual clothes he is now wearing, he tweaks her look here. Notably, she wears this necklace for all but one of her subsequent scenes (when she wakes up from the Nightmare Sequence).
  • Exact Words: When the computer says there was a secondary element in the teleportation, Seth asks what it was. The computer can only respond with "Secondary Element is Not-Brundle."
  • Exposition Party: Played with. The opening scene is set at a cocktail party (later explained to be a press event for Bartok Industries) at an art museum as Seth is trying to break the ice with Veronica by teasing an amazing invention he's working on, and deliberately not giving her more information because he doesn't want "half the scientific community of North America eavesdropping" — instead, he invites her to his lab to see it.
  • Expositron 9000: Brundle's computer. (In the opera adaptation, the key role of the chorus is to represent it and sing the exposition it provides.)
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: A subtler version than most. The computer that controls the telepods runs simple lines of English text reflecting commands and processes, and a jumble of meaningless-to-the-viewer combinations of letters and numbers appears when an actual teleportation sequence takes place to represent the computer disintegrating and reintegrating the object/being that is sent through. The one fancy stretch appears when Seth, desperate to know why his body is beginning to disintegrate, has the computer run through what happened when he went through in hopes of identifying the "secondary teleportation element" that accompanied him. This results in a series of images working from the genetic level upward, effectively zooming out, to provide him the Internal Reveal that it was a housefly.
  • Eye Scream: When Brundlefly's head splits open to reveal his hideous new form, his human eyes ooze away like pus.
  • Facial Horror:
    • In the early stages of Seth's transformation, the most obvious visible sign of it besides the hairs growing out of the cuts on his back is his face growing progressively blotchier over several days. Much, much worse is to come, culminating in his entire human head splitting open upon his final transformation into Brundlefly — which in fact is triggered when Veronica accidentally rips off his jaw.
    • Narrowly averted with Stathis. After melting his hand and foot, Seth gets into position to vomit digestive acid all over his face, but thankfully Veronica pleads with him not to.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Considering how confined the telepod is, Seth really should hear the fly buzzing around. Then again, he was drunk...
  • Fan Disservice: The rough and animalistic sex scenes after Seth combines with the fly.
  • Fanservice:
    • Seth appears shirtless in various states of nakedness a lot in the first two acts.
    • Veronica gets a Toplessness from the Back shot at one point as well.
  • Female Gaze: With Veronica being the principal viewpoint character, this trope ends up applying to Seth. In the middle third, covering the first few days after he fatefully teleports himself, he and she luxuriate in his newfound virility and strength even as his personality begins to darken. He spends much of this stretch shirtless at least. Even when she isn't around the trope gets invoked, as discussed by Emma Westwood in her Devil's Advocates essay. He films his initial teleportation with Veronica's videocamera (noting to her, when she expresses disappointment at missing his feat, "Don't worry, I taped it for you"), and teleports himself again just to show off to Tawny! This significantly adds to the sorrow of the final third, as Seth's beauty and sanity fall to ruin before Veronica and the audience's eyes.
  • Fetus Terrible: The three-foot-long, blood- and amniotic fluid-covered maggot Veronica sees herself giving birth to in her nightmare. Veronica is unsure whether their unborn child was conceived before or after Seth went through the teleporter.
  • Fingore: After throwing out Veronica, Seth bites his fingernails in frustration...only for them to start peeling off. This snaps him back to his senses and makes him realize that something did go wrong during the teleportation.
  • Flushing Toilet, Screaming Shower: Stathis learns the hard way that if you're going to be a creepy stalker who sneaks into his ex-girlfriend's home, you probably shouldn't be using the shower.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The opening line of the film (see page quote) foreshadows the entirety of Seth's transformation. What he's working on certainly changes his world and life as he knows it.
    • Seth gets queasy as Veronica drives him to his loft so he can show her the telepods. She comments "You're not a very accomplished drunk" (he had a glass of Scotch at the Bartok event) before he explains that it's actually his chronic motion sickness kicking in. Later Seth actually gets drunk — and decides teleporting himself with no other human beings around is a fantastic idea. Not very accomplished indeed!
    • Seth mentions on the same ride that because of his motion sickness he vomited on his tricycle as a child. His mutation ends up giving him the ability to vomit corrosive substances to digest food as a matter of course. Not to mention that a classic hangover symptom is vomiting, going back to the Alcohol-Induced Idiocy.
    • Seth mentioning at all that he's prone to motion sickness and hates vehicles foreshadows the fact that his invention is a teleporter, something that would eliminate the need for vehicles entirely.
    • This might be unintentional, but the song Seth plays on the piano when he first brings Veronica up to his lab to show off the telepods is "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing"...and the movie that song comes from is about Star-Crossed Lovers.
    • When they meet at the Particle offices, Stathis (who at this point believes Seth to be a fraud) makes a smug joke to Seth: "If you plan to make anything disappear, let me know." When they meet again in the climax, Seth uses his vomit drop on Stathis's hand and ankle. Voila! They're gone!
    • Seth rolling onto a circuit board and getting a nasty cut on his back foreshadows him being betrayed by and later fused with his own technology. The review by C.H. Newell at Father Son Holy Gore points out that he's specifically wounded on his shoulder blade — where a wing might be.
    • "It's the flesh — it makes you crazy" originates as pillow talk and becomes the "Eureka!" Moment Seth needs to properly program the telepods. His subsequent Teleporter Accident results in a mutation of the flesh that literally makes him crazy.
    • Seth, during the "high" of post-teleportation, insists Veronica undergo the process so they can become physical equals and starts dragging her towards the telepod before she wrenches herself from his grip; he later attempts this with Tawny. In the climax, Seth reveals he IS going to use the pods to fuse Veronica (and her unborn child) with him. And this time she CAN'T escape his grip as his final form emerges...
    • The One-Sided Arm-Wrestling match between Seth and Marky, involving a bet the former makes over $100 and a night with Tawny, ends with Seth grotesquely breaking Marky's arm. In the climax, Seth uses his Super Strength to overpower Stathis — the latter having arrived at the loft to rescue Veronica — grabbing his arm and proceeding to use his vomit drop to dissolve the hand.
    • When the now-hideous Seth first allows Veronica to see him again, he ruefully notes that "I'm just going to have to disintegrate. In a novel way, no doubt. And then I'll die and then it'll be over." In the climax, he completely sheds what remains of his human form as the transformation into Brundlefly becomes complete, and once she mercy kills him that's the end of the movie.
    • Also, during this visit the prototype telepod no longer has the dust cover on it as in previous scenes, suggesting Seth's found some use for it again.
    • Listen closely when Seth's computer displays text or graphics. The whirring noise it makes sounds like the buzzing of a fly's wings...
    • When Stathis goes to confront Brundle in his hideout, if you watch closely, you can see a massive shadow moving up onto the ceiling. It's Seth crawling up to the ceiling to ambush him.
  • From Bad to Worse: Seth's progression into Brundlefly, with each new shot of him more disgusting than the last.
    • On Veronica's side of the situation, her discovery that she's pregnant with his child certainly qualifies.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: By the film's climax, Brundle has stopped wearing clothes. Barbie Doll Anatomy is in effect however, due to his genitals being part of the "history museum" in his medicine cabinet.
  • Gallows Humor: Seth makes numerous darkly humorous comments as his transformation progresses.
    "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she'll die."
    • When Veronica goes to Stathis and tells him about Seth's condition, he sarcastically asks if he can claim her body when this is over.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a science-fiction Body Horror / monster movie, a Psychological Thriller, and a romantic tragedy and has a strong but progressively darker comic streak. Cronenberg's even described it as a Romantic Comedy — which is how most of the opening third plays. 20th Century Fox turned this to their marketing advantage; a few weeks into the run an alternate tagline was created — "The Fly has everything!"
  • Goal-Oriented Evolution: Seth comes to see his transformation as "a disease with a purpose" — turning him into a new lifeform.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Seth does develop a plan to "reduce the percentage of fly in Brundlefly" and thus possibly retain what remains of his humanity. Unfortunately, it requires him to fuse himself with another human being — and he chooses Veronica and their unborn child, so the climax hinges on stopping this.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The premise of the entire film.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Almost averted if not for the sequel. Veronica goes into panicked hysterics after seeing the penultimate stage of Seth's disgusting metamorphosis (and his telling her that he will harm her if she stays) and Stathis immediately rushes her to an abortion clinic, but Seth kidnaps her before it can go forward. At the end of the movie, it's implied that she probably will go through with it — but if the sequel's considered canonical then she clearly doesn't, since it's about their son.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: By proxy, Corrupt Corporate Executive Anton Bartok, the head of Bartok Industries and Seth Brundle's employer who helped financed his experiments that is what led Seth to slowly turn into a human fly and would later become the Big Bad in the sequel by trying to deliberately repeat the flaw to create fly hybrid soldiers for his company, would count despite the character not being formulated until the sequel.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Both men in the love triangle qualify. Stathis's jealousy leads him to try and undercut Veronica's book about Seth's work — and Veronica setting out to confront Stathis leads Seth to become jealous when he assumes the worst about their relationship. Seth's jealousy is temporary but tragically, accidentally sets him on the path to becoming a literal monster, one who maims and almost murders Stathis when he tries to rescue her in the climax.
