How 'The Fly' mutated into a series of disgustingly good horror films

04 March 2023

Short stories can serve as gateways to ideas.

Consider how the Sentinel by Arthur C Clark set the seed for the film and novel versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the same way, George Langelaan's science fiction short story "The Fly" spawned several movies and a nightmare or two along the way.

The story begins with François Delambre, a brilliant scientist who has been working on a matter transmission machine. His experiments have been successful with inanimate objects, but he is determined to take it to the next level and use the machine to transport living beings. He decides to test the machine on himself, but something goes wrong during the experiment, and he emerges with the head and arm of a fly.

"The Fly" is a powerful story that explores the consequences of scientific experimentation and the dangers of pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It also delves into themes of loss, grief, and the human condition. Langelaan's vivid descriptions of François' transformation and his wife Helene's emotional turmoil make for a gripping and unforgettable read.

The original movie production

The 1958 film adaptation of "The Fly" was produced by Twentieth Century Fox and directed by Kurt Neumann. The film starred David Hedison as Andre Delambre, Patricia Owens as Helene Delambre, and Vincent Price as Francois Delambre, the scientist who becomes fused with a fly in the story.

The film was shot in color and used a number of innovative techniques for its time to create the illusion of the fly's head and arm on Francois' body. This involved the use of elaborate makeup and prosthetics, as well as a mechanical arm that was operated by a team of puppeteers. 

the fly 1959

The production also faced some challenges in bringing the story to the screen. For example, the filmmakers had to come up with a way to depict the fly's buzzing sound without making it too distracting or annoying for the audience. They ultimately settled on a high-pitched whine that was achieved through the use of a Theremin, an electronic instrument that creates an otherworldly sound.

Another challenge was creating the illusion of Francois' transformation into a fly. The filmmakers used a combination of camera tricks, makeup, and sound effects to gradually show Francois' deterioration over the course of the film.

Overall, the film was a critical and commercial success and has since become a cult classic in the science fiction genre. Its success inspired a sequel, "Return of the Fly," which was released in 1959 and the later Curse of the Fly (1965).

the fly 1959

Enter director David Croneburg

The legend of The Fly was cemented into modern pop culture with David Croneburg's 1986 remake effort, again inspired by Langelaan's story and the original film. 

It stars the sublime Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, a brilliant but socially awkward scientist who develops a matter transportation device. After a failed attempt to transport himself, a fly becomes trapped in the machine and their DNA becomes fused together, resulting in a horrific transformation.

The film was known for its groundbreaking special effects, which were achieved through a combination of makeup and animatronics. The transformation sequences were particularly memorable, as Seth slowly begins to take on the characteristics of a fly, including growing extra limbs and developing a voracious appetite.

Cronenberg's version of the story also delves deeper into themes of love, loss, and mortality. The relationship between Seth and Veronica Quaife (played by Geena Davis), a journalist who becomes romantically involved with him, becomes a central focus of the film. As Seth's transformation progresses, their relationship becomes more strained, and Veronica is forced to make a difficult decision about how to save him.

the fly jeff goldblum

In an interview with Film Comment, Cronenberg stated that the idea for the film came from his fascination with "the mutability of the human body," and that he wanted to explore the idea of a man turning into a fly as a metaphor for disease.

The film was a critical and commercial success and is often cited as one of the best horror/science fiction films of the 1980s. It had a budget of approximately $9 million. At the box office, it grossed over $60 million worldwide, making it a commercial success.

Stephan Dupuis won an Academy Award for Best Makeup for his work on the fly creature.

In a retrospective interview with The Guardian, Cronenberg reflected on the lasting impact of "The Fly," saying that he was proud of the film and that it had "stood the test of time." He also noted that the film had become a "cult classic" and that he was frequently approached by fans who wanted to discuss its themes and meanings.

