Be afraid – be very afraid! As Brundle­fly turns 30, Luke Dormehl re­vis­its David Cro­nen­berg’s body hor­ror clas­sic…

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Re­mem­ber­ing David Cro­nen­berg’s re­make of the ’50s mon­ster movie.

The Fly’s jour­ney to the screen be­gan in the early 1980s, af­ter screen­writer Charles Ed­ward “Chuck” Pogue had re­turned from Eng­land, where he had just writ­ten two Sher­lock Holmes films, star­ring Ian Richardson. Pogue hooked up with a young pro­ducer named Stu­art Corn­feld, to­day co-pro­ducer and busi­ness part­ner of Ben Stiller. They pitched Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox a re­make of The Fly, a 1958 B-movie star­ring David Hedi­son (later to play Fe­lix Leiter in Live And Let Die and Li­cence To

Kill) and hor­ror icon Vin­cent Price. Be­gin­ning with the mys­te­ri­ous death of a sci­en­tist in a hy­draulic press and his wife’s con­fes­sion of mur­der, the film uses flash­backs to tell the tale of a ter­ri­ble science ac­ci­dent that trans­forms its hero into half-man, half-fly.

Pogue was un­der no il­lu­sions about the movie’s shlocky sta­tus. “It was kind of bad science, as well as bad drama,” he tells SFX. “The guy goes through the trans­porter and comes out with this big fly head. What you’re left with is a pas­sive hero. He’s got no fa­cial emo­tion and no voice; he’s re­duced to scrawl­ing words on a chalk­board. Be­cause of that choice, the film shifts to fol­low­ing the wife’s de­scent into mad­ness.”

“The orig­i­nal ver­sion of The Fly was kind of a camp clas­sic,” Corn­feld agrees. “It had the scene with the lit­tle fly with a man’s head at the end, go­ing, ‘Help me! Help me!’ The orig­i­nal movie gave our ver­sion a lit­tle fa­mil­iar­ity, but it also made it a lower pres­tige movie. It def­i­nitely wasn’t a case of peo­ple say­ing, ‘Ooh, they’re re­mak­ing The Fly, this is go­ing to be a pres­ti­gious pro­duc­tion!’ A lot of peo­ple were laugh­ing at us.”

If they were laugh­ing at first, no­body laughed when di­rec­tor David Cro­nen­berg was an­nounced as di­rec­tor. Cro­nen­berg was the per­fect film­maker to helm The Fly. In his early for­ties, he had al­ready es­tab­lished a suit­ably twisted “body hor­ror” oeu­vre which in­cluded movies like

Shiv­ers and Scan­ners. Al­though he had yet to score a mon­ster-size hit, Cro­nen­berg was con­sid­ered bank­able by Hol­ly­wood stu­dios: he was of­fered such dis­parate projects as To­tal Re­call, Bev­erly Hills Cop, Flash­dance and Top Gun dur­ing this time pe­riod. The Fly sat par­tic­u­larly neatly along­side Cro­nen­berg’s pre­vi­ous two films, Video­drome and

The Dead Zone, both of which con­cerned a male pro­tag­o­nist who be­comes wrapped up in hor­rific events which pro­foundly al­ter them. If any­thing, The Fly was a dis­til­la­tion of the themes from these two movies: in the movie, both the ori­gin of the hor­ror and its ter­ri­ble con­se­quences come from the pro­tag­o­nist. There is no out­side agency or vil­lain to blame. The Fly is Cro­nen­berg at his most tragic.

All of which makes it all the more sur­pris­ing that he wasn’t the first film­maker to take on the project. Bri­tish tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor Robert Bier­man was hired, only to drop out. “Robert ended up suf­fer­ing a [per­sonal] tragedy,” Corn­feld says. “The movie sort of fell apart at that point.”