  • Groin Attack: A horrifically and unintentionally self-inflicted one — quite possibly the most humiliating aspect of the mutation is that poor Seth's penis and testicles fall off as part of his degeneration into Brundlefly.

    H - O 
  • Halfway Plot Switch: More than a third of the film is simply about the invention of teleporters, against the backdrop of Seth and Veronica's personal lives and careers. The sudden fluke of a fly getting into one chamber during Seth's first human test completely derails all that, and the rest of the film is about his horrific physical mutation, with their goals of revolutionizing the transportation industry and publishing a bestseller on the project abandoned.
  • Handicapped Badass: Stathis Borans, who rescues Veronica from the Brundlefly after Seth has dissolved his hand and foot with acid.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Seth's "Eureka!" Moment is immediately followed by this: To figure out exactly what the computer is doing wrong with flesh, he cuts a steak in two, teleports one piece, and then cooks both pieces so Veronica can taste them and report on any difference (the teleported one tastes "synthetic" and she can't bring herself to swallow).
  • Heartbreak and Ice Cream: Probably the darkest version of this trope ever — albeit thoroughly justified, very subtle, and even blackly comic. When Veronica returns to Seth's loft/laboratory after the four-week estrangement, his Mess of Woe noticeably includes a lot of empty food packages and bottles, all for sugary products. Seth's transformation has accelerated his metabolism at this point, so he has to constantly consume sweets anyway (putting on nary a pound doing so), but given he spent the four weeks becoming Body Horror incarnate in complete solitude, those sweets were probably the closest thing to comfort he had. (Drowning My Sorrows isn't an option because alcohol is poisonous to flies — it just touching his skin being painful is established earlier — and besides, look how doing that worked out for him earlier.)
  • Hero Antagonist: Stathis Borans is initially a typical Crazy Jealous Guy antagonist but gradually begins to play this role straight, especially in the climax when he comes to Veronica's rescue after she gets kidnapped by Brundlefly — having become a Crazy Jealous Guy himself.
  • Heroic Second Wind: In the climax, Stathis passes out after Seth dissolves one hand and ankle with vomit drop, but hearing Veronica's screams as she's dragged to and imprisoned in a telepod gives him this. He manages to use his gun to shoot out the cables to the telepod, and then drags himself to it, opens the door and frees her.
  • Highly Visible Password: An early aversion. When Seth starts the telepod-controlling computer up for his demonstration to Veronica, it requests a password, represented on the monitor as a few underscores. The computer can run on his spoken commands, after first speaking his name out loud for the machine to recognize it via a voice match.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A subtle one as Seth is merged with his own telepod at the very end. Not only karmic as he was trying to use the pods to merge himself with Veronica and the unborn child, but also sort of Gaia's Vengeance from the start.
  • Hollywood Acid: Seth's vomit drop works in this manner.
  • Hope Spot: When Seth first emerges from the telepod seemingly fine, and the computer has declared a successful teleportation. Then we get a close-up of the injury on his back and the new hairs growing within...
    • Later, it becomes clear that Seth's condition isn't contagious (as both he and Stathis feared) and he's just becoming a new lifeform. What comfort can be taken from this is smashed with the subsequent reveal that, unbeknownst to Seth, Veronica's pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, Seth realizes he's undergoing a Split-Personality Takeover and has to end all contact with her. When these two problems collide, the climactic catastrophe ensues.
  • Horror Comedy: A horror-dominant example. The first half-hour is almost bloodless, save for the seriously-played disaster of the first baboon, and there's a great deal of comedy as the Love Triangle develops since one corner is dorky and the other two are Deadpan Snarkers. Things slowly, inexorably become darker once Seth teleports himself. The snark drains away, replaced by Seth's Gallows Humor as Body Horror firmly takes hold of him. The final 20 minutes are wrenchingly gory and tragic.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Thanks to The '80s.
  • Hourglass Plot: The two men in Veronica's life slowly undergo this once the central disaster happens. At the beginning, Seth is sweet, kind, and respectful, and Stathis a Clingy Jealous Guy stalking and attempting to manipulate her. By the end, Stathis is the one doing his best to help and protect Veronica while respecting her wishes, while Seth goes mad and becomes a literal and metaphorical monster who maims and almost murders Stathis and tries to fuse himself with Ronnie and their unborn child, which only he wants to keep. This is a rare example of the trope in which the two men barely interact with each other. Moreover, Seth knows he is becoming the villain by the end but cannot stave off the Split-Personality Takeover, making matters that much more tragic.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Seth sort of feels his way through his new abilities, especially in the transformation's early stages — he feels different as soon as he steps out of the telepod, but isn't initially sure what it means until he starts displaying enhanced reflexes and tests himself with impromptu gymnastic feats, and realizes he now has mild Super-Strength. The expression on his face at the conclusion of the One-Sided Arm-Wrestling match suggests that while he expected to win, he didn't expect to win so dramatically. He says in passing that he had to figure out how to eat once his body stopped digesting solid foods; he also figures out that he can Wall Crawl offscreen and promptly masters the ability by the time Veronica visits him again.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: After bringing Veronica back to his lab for the first time, Seth jokingly says that he can't let her leave the room alive now that she's seen the telepods, even though she has no idea what they are or what they do.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: The climax hinges on what happens when Seth learns that Veronica is pregnant but doesn't want to keep the child. Previously he turned her away in hopes he wouldn't harm her, but upon learning this he kidnaps her and, when it becomes clear she cannot be swayed from her intentions, decides to force her through Romantic Fusion with him so he can keep her and the baby, and restore some of his humanity in the bargain.
  • In Medias Res: A rare non-flashback example. As the page quote above shows, the movie starts in the middle of Seth and Veronica's first encounter with each other. Subsequent dialogue explains, in passing, how they got there and why. This is paralleled by the film ending immediately after she mercy kills him.
  • In Name Only: There's a scientist who gets turned into a fly monster in a teleportation experiment. Other than that, it really has nothing to do with the Vincent Price film and even less to do with Langelaan's story. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The original Charles Edward Pogue draft of the screenplay was closer to Adaptational Inspiration and can be read on the Collector's Edition/Blu-Ray DVD releases.
  • Insistent Terminology: Veronica's first-sight impression of Seth's invention is "Designer phone booths. Very cute." Seth subsequently explains that he calls them "telepods". A few lines after that, his response to her question "So what do they do, these phone booths?" is "Telepods" before he demonstrates them to her.
  • Internal Reveal: While Veronica has Cassandra Truth suspicions that something went wrong during Seth's teleportation, what exactly that something was isn't made clear to any of the characters until Seth, horrified by the sight of his fingernails coming loose and the fingers themselves oozing pus, consults his computer and learns there was a "secondary teleportation element" in the pod with him. Four weeks later, he reveals this and furthermore what it means for him to a horrified Veronica.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: During their reunion after a one-month estrangement on his part, Seth softly sings "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she'll die" as he prepares to explain to the horrified Veronica what's happening to him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Stathis Borans, Veronica's ex-boyfriend and boss, appears to be just an asshole who's still bitter about their break-up, but he doesn't hesitate in helping her get to an abortionist when she decides to get rid of Seth's baby, and he comes to the rescue when Brundlefly kidnaps Veronica, fighting through the pain of his injuries to save her, ultimately the hero of the tale despite coming across as the quintessential creepy ex.
  • Jump Scare: Four times, each accentuated by the underscore:
    • As Seth kneels in front of the glass door to Telepod 2 to see the result of his first attempt to teleport a baboon, he is startled by a bloody paw emerging from the mist, striking the glass and leaving a grisly smear, whereupon Seth opens the door and the mist clears to reveal the twitching, inside-out creature. This moment is actually the first appearance of the underscore after the main titles, making it even more dramatic.
    • When Veronica arrives at the loft in response to Seth's phone call after the one-month estrangement on his part, it initially appears deserted, if a wreck compared to the last time she was there. In a medium-wide shot, she calls out "Seth, I'm here..." With that, the back of Seth's head pops into the foreground as he cries "Stop!" and the score practically cries out in despair to match as the next shot reveals just how badly he's decayed.
    • In a more literal example, the Super Window Jump is this (see below).
    • Finally, in the climax, Seth/Brundlefly dropping upon the distracted Stathis from above, making an inhuman screech as he does so is played as this.
  • Karmic Transformation: In the end, Brundlefly, after trying to fuse himself with Ronnie, is permanently fused with a chunk of his own telepods. Unlike most examples of this trope, it's not remotely triumphant.