Trivia about The Fly

  • Jeff Goldblum initially turned down the role of Seth Brundle, but changed his mind after being impressed by David Cronenberg's script.
  • The film's famous tagline, "Be afraid. Be very afraid," was ad-libbed by Geena Davis during a scene in which she is describing Seth's transformation to a friend.
  • Makeup artists Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis both won an Academy Award for their work on the film's special effects, which included animatronics and prosthetics.
  • The film's score was composed by Howard Shore, who also worked on the music for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
  • David Cronenberg had originally planned to have Seth Brundle turn into a giant fly at the end of the film, but changed his mind after realizing it would be too difficult to pull off convincingly.
  • The scene in which Seth pulls off his own fingernails was accomplished using a combination of practical effects and a fake hand.
  • The film's climactic scene, in which Veronica crushes the transformed Seth with a metal press, was originally supposed to take place in a warehouse, but was changed to the more dramatic setting of a laboratory.
  • The character of Stathis Borans, Veronica's editor and ex-boyfriend, was originally supposed to die in the film, but was given a reprieve after test audiences responded positively to his character.
  • The teleportation pods used in the film were inspired by the design of a motorcycle helmet.
  • The film's opening credits feature a shot of a fly trapped in a spider's web, which was intended to set the tone for the rest of the film and foreshadow Seth's eventual fate.

The Fly II sequel - it's barking mad

While this film is not a contender to the Godfather in terms of being an amazing sequel, The Fly II does stand on its own as being a great science fiction horror film. 

Chris Walas, who won an Academy Award for Best Makeup for his work on the original "The Fly" film, directed this a sequel. It follows the story of Martin Brundle, the son of Seth Brundle, the main character from the first film.

The film begins with Martin, who is a young child, being born with a rare genetic disorder that is the result of his father's transformation into a human-fly hybrid. As he grows up, Martin's intelligence and scientific abilities become more apparent, and he is eventually taken under the wing of Anton Bartok, a ruthless businessman who wants to exploit Martin's unique abilities for his own gain.

As Martin delves deeper into Bartok's research, he discovers that his father's genetic material has been used in Bartok's experiments and that he himself is beginning to show signs of transformation. Martin must then race against time to find a cure before he fully transforms into a fly-like creature.

While "The Fly II" was not as well-received as its predecessor, it does feature some impressive practical effects and makeup work. It also stars Eric Stoltz as Martin Brundle, and Daphne Zuniga as his love interest, Beth. 

However, the film has been criticized for its reliance on gore and violence, as well as its lack of the emotional depth and complex characters that made the original "The Fly" so compelling.

Yeah, but it had that dog scene so the movie gets a pass from us!


Here are some pieces of trivia for The Fly II:

  • The Fly II was directed by Chris Walas, who also served as the makeup and creature effects supervisor for the first film, The Fly.
  • Jeff Goldblum, who starred in The Fly, makes a brief appearance in The Fly II in a flashback sequence.
  • The makeup effects for the mutated dog in The Fly II took 12 weeks to create.
  • The film's score was composed by Christopher Young, who also provided the score for other horror films such as Hellraiser and Drag Me to Hell.
  • The Fly II was originally intended to be a straight-to-video release, but due to its higher-than-expected budget, the decision was made to release it in theaters.
  • The film's tagline, "Like father, like son," refers to the fact that the protagonist, Martin, is the son of the main character from the first film, The Fly.
  • The film features several nods to classic horror movies, including a reference to the Bride of Frankenstein and a scene where a character watches the original version of The Fly on television.
  • The Fly II was followed by a third film, titled The Fly: Outbreak, which was released straight-to-video in 2015.
  • The character of Martin Brundle was played by Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty McFly in Back to the Future but was replaced by Michael J. Fox.
  • The film's opening credits feature a sequence of microscopic images that gradually become more and more distorted, setting the tone for the film's themes of mutation and transformation.
  • The final scene of the film features a nod to the ending of the first film, with Martin's mutated body dissolving into a puddle of goo.
  • The Fly II was released on VHS and LaserDisc in 1990, and on DVD in 2000.
  • The film was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film in 1990.

Why do people love The Fly films?

What makes The Fly films so compelling is their ability to tap into our deepest fears and anxieties about the unknown and the uncontrollable. The transformation of the human body into something grotesque and otherworldly is a powerful metaphor for the loss of identity, the fear of death, and the horrors of disease and decay. At the same time, the films also explore the ethical dilemmas of scientific experimentation, raising questions about the limits of knowledge, the responsibilities of researchers, and the consequences of tampering with nature.

The Fly films also feature some of the most memorable and haunting imagery in horror cinema. From the grotesque mutation of the scientist's body to the terrifying and disturbingly realistic fly-human hybrid, the films are filled with moments of visceral horror and shock. At the same time, however, the films also feature moments of poignant beauty and tenderness, such as the scenes of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis's characters falling in love amidst the chaos of the transformation.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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