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YMMV / The Fly (1986)

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  • Adaptation Displacement: George Langelaan's short story had its reputation usurped by the faithful 1958 film adaptation — then this version came along and displaced both, in part by being an In Name Only adaptation that spun a much more emotionally and thematically complex story and characters out of the basic Teleporter Accident premise. (The Collector's Edition DVD and Blu-Ray releases do include the short story as a bonus feature, incidentally.)
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  • Angst? What Angst?: Averted. One reason the four filmed epilogues, all of which were hopeful to varying degrees, didn't work was because at least two of them — one of which was the original scripted ending — played out as this for the cast and crew, if not audiences because they involved Veronica going back to Stathis after she slew Seth, her true love. The other two endings had her alone again which made a little more sense. Cronenberg has said that audiences weren't up for any hopeful ending right after Seth's demise, because it was so upsetting for them.
  • Award Snub: While the film's subject matter was far too unusual, and its execution far too extreme, for the Academy to take beyond the Best Makeup category, many (including Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune) decried the Oscars for omitting Jeff Goldblum from the Best Actor line-up. Arguments that he deserved a nomination were being made almost as soon as it was screened for critics — the second weekend's newspaper ads included a quote from People noting he had a legitimate shot at one — and 20th Century Fox rescreened the film in Los Angeles the following winter specifically to push it for awards. This might not sound unusual now in the age of "elevated horror" films that make hay on the festival circuit, but in the mid-1980s when horror was the favorite punching bag of critics...
  • Awesome Music: Where there is Cronenberg, there is usually Howard Shore, and where there is Shore, there is this trope. The standout cues are the menacing "Plasma Pool" (Seth's rant to Veronica about "fear of the flesh") and the mournful "The Last Visit" (the "insect politics" monologue), both of which are reprised to wrenching effect in the denouement.
    • Though it was relegated to background music in the bar scene because it clashed too much with Shore's orchestral score to work as an end titles playout, Bryan Ferry's "Help Me" (which was released as a single and even got a Video Full of Film Clips) is an unnervingly lovely Sanity Slippage Song / Image Song for Seth.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: This is one of David Cronenberg's most accessible films along with The Dead Zone, and in fact his most popular, due in part to having genuinely sympathetic characters. Even so, many viewers then and now find its extreme Body Horror and the ultimately tragic demise of its protagonist too much to take. The choice to drop the "monkey-cat" reel (see Unintentionally Unsympathetic below) was specifically to avoid this trope, as the first test audience no longer cared about Seth's plight after he slew the mutant creature. This was also a reason none of the epilogues tested well, as Cronenberg discusses in the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg — the denouement was so devastating that audiences couldn't accept a hopeful coda.
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  • Designated Villain: Subverted by Stathis Borans — while he plays the role of the antagonist at the beginning, the mutated Seth soon becomes the antagonist.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: 1000 Misspent Hours makes a pretty solid case for Cronenberg's film being an allegory for HIV infection in the 1980s. Word of God doesn't deny this theory but intended the story as a metaphor for not just any terminal disease but the aging process in general.
    • Cronenberg, in the DVD commentary, also discusses the interpretation of Seth's transformation and degeneration as a metaphor for substance abuse, particularly cocaine, which was another hot topic in The '80s. After all, Seth initially sees only the good things about the changes happening to him once he goes through the teleporter (enhanced senses and strength, not needing to sleep), even comparing it to a drug, and refuses to listen to Veronica's concerns about his increasingly unstable personality and appearance.
    • On a more specific and blackly comic note tying into Cronenberg's intended aging metaphor, Seth's Drunk with Power phase (post-teleportation but before he realizes what's actually happening to him) can be read as a dark spoof of male puberty as he effectively becomes an overgrown teenager with bad skin, "weird hair configurations", an exponentially bigger appetite, mood swings and the like, even skulking about in a leather jacket. Unfortunately, he's also legitimately dangerous due to his Super Strength and delusions of grandeur.
  • Fridge Brilliance: "Brundle" is an anagram for Blunder.
  • Gateway Series: This is the movie that brought Body Horror to the multiplex masses and remains the most common entry point to David Cronenberg's body of work, both horror and non-horror films.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Seth notes early on that Bartok Industries, which finances his work, "leave[s] me alone because I'm not expensive and they know they'll end up owning [my work], whatever it is." In the sequel, it turns out they not only claim the telepods for themselves following his tragic demise but also his son at the expense of Veronica's life. (In the first broached concept for the sequel, they claimed the telepods without realizing that Seth's personality was trapped within it.)
    • The ending of The Fly II means that Seth's Evil Plan to save himself was, in fact, the right idea. His son Martin completely regains his humanity by splicing himself with Anton Bartok, though it might have helped the youth that he was 75% human as opposed to Seth's 50%. The downside is that Bartok completely loses his humanity, but Martinfly isn't portrayed as a monster for going through with it because Bartok is a straight-up villain getting Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • In the original Charles Edward Pogue draft of the screenplay, the protagonist is named Geoff.
    • "Stathis Borans" was an unusual character name in 1986, but in The New '10s cue the jokes from new viewers about how it sounds more suited to Game of Thrones than a 1980s horror film.
    • The first and last bars of music in the film being the closing music of the opera Madame Butterfly is an example of this twice over.
      • First, David Cronenberg directed the 1993 film adaptation of M. Butterfly, which also repurposes the Verdi opera in an unusual way.
      • Second, when The Fly was adapted into an opera in 2008, the libretto was written by David Henry Hwang — who wrote M. Butterfly.
    • The movie that took over the number one position at the weekend box office from this film in late August 1986 was Stand by Me (which had opened the previous weekend in the number two position), which also spectacularly indulges in the Vomit Indiscretion Shot trope.