  • Lab Pet: Dr. Brundle is much too attached to his baboons. This leaves him quite distraught when he turns one inside out, and later he drunkenly apologizes to the baboon that's successfully been teleported: "I'm sorry I killed your brother."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In the denouement, Seth/Brundlefly's attempt to fuse himself with Veronica and her unborn child not only fails, but leaves him accidentally fused with part of a telepod instead.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The question of whether Veronica will be able to abort her child by Seth or not — and, indeed, the genuinely shocking twist that she's pregnant to begin with, though this was widely discussed in reviews at the time — is a bit less intriguing for viewers who know going in that the sequel is about their Spin-Offspring — which was very easy to know because all the advertising for the sequel made it clear it was about Seth's son, and when this film was first released on DVD it was a Vanilla Edition that included said sequel!
  • Licensed Game: One of four 20th Century Fox properties featured in the 1999 computer pinball game SciFi Pinball. The other three? Aliens, Predator, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A bonus fifth table themed to the 1958 version of this story could be unlocked via a sufficiently high score on its '80s counterpart.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Seth's closet is filled with the same clothes. He namechecks Albert Einstein for why he does (so he doesn't have to think about what to wear that day.)
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Downplayed when Stathis arrives at the loft to rescue Veronica. The space is empty when he arrives, but he is still clearly nervous as he carefully assembles and loads a double-barreled shotgun.
  • Lookalike Lovers: Carrie Rickey, in a bonus episode of the '80s All Over podcast, humorously noted that "Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum look like twins" here. Another critic, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, seriously points out that "the silhouettes of their respective poufy brunette coiffures are revealed — particularly on profile [as in the opening scene] — to be far too similar to be coincidence." Emma Westwood, in her book-length essay on the film, adds to Heller-Nicholas's observations that in said scene the two are even dressed in outfits that put them on equal terms with each other (she has shoulder pads, he looks like a "geek or college professor"). The two are also of comparable height. Notably, the two performers were lovers at the time of shooting. Goldblum was cast first and suggested Davis for the role of his love interest, and her height actually helped win her the part.
  • Love Cannot Overcome: Inverted. Seth's "insect politics" speech is his way of explaining to Veronica that his humanity is being subsumed by that of an insect, and thus she needs to leave him before he harms her. She leaves in tears, but alas Seth then sees her with Stathis and learns from their conversation that she is pregnant — whereupon his insect instincts kick in...
  • Love Makes You Uncreative: Inverted. Seth can't program the telepods not to harm living things until after he's entered into a relationship with Veronica and comes to an understanding of "the flesh" at last. The inversion is taken further in the deleted scenes/conversations: Seth specifically "teaches" the computer to be "creative", and this is one reason why he assumes his initial euphoria following his teleportation is the result of the process — he did tell the computer to be creative in its handling of the flesh.
  • Love Triangle: The base emotional plot, intensified when Veronica feels the need to comfort the diseased Seth and finding Stathis' kinder side emerging from the conflict. That's probably why they made it an opera, and definitely why Howard Shore's full-symphony-orchestra score is so lush and intense for a 1980s horror film.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: The "gentleman scientist" inspirations for this trope are updated and downplayed with Seth Brundle's lab, befitting him being a subversion of the Mad Scientist. It's located on the top floor of an Abandoned Warehouse in a lonesome part of Toronto, and despite it also serving as his living quarters with a small kitchen, bedroom, etc. retains a stark appearance with its basic furnishings and lack of decor. It has a skylight that factors into the climax (allowing him to sneak into the central room by Wall Crawling and get the drop on Stathis), shelves full of binders of papers, etc. serving as background detail, and is ultimately centered upon the exotic-looking "telepods" and the imposing computer that controls them. Early on, and unusually for this trope, Seth provides some exposition to Veronica about how this all came about: he had to commission the individual components for the telepods and "stick them together, but nobody knows what the project really is." His work is financed by Bartok Industries, "but they leave me alone because I'm not expensive, and they know that they'll end up owning it all, whatever it is."
  • Magical Computer: Downplayed. A vital plot element is that, as Seth tells Veronica, "Computers are dumb; they only know what you tell them." The telepods can't transport living things until Seth figures out how to program their computer to not merely interpret flesh. He is merged with the fly because he didn't think to program it to transport two living things at once separately, and much later when his attempt to fuse himself with Veronica and their unborn child fails and he has a Villainous Breakdown, the computer just fuses him with broken pieces of his telepod instead.
  • Magic Countdown: In the climax, the countdown to the Romantic Fusion between Brundlefly and Veronica is set for two minutes, but the actual elapsed time to zero is about two minutes and 45 seconds. Beyond it not being that much longer, it could be justified as cross-cutting between the timer, Brundlefly's final transformation, and Stathis managing to come to, get his gun, and shoot out the cables to Veronica's telepod.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Seth's computer sometimes proves to be a little stubborn in providing proper feedback when the scientist asks it a question.
    Seth: (typing) If primary element is Brundle, what is secondary element?
    Computer: Secondary element is Not-Brundle.
  • Meaningful Background Event: In the climax, Seth's shadow can be seen behind Stathis as the latter examines the computer, setting up an ambush moments later. Not on the wall behind Stathis, mind, but the ceiling.
  • Merging Machine: Seth finds out that the teleporters inadvertently merge creatures at the chemical-molecular level if teleported simultaneously because it's only designed/programmed to teleport one at a time. Because Seth has much more mass than the fly he has been merged with, the process only gradually mutates him into a man-fly hybrid rather than instantaneously.
  • Mercy Kill: In the denouement, Seth, in horribly dysfunctional part-fly, part-telepod form and incapable of speaking, begs to Veronica to do this to him, which she reluctantly and grief-strickenly does.
  • Mess of Woe: The first thing Veronica notices when she arrives at the loft after the four-week estrangement from Seth is that the space is now a wreck, littered with discarded food/beverage containers. It's clear that beyond his need to satisfy his increased appetite, this is a reflection of Seth's despair, frustration, and preoccupation, and it only gets worse in subsequent scenes.
  • Metamorphosis: Essentially how Seth goes through his transformation, to the point that his final humanoid form is effectively a chrysalis for Brundlefly proper.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: As Seth's body becomes less human and more insectoid, his mind follows suit.
    "I'm saying I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake."
  • Minimalist Cast: Seth, Veronica, and Stathis are the only major characters and the men only interact with each other in two sequences (Stathis's first scene and the climax/finale), so most of the film consists of interactions between two people. Of the six other speaking roles, only Tawny gets more than one scene/sequence during a stretch of the second act, leaving the others with a handful of lines each (and two of them only appear in Veronica's Nightmare Sequence). There are silent extras in scenes where it would be logical to have them. This focus on just a few characters helps with the Psychological Thriller aspect of the film.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: When Veronica abruptly leaves Seth to confront Stathis over the latter's plans to publish a magazine article about the telepods, undercutting the book she's working on, Seth figures out that Stathis must be her old boyfriend. Seth and Veronica reconcile shortly after she returns to the loft and explains everything. Unfortunately, while she was away he drunkenly teleported himself, not realizing he wasn't alone in the telepod. As the lovers are passionately kissing, the audience sees several strange hairs growing out of the wound on Seth's back...
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Played straight with an "L-shaped sheet" for Seth and Veronica. When Veronica returns to the loft after her confrontation with Stathis and wakes up Seth, as he gets out of the bed he wraps the sheet around his waist, suggesting that he went straight to bed upon emerging from the teleporter (he had been heavily drinking after all).
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The climax of the intense Howard Shore cue "Plasma Pool" is used to score...a surly Seth walking through Toronto's downtown after dark, seeking a new partner, unwrapping and eating a candy bar as he walks. During the editing process, executive producer Mel Brooks told Cronenberg that the cue was too intense because "The guy's just walking down the street", but Cronenberg simply replied "No, he's walking towards his destiny", and the cue was kept in — to great effect.
  • Mundane Utility: Seth has created a working teleportation machine, a device that would revolutionize the world (even if he was never able to fix the "organic matter" issue, the ability to move only inorganic cargo would still be an absolutely massive global game-changer), and he did it because he gets motion sick easily, and wants to avoid having to ride in cars or other vehicles.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: In the climax, the now-crazed Seth attempts to kill Stathis when the latter arrives — armed with a shotgun — at the loft to rescue Veronica. Seth does use vomit drop to destroy a hand and a foot (and as originally scripted and shot ate the foot), but when Veronica begs him not to finish him off he relents.
  • Museum of the Strange and Unusual: Discussed as Gallows Humor — Seth calls his medicine cabinet full of Creepy Souvenirs of his human form "The Brundle Museum of Natural History".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Seth's eyes widen in horror when the computer states that the telepod merged him with a fly on the molecular-genetic level.
  • Mysterious Mist / Ominous Fog: Mist swirls about any object or being upon arrival in the second telepod, and the larger it is, the more mist there is. When it's an inanimate object or a properly teleported being, it's the first trope. When the process goes wrong in some way, it's the latter. The fog initially conceals the results too, building suspense. It's also ominous when Seth demonstrates the pods to Tawny by sending himself though a second time — even though it's unhindered he has already changed so much as a person that it's presented as a dark, alluring moment reflecting his Drunk with Power state.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Veronica refers to the telepods as "Designer phone booths" upon first seeing them. The full-sized teleportation booths in the 1958 film were more or less those and as scripted would have had a similar appearance, hence the line. When the "designer Italian phone booths" the creative team came up with came off as too intimidating, the more-exotic-looking pods of the finished film were conceived, but the line still worked and was thus kept.
