Everyone loves to say that remakes are never as good as the originals, and as a general rule of thumb that’s probably true, but there are a handful that buck the trend and actually improve on their predecessors, and David Cronenberg’s remake of the campily fun 1950s Vincent Price flick is definitely one of them. A combination of the director’s usual fascinating thematic obsessions, a remarkable lead performance and some of the best special effects in the history of the genre make it truly memorable (it’s one of those films that everyone seems to just¬†know), and one of those B-movies that comes close to transcending its pulpy sci-fi roots.

Cronenberg’s work has frequently earned the label “body horror”, due to his preoccupation with our own bodies, their potential for mutation and their inevitable decay. So in many ways The Fly is his magnum opus – tackling all these themes head-on and wearing its metaphorical heart on its sleeve quite plainly. It’s a powerful allegory for the ageing process – as our protagonist loses his hair and teeth, and his skin starts to decay, he desperately tries to find a way to delay the end. We all see something of ourselves in him. This is helped enormously by the work of Jeff Goldblum, whose character is positively iconic here, demonstrating a Kafkaesque metamorphosis while never losing track of his humanity. It’s a superhuman feat of physical and emotional work that he manages, under mountains of prosthetic makeup, and in what should so easily be a ridiculous scenario, to make his doom so affecting and surprisingly human.

The unexpected emotional impact of the film is also helped by Howard Shore’s extraordinary score, which takes the musical cues of the 50s science horror films that inspired the remake, and stretches them to an operatic degree (indeed, Cronenberg and Shore reunited for an opera version of this film a few years ago). And the special effects are possibly the pinnacle of the pre-CGI era –¬†Chris Walas, who went on to direct the terrible sequel, bizarrely didn’t seem to work much more afterwards, perhaps made redundant by a declining reliance on prosthetics. The film stands as a shining example of how even the pulpiest, silliest raw material can be made to shine if everyone involved brings their A-game.

Pulpy B-movie silliness, though not as much as the original6
The usual Cronenberg subtext-fest about mutation and disease8
Jeff Goldblum making us care, and also coining the term "Brundlefly"9
Howard Shore giving it the big one with the score9
Some of the best non-CGI special effects in film history10
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They only talk about men
8Overall Score

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