    • One of Cronenberg's inspirations for the character of Seth Brundle was Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson. In the 1987 BBC TV movie Life Story (aka The Race for the Double Helix), Jeff Goldblum played Watson.
  • It Was His Sled: Seth dies at the end.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Be afraid. Be very afraid" — a late addition to the script, and one suggested by executive producer Mel Brooks according to Cronenberg — was this as early as May 1987, when it was quoted in an episode of ALF. Kids who saw 1993's Addams Family Values likely didn't know that Wednesday was quoting this film when she dropped the line; the target audience of Tangled: The Series certainly wouldn't know where the title of the Season 3 episode "Be Very Afraid!" comes from in 2019! Moreover, Empire magazine once argued that its use as the film's Tagline changed movie marketing forever — up to that point it was fairly common for ads and posters to have paragraphs worth of text just to explain premises. Then this movie had a tagline so short, catchy, and perfect that it was instantly memorable and quotable, and marketers started following suit for other films.
    • Jeff Goldblum is watching you poop.
    • "Oh...that-that's disgusting."
  • Moral Event Horizon: While Seth's attempt to forcibly merge himself with Veronica and her unborn child is partially the result of his mind's degeneration due to a Split-Personality Takeover and partially what he sees as a Godzilla Threshold he has no choice but to cross to retain some humanity, it is the point in which he fully becomes the monster Brundlefly in both metaphorical and literal senses.
  • Periphery Demographic: More than most 1980s horror films this movie, advertised mainly to men though 20th Century Fox's print ads did bring up its romantic elements, has a devoted female fanbase for several reasons: The viewpoint character is Veronica, a witty, smartly-dressed, just plain smart woman with a lot of assertiveness and agency — and the film's total sympathy throughout as she deals with the obnoxious Stathis and transforming Seth. The aversion of Good Girls Avoid Abortion is also appreciated. The central romance between her and the initially-Adorkable Seth is movingly portrayed. And due in part to a woman being the viewpoint character, there is a lot of Female Gaze in how Seth is presented prior to the more gruesome stages of his metamorphosis (making this one of the key films shaping Jeff Goldblum's image as a memetic sex symbol for several generations of fangirls, the others being Earth Girls Are Easy and Jurassic Park).
  • Squick:
    • "The Brundle Museum of Natural History", aka his medicine cabinet, which holds a collection of all of Seth's discarded human body parts.
    • Hell, just with Seth's bodily disintegration, it's not a good idea to watch this movie on a full stomach. One reason the "monkey-cat" sequence didn't make it beyond the first test screening in Toronto was because it resulted in a viewer supposedly vomiting in the theater (producer Stuart Cornfeld claims they actually made it to the bathroom in the Fear of the Flesh documentary).
  • Ugly Cute: Depending on your point of view, Seth in his final Brundlefly form. For a mutated abomination, his eyes rather resemble Puppy-Dog Eyes. The trick, as Cronenberg explains in the DVD Commentary, is that Brundlefly's eyes were designed to look human rather than fly-like, taking some inspiration from Jeff Goldblum's eyes.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: The "baboon-cat" scene wound up having this reaction in the first test screening: Several people lost sympathy for Seth when he threw the baboon that was successfully transported earlier and a stray cat into the teleporter pods, fused them, and then beat the resultant, violent hybrid to death. In context it turns out to be part of his desperate attempt to find a cure for his condition, but many felt he was taking his frustrations out on the creature instead — and only Bad People Abuse Animals. It and the followup in which he goes to the roof in despair only for an insect leg to emerge from the growth on his abdomen that he pointed out to Ronnie in the Wall Crawl scene was cut from the final film in order to deliberately prevent this reaction from people and keep Seth in a tragic light. The scripted bag lady sequence never made it to the filming stage for the same reason.
  • Values Dissonance: Stathis' stalking of Veronica was intended to come across as harmless and funny to audiences from the '80s, but to modern audiences it comes off as unbelievably creepy and makes it very difficult to see Stathis as redeemable at all. That his efforts to meddle in Veronica and Seth's relationship inadvertently results in Seth's fateful teleportation and all the horrors that ensue doesn't help. It could have been worse: Cronenberg's screenplay ends with him and Veronica getting back together after Seth's demise, with her now carrying his child, and it was filmed along with an alternate version in which she isn't pregnant but no one in the cast and crew wanted those, since it was implausible she'd just go back to Stathis after losing Seth, her true love, even given his fall from grace. Notably, the opera adaptation pulls back on Stathis's stalking and plays what remains more seriously.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: The seven-stage, gradual, detail-by-detail transformation of Seth is this, culminating in the emergence of the Brundlefly in all its sickening glory via a dazzlingly shot and edited transition from Jeff Goldblum to animatronic puppets. There's a reason why the effects team is listed first in the end credits, why this took home the Best Makeup Oscar for 1986, and why it currently provides the page image for Slow Transformation.
  • The Woobie:
    • Seth, poor Seth. Especially in his second major stage of mutation; Veronica is compelled to embrace him even with corrosive vomit covering his clothes and his right ear having just fallen off. The embrace is notorious for eliciting screams from audiences, as Geena Davis recalls in the Fear of the Flesh making-of documentary — noting that she does press her cheek against the spot where the ear fell off!
    • Ronnie's psyche doesn't fare so well either with her boyfriend slowly mutating. It's bad enough when he's becoming Drunk with Power and exploding at her for not wanting to be teleported, and then after a month she learns how much worse he's become — and how it's thoroughly breaking him as a person. And then she learns she's pregnant...


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