    • Explaining the concept of teleportation to Veronica, Seth says "Your stocking was disintegrated there and reintegrated here, sort of." In the original short story and the 1950s films, the central device was generally referred to as a "disintegrator-reintergrator machine" rather than a teleporter.
    • In the Pogue draft, the principal antagonist was a Corrupt Corporate Executive who cheated the protagonist out of the proper royalties he deserved for his work on the "F32 formula", and went on to try and seize control of the telepods from him upon learning of his tragic plight. In the final film, Stathis tells Veronica that earlier in his career Seth was "the leader of the F32 team. Remember them? An inch away from the Nobel Prize for Physics...he was only 20 at the time." Amusingly, what exactly either version of F32 was is not specified in either script!
    • The big one is done so subtly that it's easy to overlook. That oft-parodied moment from the original where the human-headed fly is caught in the spider web and screaming "Help me! Please, help me!" in its squeaky voice? Seth makes a desperate plea for help to Veronica with those words in one of the film's more emotional moments.
    • At the bar where Seth seeks another romantic partner, "Help Me" is the title and key lyric of the song heard in the sequence's first stretch. (The Bryan Ferry song was originally intended for the film's closing credits, but was delegated to background music because it was too much of a tonal shift from Howard Shore's orchestral underscore...although it was released as a single.)
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Seth Brundle's last name references Formula One driver Martin Brundle (a reference that would carry on to the sequel), while Stathis Borans's first name references Heavy Metal editor Lou Stathis.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: Seth explains this to Veronica — "Insects don't have politics" — by way of explaining why she has to leave him for good before he unintentionally harms her. He admits that "I'd like to become the first insect politician", but knows it's not possible.
  • Nausea Fuel: The Body Horror in this film is so extreme that for the first time since The Exorcist, this movie had people literally leaving the theater before it was over and retching. invoked
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After Stathis sends Veronica a preliminary magazine cover with Seth and the telepod featured prominently, she leaves to confront him, which leads to Seth putting two and two together, which leads to Seth getting drunk, which leads to his spur of the moment decision to teleport himself. Nice going, Stathis.
  • Nightmare Sequence: After the reveal that Veronica is pregnant with Seth's child, she has a nightmare in which she initially believes she's suffering a miscarriage but instead gives birth to a giant maggot. To make things worse for the audience, it's not revealed to be a nightmare until she awakens in terror.
  • No Ending: Hoo boy, like you wouldn't believe. Brundlefly is fused with the telepod, and in his last moments of sentience, silently begs Ronnie to kill him. She obliges. Bam. Movie over. The end. Roll credits.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Sure, Seth may have lived alone and kept the place tidy, but his teleporter really should have been isolated in a cleanroom to prevent any potential contamination during an experiment. There isn't even a basic safety interlock that could abort a sequence if a door opens that could've prevented Seth from being merged with his telepod.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Seth discovers he can't eat solid food "the hard and painful way". We're never told exactly what happened. (To be more specific, he mentions he can chew solid food, but not digest it. Which means the discovery was probably made on a trip to the bathroom.)
    • The "F32 team" that Seth led when he was only twenty. Apparently it resulted in a stunning breakthrough in physics, which nearly netted him a Nobel Prize, and it's implied that something happened which resulted in Seth deciding to work alone on his telepod project.
  • Not His Sled: Played with: when Seth enters the transporter with the fly, he doesn't pop out as a human-fly least not right away. As we later learn, while the fusion did occur, due to it happening on the genetic level the transformation is taking its time...
  • Not Hyperbole: In the opening scene, Veronica is skeptical about Seth's claims. After all, everyone else from Bartok is claiming that their work will change the world. Seth's reply is simply "Yeah, but they're lying. I'm not." She ends up so impressed by his telepod demonstration that she wants to go forward with a story immediately, even though Seth isn't yet ready to have his work revealed to the world since it isn't finished.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several times over, with each major character getting this at least once.
    • Seth's absolutely horrified reaction to this exchange with his computer.
      Seth: [typing] If secondary element is fly, what happened to fly?
      Computer: Fusion.
      Seth: [typing] Assimilation? Did Brundle absorb fly?
      Computer: Negative. Fusion of Brundle and fly at molecular-genetic level.
    • Stathis' reaction to Veronica announcing she's pregnant with Seth's baby. He initially gives a sarcastic "Oh, no," but a few seconds later, the horror truly sinks in.
    • Veronica has this reaction and begins to cry upon realizing that the person who's just jumped through the window of the clinic is Seth/Brundlefly, because that means he knows everything — that she's pregnant with his child, that she doesn't want to keep it, and that she's turned to her ex-lover as a confidant.
    • Stathis gives a horrified "Jesus!" when he finds himself face-to-face with Brundlefly at the end.
  • One-Sided Arm-Wrestling: Seth tears open a man's arm doing this.
  • One-Winged Angel: A truly terrifying example in the film's climax. When Veronica rips off the jaw of Brundle's already heavily deteriorated body while trying to escape Romantic Fusion, it triggers the final phase of his metamorphosis in which he sheds all of his human skin, including on his head, revealing the fully formed Brundlefly underneath.
  • Only Flesh Is Safe: Inverted. In the beginning, the reason Seth isn't ready to go public with the telepods is because living things are mangled when sent through them; inanimate objects are fine. After his "Eureka!" Moment he sends a steak — dead flesh — through the pods, and cooks it for Veronica; she can't bring herself to swallow because "it tastes synthetic." Seth realizes that the computer is recreating flesh instead of simply reconstituting it, and changes its programming to correct this, whereupon living things can be teleported safely (but only one at a time...).
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Twice over, Seth acts out-of-character in ways that Veronica notices, leading to turning points in their relationship.
    • After his attempt to teleport a baboon leaves it turned inside-out, she struggles to get him to talk about it for a videotaped interview. Wanting to talk about his work is one of his defining personality traits, so his not wanting to marks him as deeply distressed and depressed. Out of concern for him, she decides to stick around to make sure he'll be okay, and this paves the path to their relationship becoming a romantic one.
    • Over the first days following his fateful teleportation, she is puzzled by the changes in him (his unusually active libido, his manic energy, his sudden Sweet Tooth, the hairs growing out of the wounds on his back), but not alarmed until she refuses his demand to undergo teleportation herself, wrenching herself from his grip. He profanely, angrily explodes at her for this — and that's when she realizes, and tells him, that something is wrong.
  • Oral Fixation: All three corners of the Love Triangle. Both Veronica and Stathis are smokers. Seth, in what might be a signpost of his relative innocence in matters of the heart compared to them, bites his fingernails — until they come off, anyway. He spends much of the second act consuming sweets (candy bars especially). Much later he's shown chewing on a pencil as he works at his computer.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: The computer's screen alternates between blue and orange text and graphics on a black background. The contrast is used extensively in conjunction with light and shadow as discussed in Emma Westwood's Devil's Advocates essay and especially in author William Beard's commentary on the 2019 Blu-Ray release.
    • Westwood focuses on how blue = good and orange = bad in regard to the two men's placement in Veronica's life. In the early going, Stathis is associated with shadows and orange lighting (the best example being her finding him taking a shower in her apartment), while Seth is given more light and blue tones. But then the Tragic Mistake happens. Seth's decaying skin takes on a very reddish-orange, rusty shade as his metamorphosis progresses, and he becomes associated with shadow. Come his penultimate form and the final 20 minutes, which take place at night, blue contrast is brought back by the lighting and Veronica's blue dress, while Stathis gets the light along with a blue-gray sweater as he becomes a Hero Antagonist.
    • Beard examines how Seth's association with blue in the early going is tied to his not being initiated into the world of flesh. Red/orange slowly becomes more noticeable as his relationship with Veronica develops — her folder and some of the decor in her apartment, the dried-blood-red comforter on his bed, the leather chairs/couches in his main sitting area, the plaid shirt she buys for him. His transformation post-teleportation, as he becomes a prisoner of his own flesh/desires, furthers that color motif in the most grotesque way possible.

    P - Z 
  • Painful Transformation: A rare, slow and gradual example. Seth's metamorphosis into Brundlefly is an extended, humiliating process where he degenerates from a healthy and muscular man into a diseased monstrosity, his flesh rotting to the point that his extremities fall off (including his teeth, his fingernails, his fingers, his penis...), until his whole formerly-human skin is shed completely and he is ultimately reduced to a voiceless insectoid beast.
  • Patient Zero: Discussed. One reason Seth is nervous about seeing Veronica again — and why he initially tries to shun physical contact with her when she arrives — is that he's worried he might be/become this if his condition turns out to be contagious, and Stathis harbors similar concerns once he finds out about the situation.
