Genomic manipulation came to prominence in the 1970s. Salk Institute researcher Rudolf Jaenisch and research partner Beatrice Mintz injected pre-embryonic mouse cellular tissue with a monkey virus. The monkey DNA integrated into the host’s genome.
David Cronenberg’s The Fly, is “transgenic,” an organism that contains genetic material (in this case human) into which DNA from an unrelated organism (a fly) has been artificially introduced.
The original The Fly came out in 1958, just after the discovery of DNA molecular structure and Cronenberg’s version gave it a timely reboot (one wonders given the fuss surrounding genetically modified food, whether this will come into play as horror subject matter).
Jeff Goldblum is Dr. Seth Brundle, a socially awkward researcher with a closet full of identical clothing (inspired by Einstein) who is introduced to a science journalist, Veronica. Her editor wants a big scoop and she supplies him with one: the mad genius Dr Brundle, with whom Veronica gets romantically involved.
The good doctor has developed “telepods” — teleportation devices that can send at first inanimate and then animate objects through space. Initially nylon stockings, and then a cut of steak are teleported, with results that wouldn’t impress Anthony Bourdain (“I haven’t started teaching it the poetry of steak” says Brundle). Soon a baboon is teleported across the room (and it should be said that the telepods somewhat resemble insect exoskeletons) and Brundle speculates how the travel industry is going to be completely transformed. Little does he know, the transformation will involve him.
During the first human test phase, everything goes swimmingly and according to plan with Brundle’s matter and energy going from Point A to Point B. However, it turns out a house fly (musca domestica) got in there with him. Soon after, Brundle sports “coarse hair” from his back and starts to develop a house fly’s strength (the fly can lift and get airborne – 50% of its body weight). This strength is soon tested when Brundle tears off an opponent’s limb in a bar arm wrestling bet (a fellow barfly, if you’ll excuse the pun, played by famous Canadian heavyweight George Chuvalo, who fought Ali, Foreman and Frazier).
Like Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis, soon Brundle is becoming more comfortable in his flesh and is buzzing, twitching, defying gravity and losing his human parts (“The medicine cabinet is now the Brundle Museum of Natural History!”).
And since flies vomit on food before eating it so enzymes can soften up meals to aid digestion, body horror maestro Cronenberg capitalizes on this in various disgusting ways. The director, in a cameo as a gynecologist, even helps to deliver Veronica’s grotesque pupa baby in a disgusting scene.
As a hybrid human fly (check out the awesome song of the same name by The Cramps) Brundle soon expresses his desire to advocate on behalf of his fellow insects, which comprise some one million plus identified species: “I want to be the first insect politician!” Can’t help but throw our support unequivocally behind this.
**** (out of 5)
CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF THE FLY ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST