WHFS: The Fly (1986) (1958)

This WHFS post is brought to you by the word of the year in the N. American English Swears category:

SkullFucked.

A swear so foul even I don’t say it, it’s too disturbing. I put it in the past tense because let it be over already. These well-aged sci-fi films become jockingly relevant due to a famous political fly who dismissed the rules and joined the vice presidential debate stage riding Pence’s head for a record-breaking 2 minutes. SNL did a funny skit but i can’t stop thinking about the fly on Pence’s head humping him. Seems like Pence would severely disprove of any sort of head humping but since he lacks a conscious he’s completely oblivious to it just like a bleached skull being fucked.

Luckily, these films are not about skullfucking but a much different form of whoopie. Long story short i think The Fly is a love story because the fear the characters seem to be trying to overcome is the fear of doing ill by each other. 

When I watch remakes I don’t tend to compare them to one another but watch them as tellings of a recurring story. Like Robin Hood, part of the fun is telling the story in different ways each time adding different embellishments and themes depending on the audience. The Fly does this pretty well. There are more than just these two films but for now, I’m going to put these two side by side with three themes: Love, Disease, and Biomedical Ethics.

Before i get to that, let’s talk about the genre. Any given film might fall into several subgenres. Horror is as complex a genre as any other. The Fly falls into several: sci-fi, romance, body-morph horror, etc. Both films explore how the science shapes the character’s work/sex-life which is why I’d categorize these films as Scifi-Romance. In case you’re unfamiliar with “body-morph horror” it refers to one or more character’s body changes that affect the plot of the film. Other examples of this subgenre could be Tusk (2014) or Freaky (2020). More classically it’s a genre that plays off of people’s fear of being disabled or different than the norm. 

The Fly is the same story essentially so it’s not surprising they’re in the same genre, what’s surprising is how unique they are to one another. In both films we see a similar story structure:
1st, The scientist character experiments,
2nd, is initially impressed with the results,
3rd act, tries to share the experience with the reporter/partner character,
4th, realizes the dire outcomes and side effects, and then
Act 5/6, the end result in each film is unique so I won’t spoil that.

1950s The Fly features a trope-induced heteronormative Cold War couple living after the atom bomb was dropped. As far as heteronormative relationships go this one seems indicative of the televised values at the time. Fearmongering seemed to have scared society white. The scientist character, a dedicated husband, isolates himself from and yet becomes dependent upon his wife due to his experiment’s accidental outcomes. The Wifey, Helene Delambre, is a pretty basic and tropey character thru-out the film, i found her boring but i see that as a fault of the writers rather than the actress: Patricia Owens. They introduce her as a fellow scientist and then the rest of the film she’s this basic bitch, a badass bitch but basic. I think the scariest thing of this film is the erasure of her career within their pursuit as a couple. Besides it commenting on 50s obsession with normalcy, there’s a good deal of ablism going on here mixed with hints of Nazi-esque scientific practice. What’s admirable about their relationship is that they really stick together in their decisions.

1980s punk film shifts from the 50’s film in interesting ways for us to see the scientific themes and worries of each era that were played with by the filmmakers. The Fly is caste with hollywood hotties, toying with the idea of a playboy lifestyle, the enthusiasm for how scientific advancement can help us party and move in the world. Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle plays the role like a drug designer. He reminds me of silicon valley assholes. He’s a devilishly handsome recluse who falls for a writer/reporter interested in his research and his D. Through some botched experimentation he falls into behaviors of abuse and starts acting like a macho Trump. We watch his transformation into a man-fly which takes up most of the films time and budget which is awesome because it’s beautifully disgusting. It’s not until the point where Brundle-Fly realizes he’s crossed the boundary of ethics with what he’s done that he moves towards redemption (1:17:00 ish). Brundle-Fly shifts between seeing his transformation as a superpower and a disease. Goldblum plays the role in a relateable way and still from a feminist perspective the horror of this film is those men are Geena Davis’ character Veronica Quaife‘s only options. Damn, honey, women still exist, don’t they? Get out of there! The gender norms are where they fall short for me. The relationships of these characters are at the forefront so once again the masculine ego gets in the way of science. I guess that’s kinda the point in these films. What I love is that this movie is that their relationship has fun crossing the lines between professional and lovers. There are some hot moments and seriously disgusting effects. It’s awesome.

This brings us to our last theme: Biomedical Ethics. Science & philosophy were a big intellectual trade between N. America and Germany until “after” WWII. The post-war explosion of ethics into science on a global scale was a blow to N. America because they realized they were doing it wrong. In my opinion, we haven’t truly recovered and yet paradoxically there is a lot of incredible technology that has helped us improve and be better as humans.

The topics of this film are on the top of our heads these days. Because of COVID we all know what an epidemiologist does and that pharmaceutical companies are supposed to follow a high standard of ethics to reduce contagion in a pandemic, that they don’t has lost them their public trust. CDC and WHO grasp dearly to their reputation but even they sputter in the face of ethics at times. In these films, we see two different responses to the same conundrum of crossing the boundary into unethical scientific practice. Cronenberg’s 80’s film spends more time with the characters crossing those lines than in Neumann’s 50s version which spends more time with the characters trying to seek redemption.

Neither film is really that ‘scary’, gross at times and scary-good but horror or fear-inducing, not really. As both films are unique in how they play out The Fly is a story i wouldn’t mind seeing a remake of, what do you think?

As always thanks for reading with your eyes, ears, or hands and raise hell peacefully,
Anne Arkhane

The Fly (1958 film) - Wikipedia
Images via Google (thanks google, you’re still an assh*le)
Return of the Fly - Wikipedia
The Fly (1986 film) - Wikipedia
Who even designed these film posters?
The Fly II - Wikipedia
Thanks to a reader comment I found these sequel posters

How about those 1950s soundtrack oboes?
1986-Music by Howard Shore
1958 Music by Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter

The Fly Wins Best Makeup 1987
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_s_3QF5JOGI

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