  • Permafusion: What sets the movie's events in motion is the main protagonist, Seth, accidentally merging himself with a housefly on a molecular level due to a transporter accident. While he initially comes out looking alright, he ends up deteriorating, or morphing, into a horrifying human-fly hybrid as the movie progresses, culminating in a second accident causing him to fuse with shrapnel and forcing Veronica to kill him to end his suffering.
  • People in Rubber Suits: Seth's final humanoid stage is realized through a combination of this and sophisticated puppetry. (Also applies to his appearance in the deleted reel described below.)
  • The Plague: Discussed — Seth initially worries that his deteriorating condition might be contagious, and Stathis tells Veronica not to see him again out of fear that it could result in an epidemic. Seth eventually figures out that "what the disease wants" is to work a Metamorphosis on him alone, while Veronica and Stathis realize that the real problem facing them is that she's pregnant by Seth and may be carrying a mutant offspring.
  • Plot Hole: Cronenberg admits in the DVD commentary that in the buildup to the climax Stathis shouldn't be able to instantly bring up the information about Seth's fusion program on the computer by just pushing some buttons but brushes it off.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Veronica abruptly leaving to go confront Stathis without telling Seth why leads the scientist to assume she's getting back together with her old flame. This prompts him into getting drunk, angry, and making a small but reckless decision that ends up costing everyone very dearly.
  • Possessive Wrist Grab: If Seth grabs someone's wrist, bad things are in store. He first does it when he decides to send Veronica through the telepods, but she wrenches herself from his grip. In the climax, this happens twice: he grabs Stathis's left wrist to drag him up from the floor and then vomits upon the hand to dissolve it, only letting go once it's done for. He also takes Veronica's left wrist in his hand as he starts dragging her to the telepod. As he goes One-Winged Angel, claws emerge, and his grip and strength are enough that he practically tosses her into the pod.
  • The Power of Love: Love — even when it's as powerful as Seth and Veronica's love for each other proves to be — cannot hold back the horrors of his transformation, but it CAN give the maimed Stathis the strength to save Veronica from being teleported, and give Veronica the strength to mercy kill Brundlefly at his request. That request may be borne as much from Seth's loving trust in her — and remorse for what he's done — as it is from a simple desire to no longer be in pain.
  • The Power of Lust: Seth's at-first-sight longing for the beautiful Veronica is what kicks off the whole movie as he awkwardly flirts with her. It's Played for Laughs, but it sets the stage for true, and tragic, romance.
  • Precision F-Strike: Seth gets two.
    • After the first attempt to transport the baboon ends in tragedy, Ronnie tries to interview Seth on camera to find out what he's thinking. An understandably anguished Seth replies, through gnashed teeth, "Fuck is what I'm thinking!!"
    • Later, when Ronnie wrestles herself out of Seth's grip as he tries to force her into the telepod, he angrily calls her "a fucking drag!" His sudden temper is what convinces Ronnie that something is wrong.
  • Product Placement: A lot of sugary products, like Pepsi and Cap'n Crunch, can be seen strewn about in Seth's lab as his condition worsens.
  • Psychological Thriller: Unlike in the short story, 1958 film adaptation, or even this film's sequel, what is happening to the Doomed Protagonist's mind as his Metamorphosis progresses is just as important as what is happening to the rest of his body. Before the Body Horror fully manifests itself, Seth develops a hair-trigger temper, egomaniacal attitude, and looser morals as his mind begins to reflect the instincts of an insect, much to Veronica's increasing horror and despair. Even after he realizes what's actually happening to him and reins in this darker nature, he knows that it will eventually conquer him entirely.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Where to even begin? Might as well be Pyrrhic Victory: The Film.
    • Seth Brundle: He manages to make his experiment work and, in a way, prove everyone wrong in the process. He can finally feel proud. Sadly, this same experiment AND his regained pride cost him a lover, his sanity, and eventually, his life.
    • Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife: She got the story she always wanted, and sure, in the end she survived and was able to give Seth a Mercy Kill. In the end, however, she had to shoot and kill a person she loved, and ended up both pregnant and heavily traumatized. If you take the sequel into account, it also eventually claims her life because she dies during childbirth.
    • Stathis Borans: And how. He proved his point of Seth being dangerous...ruining everybody's life in the process, including both his own and his ex-girlfriend's, who he wanted back in his life. Sure, at the end he managed to save Ronnie, but at a cost of both a hand and a foot. If one takes the sequel into account it only gets much worse, since he is not only forced into an early retirement, but also the person he saved and still cares for dies in front of him and he's unable to do a thing about it. Then Seth's and Veronica's son, the son of the man that took his arm and leg, the same baby that Veronica died giving birth to, comes begging for help...
  • Race Against the Clock: In the climax, a two-minute countdown is set. When it reaches zero, Seth/Brundlefly, Veronica, and their unborn child will be merged by the pods into one entity. With thirty seconds to go, Stathis saves Veronica not by stopping the countdown, but disconnecting her pod from the other two by shooting out its wires. Brundlefly attempts to leave his pod before the timer reaches zero, but his failure to do so results in him being merged with broken pieces of it.
  • Rapid-Fire "No!": When Veronica reminds Seth — who is confused as to why she is audiotaping their conversation about how he built the telepods after his initial demonstration — that she is a journalist, he responds with "Oh, no-no-no-no-no-no," as he approaches her to ask for the tape.
  • Romantic Fusion: In the late going, Brundle wants to do this with Veronica and their unborn child. Naturally, with him being a disgusting half-fly Humanoid Abomination (aside from the fact that she, the baby, and Seth would all become one person and she wouldn't exist as she is anymore), she does not want to go through with it.
  • Roofhopping: This is implied to be how Seth follows Veronica and Stathis when the latter takes the former to get an abortion, and how he gets her back to his loft, Bridal Carrying her all the way. In both the Pogue and Cronenberg versions of the script, there was to be a whole interlude in which Seth did this across the city unnoticed, as a simple, temporary escape from his impending doom, but it was likely cut for being too difficult to realize with the budget, effects, and time constraints the filmmakers had.
  • Rule of Symbolism: There should be no way for the computer to think the telepod is a living being that could be spliced with another living being, but Cronenberg probably thought the symbolism of Seth being merged with his life's obsession was too great a case of Laser-Guided Karma for him to ignore (also, Seth has probably specifically programmed the computer to perform a "fusion", and if there is no second person, it will fuse him with whatever it can find).
  • Sanity Slippage: Brundle's gradual transformation and his futile attempts to reverse it eventually drive him insane, to the point where he decides that the best way to reclaim his humanity is to fuse himself, Veronica, and their unborn baby into "the ultimate family". He lampshades it in his "insect politics" speech, describing himself as "an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake."
  • Saying Too Much: Seth forgets that Veronica is a journalist as he tries to woo her with the initial demonstration of his telepods, and by the time she reminds him of this, she's already recorded a conversation with him about how he built them. This is all information he never intended to reveal to a journalist (and therefore the public) because he hasn't reached the end of his work on them and knows it will also risk relationships with colleagues and financiers, but since he was speaking on the record, she has the upper hand. So, since he does like her and wants to talk about his work to someone, he strikes a deal with her to, rather than just write a magazine article about his in-progress work, be the sole chronicler of the entire project for a book.
  • Scale of Scientific Sins: Seth accidentally commits 3.2 (genetic engineering/Mix-and-Match Critters), turning himself into a human-insect hybrid, with a device that falls under 2 (Potential Applications).
  • Screaming Birth: Veronica's Nightmare Sequence is a gruesome variation on this — she doesn't start screaming because it hurts, but because she can see what she's giving birth to.
  • Scientist Video Journal: As Seth's Slow Transformation really kicks in, the more that he — either out of genuine scientific fascination or an attempt to make some levity before his impending doom — insists on documenting himself for future generations. Part of this involves him videotaping a demonstration of how he now eats by vomiting up digestive acids over his meal before re-consuming the dissolved slurry (which mercifully goes unseen to the audience). Seth presents this log like he's a charming children's show host, but Stathis is mortified watching the tape.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: While Drunk with Power, Seth utters some bizarre dialogue. The utterances about the "power of flesh" are pure Cronenberg.
    Seth: You're afraid to dive into the plasma pool, aren't you? You're afraid to be destroyed and recreated, aren't you? I'll bet you think that you woke me up about the flesh, don't you? But you only know society's straight line about the flesh. You can't penetrate beyond society's sick, gray, fear of the flesh. Drink deep, or taste not, the plasma spring! Y'see what I'm saying? And I'm not just talking about sex and penetration. I'm talking about penetration beyond the veil of the flesh! A deep penetrating dive into the plasma pool!
  • Setting Update: The 1957 story is reset in the then-present day, with various technological, scientific, and social advances in the interim being key to how it unfolds. The Doomed Protagonist is genetically fused with a fly rather than having body parts proportionally swapped with it, videotaped interviews with him provide a minor plot point, etc.
  • Sex God: In the early stages of his transformation into Brundlefly, Seth becomes a sexual athlete. Subverted in that Veronica can't keep up and it becomes an unpleasant experience for her.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Several of these with Seth and Veronica. One with Seth and Tawny.
