Directors discussing human capacity for sex and violence are a dime a dozen. For more than 50 years, David Cronenberg has dissected it — often quite literally, creating weapons made of human bone or shoving handguns into tremulous, vaginal stomach slits. Of course, such unpredictably invasive anatomical moments are just one part of Cronenberg’s aggressive tradition. Even in his less fantastical work, he rarely separates sex from violence, poking and prodding to seek potentially perilous similarities in the chemical reactions caused by those acts. In honor of Cronenberg’s films, and his 80th birthday, Midwest Film Journal presents a monthlong retrospective on his work: Ew, David!

Bob Bloom is a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association who reviews movies, 4K UHD, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (, The Film Yap and other print and online publications. You can email him at, follow him on Twitter (@ReelBobBloom) or Facebook (/ReelBobBloom), or find his reviews online at Rotten Tomatoes.

With a strong cast headed by veterans Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall, 1958’s The Fly was a science-fiction / horror feature with a relatively serious premise.

In his work on a matter-transporter device, scientist Andre Delambre (Al Hedison, later known as David) has had success with inanimate objects but not live subjects. When Delambre enters the device himself, not knowing a fly has entered with him, his atoms and the insect’s are scrambled. Thus, Andre has a fly’s head and arm — and somewhere on the estate, a fly with a human head is buzzing around. It’s a tale told in flashback by Andre’s wife to, respectively, Andre’s brother (Price) and a police inspector (Marshall).

It’s somber stuff. But what most people remember about the movie — and the sequence that nearly pushes it into camp — is the finale in which the human-headed fly is trapped in a spider’s web with the spider ready to devour it. Its cries of “Help me! Help me!” are more laughable than tragic, which nearly breaks the serious mood of the feature.

So when co-writing and directing a remake of The Fly in 1986, David Cronenberg ensured there would be no such imbalance — with a far darker, more adult version of the tale.

His first stroke of genius was casting Jeff Goldblum as scientist Seth Brundle. Goldblum very convincingly plays a combination of social awkwardness and emotional eccentricity, and he puts those traits to great use here. 

Brundle boasts the single-mindedness of Hedison’s Delambre, but without the grounding of family, Brundle’s isolation allows his manic impulses to go unchecked. This is amplified by his romantic relationship with science journalist Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis). After a misunderstanding with Ronnie, a jealous Brundle tests his device on himself. Rather than a swap, the human and fly are genetically fused.

Capitalizing on nearly 30 years of considerable improvement in makeup and prosthetic effects, The Fly shows us Brundle’s transformation — slowly losing his mind and body parts. Unlike the 1958 film, Brundle’s entire body changes, with sores on his face and bristly hairs growing from his back. Later, his hair, teeth and fingernails fall out.

But Brundle gains increased strength, stamina, agility and sexual proficiency. As time passes, Brundle begins losing his human appearance and realizes he is becoming a hybrid of man and fly.

Another major difference is the gradual nature of Brundle’s transformation, as opposed to the momentary shock of the original’s instantaneous creation. Brundle’s slow deterioration is more effective and poignant, creating more sympathy for his situation even as he grows less and less human.

To depict Brundle’s metamorphosis, Goldblum underwent several long makeup sessions designed and executed by Chris Walas — at first wearing various prosthetics and then complete body suits. In the finale, large puppets were utilized.

Cronenberg’s vision of The Fly is much more disturbing than the 1958 rendition — darker, confined and more grounded; it can be viewed as a metaphor for the aging process. And like many science-fiction films, it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of a technology man is not yet capable of harnessing.