Cro­nen­berg stepped in to fill Bier­man’s shoes, but he did more than just re­place him. “He came on, but on the

con­di­tion he could do a ‘page one re­write’,” Corn­feld con­tin­ues. A “page one re­write” is Hol­ly­wood­ese for scrap­ping the orig­i­nal script and start­ing again. “The stu­dio was ready to make the film and we al­ready had a work­able script, but he felt it wasn’t com­ing from him,” Corn­feld says. “It wasn’t a pro­pri­etary thing, but he had a take on it that was very dif­fer­ent to what Chuck and I had been de­vel­op­ing. He liked the premise of what we were do­ing, but our script was not as in­ter­est­ing to him as what he had go­ing on in his mind.”

One ma­jor con­cept Cro­nen­berg got rid of was the no­tion that the two cen­tral char­ac­ters should be mar­ried. This was a hang­over from the 1958 orig­i­nal, but some­thing Pogue had also felt was key to the story. “My ra­tio­nale for that was that you needed that kind of emo­tional con­nec­tion for them to stay to­gether while he is go­ing through his aw­ful trans­for­ma­tion,” Pogue says. Cro­nen­berg also amal­ga­mated two of Pogue’s char­ac­ters into one, along with chang­ing the name of pro­tag­o­nist Ge­off Pow­ell to Seth Brun­dle, named af­ter For­mula One racer Martin Brun­dle. What he re­tained was Pogue’s con­cept that the en­tire film should be about the meta­mor­pho­sis of man into fly, rather than mak­ing it an im­me­di­ate trans­for­ma­tion.

“Cro­nen­berg has al­ways been very gen­er­ous in say­ing that he couldn’t have got to his ver­sion without my ver­sion,” Pogue tells SFX. “He kept the claus­tro­pho­bic tone of my script, but maybe even height­ened it fur­ther.” Un­der Cro­nen­berg, the pro­duc­tion’s shoot­ing lo­ca­tion shifted to his na­tive Canada, while he brought on crew mem­bers like cin­e­matog­ra­pher Mark Ir­win, with whom he had worked be­fore.

“We shot for ten weeks in a ware­house that was meant to be Brun­dle’s lab,” re­calls Ir­win, who had the ex­cit­ing, yet chal­leng­ing, task of mak­ing what was ba­si­cally a one­lo­ca­tion movie vis­ually ex­cit­ing. “I re­alised that the room had to be­come a char­ac­ter in the movie, just like the peo­ple. I made it get darker and change pro­gres­sively and be­come more mys­te­ri­ous through­out the story as Jeff’s char­ac­ter goes through his change.”

In ad­di­tion to Ir­win’s pho­tog­ra­phy, Cro­nen­berg’s di­rec­tion, Howard Shore’s omi­nous mu­sic and the Acad­emy Award-win­ning make-up ef­fects, one of the be­stremem­bered as­pects of The Fly is the tremen­dous lead per­for­mance by Jeff Gold­blum. Still best known as a char­ac­ter ac­tor, The Fly rep­re­sented Gold­blum’s lead­ing man de­but. Not ev­ery­one nec­es­sar­ily ap­proved. Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox pres­i­dent Larry Gor­don was par­tic­u­larly scep­ti­cal – al­though he gave The Fly’s crew the ben­e­fit of the doubt. “Cro­nen­berg and I went to him and said we wanted Jeff Gold­blum to be the lead,” Corn­feld says. “Larry Gor­don thought that was a hor­ri­ble idea. He said to us that hir­ing Jeff would be a big mis­take. But he said, ‘It’s your mis­take to make. If that’s who you want, go make your film with him.’”