  • Shirtless Scene: Once his romantic relationship with Veronica begins in earnest, and especially after his fateful teleportation and the newfound virility it brings him, Seth has several shirtless scenes/sequences. But this beauty goes to ruin with the rest of him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Drink deep, or taste not, the plasma spring!" (see Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness) is a slight but bizarre rewrite of a line from Alexander Pope's poem "An Essay on Criticism": "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." That's the second line of the couplet that begins "A little learning is a dangerous thing."
    • When Seth knocks a glass out of Tawny's hand as she tries to give him an alcohol rub — "Don't do that, it hurts!" — she replies "Sorry hon. I didn't know you had the skin of a princess", referencing the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea".
    • Seth's "I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake" is a reference to Zhuangzi's famous philosophical statement:
      "Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."
    • Seth Brundle's surname comes from British race car driver Martin Brundle — David Cronenberg is a serious racing buff.note  Knowing this also reveals it to be an Ironic Name because Seth suffers from chronic motion sickness and hates vehicles of all kinds.
    • Stathis Borans's first name is this to Lou Stathis, an editor of Heavy Metal who greatly admired Cronenberg's work.
  • Show Some Leg: When Seth asks for a personal item he can use to demonstrate how the telepods work, Veronica removes one of her stockings. ("I don't wear jewelry.") He watches intently (if a bit awkwardly) as she does so. It's probably the Goldblumiest that Jeff Goldblum has ever been.
  • Signature Style: Many of Cronenberg's specialities appear here: Body Horror and extreme gore, the intersection of humanity and technology, and the dangerous power of unchecked passions. On the other hand, there's far more camera movement than usual, and the atmosphere is comparatively less clinical.
  • Silly Simian: For all this film's darkness and horror, it does have a scene of Jeff Goldblum hugging a baboon...and the baboon has a constant erection in the film. Just listen to the film commentary.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: To avoid giving people the wrong idea, executive producer Mel Brooks — yes, that Mel Brooks — tried to keep his name away from the film (i.e., he's not credited on the poster or onscreen credits). According to the 100 Scariest Movie Moments special, when this failed he attended the premiere and handed out toy antennae, deliberately misleading people into thinking it was going to be a comedy! To this day many viewers don't realize his connection to the film even though he has occasionally been interviewed about it, most recently for a featurette on the 2019 Blu-Ray release. (He was involved enough with production that Cronenberg credits him for coming up with the Signature Line / Tagline. Brooks also says that the One-Sided Arm-Wrestling scene was his idea.)
  • Slow Transformation: Part of the horror of Seth's transformation — the progression of which currently provides the page image for this trope, and is probably its Trope Codifier for visual media — is how slowly it unfolds. The first visible sign is a few unusually coarse hairs growing out of the cuts on his back (see Foreshadowing above), which neither he nor Veronica notices for the first few days, during which time his face grows progressively blotchier. After he sends Veronica away with his You're Just Jealous rant, while examining himself in the mirror he finds his electric razor can't trim the hairs on his face anymore. Then his fingernails start coming loose, revealing the fingers themselves are oozing. When he allows Veronica to see him again, his face is horrifically disfigured and he tells her that every day he's seeing more and more changes.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Once Seth catches wind that Veronica is pregnant with their child and is planning to abort it, he tries to convince her to keep the baby so that there will at least be something left of him in the world. His increasingly more animalistic mind becoming concerned about passing on its genes likely also has a hand.
  • Spiritual Successor: To David Cronenberg's previous film The Dead Zone, and not just because both are literary adaptations featuring several members of his usual crew behind the camera (casting director, cinematographer, film editor, and production designer) and a minor role played by Les Carlson in front of it. Cronenberg and Jeff Goldblum have both pointed out that each film is about a man who gains extraordinary abilities in an accident, but in the process ends up unable to be with the woman they love. And though the route each movie takes to it is very different, both end on a floor-level shot of the woman grieving the death-by-gunshot of their beloved. (Amusingly, Cronenberg's next film, Dead Ringers, is this film's Spiritual Antithesis; see the work page for how.)
  • Splatter Horror: While the first act of the movie is fairly tame, at the halfway point Brundle's physical and mental degradation becomes progressively more evident, with bits falling off and the rest becoming lumpy and tumorous in the way that David Cronenberg is known for, and Brundle demonstrating his new method of eating by vomiting on a donut, presumably to slurp up the resultant half-digested slurry afterwards.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: Seth's mind also gradually changes into that of a brutal insect, initially helped along by the fact that he becomes Drunk with Power in the wake of his new abilities and his assumption that his invention is responsible for them. When he realizes the truth his better self reemerges, but only for a while. Near the final stages of his transformation, Seth goes so far as to warn Veronica that it is starting to affect his mind, and that he will hurt her if she stays. This speech currently provides the trope's page quote.
  • Starring Special Effects: Downplayed as it only comes into play in the film's final minutes, but animatronic puppetry is used for both the Vomit Indiscretion Shots as Seth dissolves Stathis's hand and ankle and his One-Winged Angel transformation into and subsequent final form of Brundlefly. Between this and the makeup, the special effects company that designed both (Chris Walas and his team) is listed first in the end credits to acknowledge its importance.
  • Stink Snub: Played for Drama, less insult and more genuine concern for someone's health. Neither Veronica nor Seth yet knows that the reason for his stench is because he is, in a sense, literally rotting.
    Veronica: You're changing, Seth; everything about you is changing. You look bad. You smell bad.
    Seth: I've never been much of a bather.
  • Super Window Jump: In act three, at the abortion clinic, once Veronica is left alone in an operating room, Brundlefly does this before abducting her.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Both Veronica and Stathis fulfill this role as some of Seth's tragic gradual transformation is seen from their viewpoints.
  • Supporting the Monster Loved One: Veronica's love for Seth is so strong that even as his transformation renders him a repulsive Half-Human Hybrid she is determined to provide the emotional support he needs as he faces the abyss. In the third act he sends her away so he won't hurt her without meaning to, as his human mind is going. She ends up Staking the Loved One by his request in the end.
  • Symploce:
    • The tagline: Which adds a word to make it not a repeat of sentences: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."
    • The Stink Snub: Which starts with "changing" Epiphora, then "You [X] bad" symploce:
      Veronica: You're changing, Seth; everything about you is changing. You look bad. You smell bad.
  • Sweet Tooth: An early side effect of Seth's transformation is inheriting flies' affinity for sugar. We see him snacking on a chocolate candy bar at points, and while he waxes poetic (and manic) about the transformation's benefits to Veronica, he keeps adding spoonful after spoonful of sugar to his coffee almost unconsciously. To this end, Veronica's quip of "Do you normally take coffee with your sugar?" is barely noticed by Seth.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Veronica and Stathis's relationship is suggested to have started this way — she explains to Seth that they met when he was teaching at a college and she was a student, and he helped her get into journalism (her major being science). The opera adaptation explicitly states this trope was in play.
  • Tele-Frag: What Seth considers to be his life's work turns out to be his demise.
  • Teleporter Accident: The test animals and even a steak initially come out the worse for wear because the computer doesn't understand living matternote . Seth chalks this up to his inability to fully understand "the flesh" himself and thus program the computer correctly.
  • Tempting Fate: Justified, as Seth is drunk when he makes his decision to become Professor Guinea Pig immediately rather than wait to make absolutely sure that the baboon he just teleported has not been affected by the process.
    (to the baboon) Hey, you're all right...From looking at you, I can tell you're okay. (polishes off one last tumbler of champagne) What are we waiting for? Let's do it!
  • Theme Initials: Both of the men in the Love Triangle have the initials S.B. Their first names also share a th sound. (Coincidentally, their actors — Jeff Goldblum and John Getz — also have the same initials.)
  • Time for Plan B: While he doesn't say it, you can tell this thought is going through Seth's mind when Ronnie tearfully says she cannot keep the baby. Plan B, of course, is fusing himself with Ronnie and the baby.
  • Time Skip: The first and second halves of the film each take place over a few days, separated by four weeks of Seth's self-imposed isolation.
  • Toilet Horror: After Seth tosses Veronica out of the loft, he goes to his grey, spartan bathroom (remember, he lives in an Abandoned Warehouse) to examine his reflection in a mirror, and in short order discovers he cannot use an electric razor to trim the stubble on his face, that his fingernails are loosening, and that the fingers themselves are oozing a sticky pus. His Drunk with Power state is replaced with dawning horror as he whispers to himself "Am I dying? Is this how it starts — am I dying?" Cronenberg set this sequence in a bathroom specifically because in Real Life many people's first sign that they are gravely ill comes to them in the privacy of their bathroom as they realize something is amiss with their body. The later reveal that Veronica is pregnant takes place in her bathroom, where she's gone to cry after receiving the news offscreen.
  • Too Happy to Live: An unusual example in that the end of that happiness comes slowly. After Seth successfully teleports the baboon, he and Veronica are joyfully sharing champagne and discussing what they'll do while he waits for the baboon to be tested to make sure the process hasn't affected it in any way. She suggests they take a vacation "like an old married couple" and Seth, clearly still trying to process everything that's happened to him of late, asks her "Is this a romance we're having?" and she playfully replies "Yeah, it could be a romance." But just as he's arranging for a delivery of Chinese food for dinner, Veronica sees a package on the top of his piano, something he says was left under the door by her editor...and when she sees what it is (a mockup of a Particle cover, revealing that Stathis is going to break the story of the telepods — unless she stops him) it's the first domino to topple over in a chain of horrors that will culminate in Seth's death at her hands.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Seth's transformation is a metaphor for disease and death in general, but more specifically he sees what's happening to him as "a bizarre form of cancer" as his body is completely altered to the point that his final humanoid form resembles a mass of tumors.
  • Tortured Monster: Brundlefly in the end becomes this when he's merged with his own broken telepod, whereupon he grabs the business end of the shotgun and places it against its head.
  • Tragedy: Seth is a sweet, gentle, brilliant scientist with just one real flaw — he must follow his passions to their ultimate conclusions. When he mistakenly believes his lover is cuckolding him, he decides to turn his attention to his other passion — his teleportation project — while she's away, and makes a Tragic Mistake. The resultant transformation slowly strips him of everything that makes him a human being, turning him into a creature who can't resist his passions even when he wants to and becomes a danger to everyone around him, his lover most of all.
  • Tragic Dream: In the end, Seth just wants to remain as human as possible. It's too bad that his resultant plan requires him to fuse himself with another human being...and this awful plan only becomes sweeter in his deranged mind when he realizes that if Veronica and her unborn child are those beings, they can be "the ultimate family!"
  • Tragic Mistake: Oh Seth... you really should have waited and run some more tests before trying the teleporter on yourself. Or at least waited until Ronnie returned.
    • Seth had successfully scared Ronnie away through his "insect politics" speech so she won't be hurt by him if the beast within takes over. Had she waited until after she was far away from the lab to weep in Stathis's arms, Seth would not have overheard her wanting to abort his baby and not given pursuit and ultimately decide to make her his means of regaining humanity, completed his painful metamorphosis and died alone with dignity, instead of causing the monstrously violent tragedy of the finale.
  • Transformation Horror: Seth undergoes the Horrifying Metamorphosis variant of this, and though he knows he's going to become something definite, what exactly that will be is a mystery. Ultimately he ends up with TWO final forms — his "natural" Brundlefly state, and then a further, blessedly quick but painful transformation into a hybrid of that and parts of a telepod.
  • Transformation Is a Free Action: Averted by makeup/special effects designer Chris Walas's design, as this trope had turned up enough by this point in the 1980s (Walas citing The Howling as an example). Seth's final One-Winged Angel transformation into Brundlefly specifically happens as he hurries to get Veronica into her telepod and then climb into his before a two-minute countdown ends, meaning the remains of his human form freely drop off with each step.
  • Trash of the Titans: By the end of it all, Seth's loft isn't far off from a garbage heap thanks to a Mess of Woe pileup of discarded food/beverage containers and general neglect.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Veronica curls up into this upon waking from her nightmare — rather apropos given she was dreaming of giving birth to a Fetus Terrible.
  • Tuneless Song of Madness: Clearly at the end of his psychological terror after weeks of mutation, Seth absently warbles "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly/perhaps she'll die..."
  • Two Beings, One Body: Seth's situation boils down to this. He decides to create a fusion of his new form, Veronica, and their unborn child in the climax but spectacularly fails.
  • Unconventional Food Usage: Played with, in that eating is involved but for an unconventional purpose: After Seth has his "Eureka!" Moment regarding why his telepods cannot safely teleport living things (they had just turned a baboon inside-out), he takes one of the raw steaks reporter/lover Veronica brought over to prepare for dinner, cuts it in two, and teleports one half. He then cooks both and has her taste them, and she can't bring herself to swallow the piece from the teleported one, revealing that the telepods' computer doesn't understand what makes flesh, living or dead, unique and thus cannot correctly reconstitute it. Seth gets to working on reprogramming the pods, and soon living things can be teleported safely (albeit only one at a time...).
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Stathis. He tries to throw a wrench into Seth and Veronica's relationship and hamstring the latter's book deal by threatening to print the story on his own. Veronica goes to confront Stathis about it, but Seth's interpretation of the situation is that she's betrayed him and the two ex-lovers are getting back together. Seth hits the bottle as a result and ends up climbing inside the telepod.
  • Vanity Licence Plate: Stathis's car has one: PARTICLE, which is the name of the magazine he edits and which Veronica writes for.
  • Villainous Breakdown: In the climax, Seth/Brundlefly's reaction to seeing Veronica's telepod disconnected from the other two is to smash the glass door of his open so he can at least have vengeance on Stathis. But just as he's partially outside it the countdown ends and the result is not pretty.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Used a lot, especially in the final scenes. Although we never get to see the externally digested food getting reabsorbed. Instead we get to see Stathis looking horrified. An unfilmed scene had Seth eating a bag lady, starting by melting her face.
  • Wall Crawl: Eventually, Seth can do this. He's pretty proud of how quickly he gets the hang of it.
  • Wham Line:
    • All of the answers Seth's computer gives when he finds out about the accident:
      "If primary element is Brundle, what is secondary element?"

      "If secondary element is fly, what happened to fly?"
      "Assimilation? Did Brundle absorb the fly?"

    • As if Seth's transformation into a monster weren't horrifying enough, just after Stathis sees (via the video Veronica shoots of his eating habits) how bad his situation — and by extension Veronica's — is, she confides to him something that makes matters much worse for, ultimately, all three of them:
      Veronica: I'm pregnant.
    • At the end:
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Seth notes that he will send the successfully-teleported baboon out for tests to make sure teleportation hasn't harmed it before moving to the next stage of his experiments, but before that happens he teleports himself and the baboon isn't seen again after that sequence, and is only mentioned in passing when Veronica learns what Seth did. The trope's question is answered in the the original cut (see below): Not only does Seth never send the baboon away, but weeks later as his transformation progresses apace he uses the telepods to genetically merge it with a cat, and slays the resultant hybrid creature when it attacks him.
  • What Have I Become?: Or rather "What am I becoming?" After Seth forces Veronica out of his loft with a You're Just Jealous rant, he goes into his bathroom and, for what's implied to be the first time in a while, actually looks at himself in the mirror. He realizes that he does look as bad as she's been telling him, and attempts to shave only to find his electric razor can't cut the stubble on his face. In frustration, he hurls it away, smashing it to bits, and as he continues to examine his reflection, he chews on a fingernail...which comes off in his mouth. From there, he realizes all of his fingernails are starting to come loose, and his fingers are dripping with pus. The dawning horror that he might be dying leads him to consult his computer, and at last he learns the horrible truth about his transformation — and that it's just getting started.
  • What If the Baby Is Like Me: Veronica is terrified at the thought that her child by Seth is a mutant, and knowing that it could appear human in prenatal tests and even at birth but undergo Metamorphosis later is why she is determined to have an abortion. Seth, on the other hand, is horrified by the prospect of her aborting what might be the last remnant of his original human self (making it more "What if the baby is like what I was?").
  • Womb Horror: Since it's likely that Seth impregnates Veronica after his DNA has already been merged with the fly — note that this wasn't confirmed until the sequel — she understandably worries what effect this could have on the child, and tries to get it aborted. During her Nightmare Sequence, she gives birth to a giant maggot.
  • Working with the Ex: Veronica has an antagonistic relationship with her ex-boyfriend Stathis, the editor of the newsmagazine she reports for, motivating her to investigate Seth more personally. He repeatedly makes it known that he's not over their break-up and even starts stalking her. However, when Seth becomes fully manfly and kidnaps Veronica to mutate her against her will, Stathis comes to her rescue and loses a hand and foot in the process.
  • You're Just Jealous: At the height of feeling Drunk with Power, and right after Veronica has arrived just in time to allow Tawny a way to leave the loft, Seth furiously accuses Veronica of being jealous of what he's becoming when she (having learned that the hairs growing from the wound on his back are insect hairs) reiterates to him that something is horribly wrong with him.
  • You Do Not Want To Know: At a fast-food restaurant, Seth explains to Veronica why exactly she can't go forward with her story — the telepods can only handle inanimate objects at this point, and he's trying to fix that. When Veronica asks what happens when he tries to teleport something alive, he grimaces a bit and says "Not while we're eating."
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Joked about by the skeptical Stathis in his first scene, when Seth comes to the Particle magazine offices to invite Veronica to lunch. "If you plan to make anything disappear, please, let me know. I've got an assistant editor who's outlived his usefulness."
  • Your Head Asplode: Brundlefly, courtesy of a shotgun blast, by his request.