Gold­blum’s even­tual per­for­mance blew ev­ery­one away. Mark Ir­win re­calls how the movie was shot in or­der, and Gold­blum iso­lated him­self as his char­ac­ter went through its meta­mor­pho­sis: re­quir­ing more and more la­tex to be ap­plied each day. “Jeff’s a tal­ented pi­anist and we had a pi­ano on set,” Ir­win says. “Early on he would en­ter­tain ev­ery­one by play­ing be­tween takes. Later on, as he got more into the rub­ber suit and the trans­for­ma­tion into Brundle­fly, he stopped play­ing and be­came far more in­tro­spec­tive.” In its most ex­treme stages, the Brundle­fly cos­tume Gold­blum had to wear took 10 hours to put on and a fur­ther six to re­move.

Play­ing op­po­site Gold­blum as his love in­ter­est was ac­tress Geena Davis, who mar­ried him in real life the year af­ter the film was re­leased. The chem­istry be­tween the two is pal­pa­ble on-screen. The fact that the ro­mance works so well is the emo­tional beat­ing heart of The Fly, just as Chuck Pogue hoped it would be. “The jeop­ardy in The Fly is not about the pro­tag­o­nist turn­ing into a crea­ture, but that love is be­ing lost,” Mark Ir­win says. “The fact that it ends with Geena’s char­ac­ter putting a shot­gun to Brun­dle’s head to mur­der him, so they can both find peace… well, that’s David’s own per­sonal twist on things.”

The Fly ar­rived in cine­mas in Au­gust 1986. Helped by its iconic tagline “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” (sug­gested by Hol­ly­wood leg­end Mel Brooks, whose com­pany pro­duced the movie), it proved an im­me­di­ate hit with au­di­ences.

De­spite not work­ing on the en­tire film, Chuck Pogue was happy with how it turned out. “What’s al­ways made me proud was when peo­ple talk about how it tran­scended its genre,” he says. “I al­ways thought about it as be­ing much more than a mon­ster movie, and it’s great to hear that peo­ple agree. I felt it re­ally res­onated.” Pogue’s next job was writ­ing a se­cond Psy­cho se­quel, an­other movie which came out in the sum­mer of 1986. A re­viewer for an al­ter­na­tive Los An­ge­les news­pa­per, The LA Reader, wrote an ar­ti­cle about his picks for the best two love sto­ries of the sum­mer. He chose The Fly and Psy­cho III. He ne­glected to men­tion that Pogue was the con­nec­tion be­tween both. Pogue was later asked to write the script for The Fly II, al­though he turned it down. “I re­ally didn’t like their take on it,” he ad­mits.

Like the best hor­ror movies, tap­ping into why The Fly worked so well is dif­fi­cult. It ap­pealed to the same science-gone-awry tech­nothriller sen­ti­ment that turned Juras­sic Park scribe Michael Crich­ton into a best­selling au­thor. It fea­tured great spe­cial ef­fects that ap­pealed to the hor­ror crowd and a hu­man story that made it a weird kind of date movie. There was even an Aids metaphor hid­den not too deeply un­der the sur­face, which meant the film plugged into a cer­tain ter­ri­ble zeit­geist.

“Hor­ror is great, be­cause as long as you ful­fil the ba­sic obli­ga­tion of the genre – to scare peo­ple – you’re re­ally free to do what­ever else you want,” Corn­feld says. “In a weird way, film­mak­ers have more au­ton­omy in hor­ror films, and comedy to a cer­tain ex­tent, be­cause the pri­mary thing the stu­dio is in­ter­ested in is whether it’s a scary hor­ror film or a funny comedy.” Ul­ti­mately, Corn­feld doesn’t want to dis­sect what made it spe­cial any more than he did his other favourite hor­ror movies The Ex­or­cist and Rose­mary’s Baby. “Hon­estly, I was just a be­liever in the thing,” he says. “I thought peo­ple were go­ing to show up and they were go­ing to like it. I’m glad it’s got­ten the rep­u­ta­tion it has, but I was never try­ing to se­cond-guess the au­di­ence. I just as­sumed they were just like me – and I was re­ally into it.”

We were told that hir­ing Jeff Gold­blum was a big mis­take

Geena Davis got out in time to marry Jeff Gold­blum (for three years).

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