  • You Sexy Beast: Subverted. In the early stages of his transformation Seth is more confident, stronger, more virile, and seductive, but Veronica's initial enhanced attraction to him fades thanks to all the unpleasant changes that come with it — the strange hairs and lesions, his newly short-tempered and egotistical nature, etc. — and the fact that she simply isn't able to keep up with his strength and libido. After he is humbled by the realization of what's actually happening to him his sweet personality returns, but at the same time he completely loses his beauty. And while Veronica's love for him tethers him to his human reason and compassion for a while, he's the one who tells her it's not strong enough to stop him from hurting her, and indeed it isn't when he finds out she doesn't want to keep their child.

Tropes specific to the deleted/shortened scenes included on non-Vanilla Edition home media releases:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Downplayed. In Veronica's interview with Seth the morning after his initial teleportation, he explains to her that he taught his computer to be creative in its handling of flesh so it wouldn't harm living things, and he believes he is feeling better, stronger, etc. post-teleportation as an unexpected side effect of this creativity. Of course, it was being creative in a different way. Faced with two different genetic patterns being teleported at once, it spliced them into one entity. At the end, when all it has to teleport is one genetic pattern and some debris from a telepod rather than three genetic patterns as Seth intended, it gets creative again.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: An unintentional example: The principal reason the "monkey-cat" sequence was cut was that test audiences read Seth's creation and subsequent killing of the creature as invoking this trope and lost all sympathy for him, even though later scenes gave it context — the Split-Personality Takeover is making him more ruthless and more desperate to regain/retain humanity, driving him to actions he wouldn't have taken before in hopes of staving off worse down the line.
  • Butterfly of Transformation: Veronica's epilogue dream, in which a human baby with beautiful butterfly wings emerges from a chrysalis and flies off towards a bright light, is a take on this trope — though the symbolism means different things depending on what's to become of her in each of the epilogues.
    • In the original scripted version, in which she has aborted Seth's child and is now carrying Stathis's, it's a Butterfly of Death and Rebirth in the sense that she will live out an happy, ordinary life with an ordinary child, as opposed to the possible monster that the nightmare maggot represented.
    • In the versions in which she is either back with Stathis and not pregnant at all or single, it's a Butterfly of Death and Rebirth in that she will live out a happy life.
    • In the version in which she is single and pregnant with Seth's child, it's this trope in that it symbolizes her acceptance and love of whatever the child will be, as opposed to the fear she once held.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The "butterfly baby" Dream Sequence is this in the two versions of the epilogue in which Veronica is pregnant, though it portends different things depending on which version. If she's pregnant with Stathis's child, it means the child will be a beautiful human. If she's pregnant with Seth's child, it means she's no longer afraid of what it might be.
  • Dream Sequence: All four versions of the epilogue involve one for Veronica that's a hopeful counterpart to her earlier Nightmare Sequence: A human baby with butterfly wings emerges from a chrysalis and flies away towards a bright light. In one version of the epilogue, it more specifically symbolizes her hopes for the child she's carrying by Seth, having decided not to abort it after allnote .
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the workprint, Seth and Veronica's reconciliation after her confrontation with Stathis was longer, with Seth noting that he regrets that she wasn't around to see him teleport himself. When she isn't around, it feels as if things don't actually happen to him. This suggestion that she was now a part of him would have foreshadowed his attempted Romantic Fusion with her.
    • At several points early on after teleporting himself, Seth can be seen holding the left side of his chest and/or calling attention to an unexplained rash ("What's this? I dunno.") This would have paid off later in the film, as the "rash" is actually an insect leg that pushes its way out of his body. This would have occurred during the "monkey-cat" sequence, and would have been resolved by Seth snapping and chewing the offending appendage off. (This would explain why he has the noticeable gash on his left side during the climax of the film.)
  • Freak Out: After beating the baboon-cat to death in the wake of its attacking and wounding him, Seth goes to the roof of his loft and shouts in his increasingly-inhuman voice "No! No!" to the sky. Then a sharp pain from the growth on his abdomen causes him to tumble off the roof. He catches himself on the wall and safely lands on an iron awning, only to watch in horror as an insect leg emerges from the growth. His response to this is to bite it off. As he collapses in exhaustion, the severed leg twitches on the ground below. In the larger context of the film, this entire sequence would have marked the moment his mind and morals permanently went into a downward spiral despite his best efforts.
  • The Madness Place: Seth is here in the "monkey-cat" sequence. It's the middle of the night as he furiously works on fusing two helpless animals together just to see what the result will be. He ends up beating said result to death with a lead pipe.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Originally between Veronica's realization of her pregnancy and her Nightmare Sequence was a whole reel in which Seth, now at Stage 4B of his transformation and working on what is later revealed to be his plan to retain/regain some of his humanity, puts the second baboon and a cat through the first two telepods, whereupon they arrive in the prototype pod as a deranged hybrid creature (with both heads mostly intact) that proceeds to attack him. He manages to toss it aside, and as it thrashes on the ground he beats it to death with a pipe. The baboons were Rhesus monkeys in the original screenplay, which is why the name "monkey-cat" stuck for this sequence as it went into the realm of legend — excised from the film after the first test screening in Toronto, not resurfacing until the 2005 DVD release.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: All four versions of the epilogue are this in different ways for Veronica. Either she's back with Stathis and carrying his child, back with him but not pregnant at all, single and not pregnant, or single and carrying Seth's child to term — no longer afraid of what it might be. Too bad test audiences weren't in the mood to care about her fate after witnessing Seth's death.
  • Recurring Dreams: In the two versions of the epilogue in which Veronica and Stathis are a couple again, Veronica is still dealing with nightmares about giving birth to a mutant child.
  • What Does She See in Him?: In the rough cut version of Veronica's confrontation with Stathis over his plans to run a cover story on Seth, he says "You really like this guy, huh?" She replies "Yeah, I like him. He's funny." Stathis bitterly notes that "You told me I was funny."
  • What You Are in the Dark: The "monkey-cat" reel is more or less this trope for Seth, showing just how badly he's degenerating mentally and morally as well as physically. Earlier, he was so upset about a baboon being turned inside out that — in the midst of Drowning His Sorrows over misplaced jealousy of Stathis — he apologized to another one. Now he's so desperate to save himself he knowingly merges that baboon and a cat into one entity just to see the results, and when the hybrid attacks him he beats it to death with a pipe. In the larger context of the film, he realizes how far he's falling after this, and while he still intends to go forward with his plan he at least tries to get Veronica away from him before she ends up suffering at his hands. Of course, that goes tragically wrong...
  • Your Television Hates You: The doctor who agrees to perform Veronica's abortion turns on a small television in the operating room before giving her the gown to change into, telling her he finds "television to be the best anesthetic." Unfortunately a scene of a Screaming Birth is in progress, leaving him and Stathis embarrassed. Veronica is less bothered, softly snarking that what she's carrying "isn't gonna look like that anyway."

Tropes specific to the 2008 opera adaptation:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending:
    • In this version, Veronica — possibly slightly mad for her experiences — changes her mind about aborting Seth's child, deciding that she can love it no matter what it turns out to be. This may have been inspired by one of the deleted epilogues.
    • The German production changed the climax and denouement to have Stathis lead the authorities on a raid of Seth's lab to rescue Veronica; they shoot him dead before he can go through with both his final transformation and attempted fusion with her. This may have been for practical reasons.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Stathis's outright stalking of Veronica is eliminated in favor of focusing on his having underlings research Seth's past for an article that can undercut her book.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Help me" becomes this trope for Seth. It's his first sung words as he approaches Veronica at the party.
    • "Long live the new flesh" is a repeated refrain for multiple characters to the final lines.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: At least in the original productions, which were set in the 1950s, Dr. Cheevers appears to be one. She is called to Stathis's office to help Veronica, rather than their going to her.
  • Gender Flip: The abortion doctor Dr. Cheevers is male in the film, female here.
  • How We Got Here: The framework, as the authorities are questioning Veronica in the aftermath of the film's ending.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Technically a short story-to-screen-to-stage adaptation.
  • Setting Update: Inverted in the original Paris and Los Angeles productions, which were set in the 1950s — not coincidentally when the short story and first film version were created — rather than the 1980s. However, this appears to have been largely an aesthetic decision. The libretto is vague enough that it could just as easily be set in modern dress, as a subsequent German production was.
  • Shout-Out: "Long live the new flesh", the principal Arc Words, are lifted from another David Cronenberg screenplay/film, Videodrome.
  • Tenor Boy: Subverted. While Seth is exactly the sort of sweet, innocent character traditionally played by a tenor he doesn't stay that way, and he's written as a baritone to reflect what he eventually becomes. Moreover, Stathis and Marky, the more worldly antagonists to Seth, are tenor roles, reflecting the former becoming more heroic as the story progresses and the latter being one of the first victims of Seth.
  • Two-Act Structure: Act One focuses on Seth's rise as he falls in love with Veronica and perfects the telepods, ending with his drunken, fateful teleportation. Act Two is his fall as his Slow Transformation unfolds.


Video Example(s):


Seth Brundle

Having been merged with a fly at the genetic level, Seth Brundle has undergone a series of hideous mutations. However, after accidentally getting his decomposing jaw ripped off, he undergoes a stomach-churning metamorphosis into his final form...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / BodyHorror

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