David Cronenberg’s remake of THE FLY was and is something special. There’s nothing else like it. But you know how us humans are, we tried to put it in a box, treat it like a regular hit movie. Hollywood said “Hey Cronenberg, it’s your lucky day, we got TOP GUN for you.” And the world of horror movies said “Let’s get the guy that did the special effects to direct a sequel!” For her part, Geena Davis said “You know what, find some other actress to play my character dying in childbirth and redub my lines over the re-used video footage of Goldblum.” And thus humanity embarked on the journey of THE FLY II.
I don’t remember thinking too much of this one when I saw it in the 1980s as a double feature with I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA. And for years I would joke about the true fact that people didn’t want to buy THE FLY on DVD because it came with THE FLY II. That they could charge more for it if it was just the first one.
But I realize now that I was too close. It was too soon. I wasn’t ready for it yet. But now, after a quarter century of experiencing life in a world where there is a FLY II, no matter our moral objections… shit, I enjoyed this one. It’s kind of like The Fly himself. It shouldn’t exist, but it does, so what’s it supposed to do? It makes a go at it.
In contrast to Seth Brundle, who worked in private, his son Martin is the property of a big company, Bartok Industries, and grows up with a team of scientists observing his every move. The boss wants to be seen as his dad, and he is, but Martin knows he’s a specimen. When he grows into an adult (Eric Stoltz) at the age of 5 he’s given his own apartment and a job in a lab. He’s brilliant, and improves on some of his dad’s creations. The company is still working on the telepods, but hasn’t quite figured them out. Martin is weird, of course, and sheltered, but manages to fall in love with co-worker Beth (Daphne Zuniga, THE INITIATION). Yes, they have sex, and don’t worry, he seems to know where to put things. It’s morally questionable though – I don’t think she knows he’s part fly, or that he’s 5 years old.
Of course he’s destined to start buggin out like his dad, and that’s when he realizes that Bartok wants it to happen. Unfortunately this turning point is also when the villains turn more broad. Bartok starts talking like a mad scientist, the security guards like rapists. I know it’s to make it seem acceptable what happens to them, but The Fly II already has enough motive to be rooted for like a Universal Monster. You don’t need to stack the deck that much. It would be better if the bad guys thought they were the good guys.
Another way Martin is different from his dad: he’s much more empathetic toward test subjects, being one himself and all. The thing he holds most against Bartok is, as a kid, seeing a golden retriever go through the telepod and come out horribly deformed. And the thing that makes him rebel is, as an adult, finding out that the poor thing is still alive and horribly mutated in the lab. This connection with animals also continues into his fly form. When he’s an inhuman monster a guard dog comes after him and he pets it.
When we find out what Martin would have to do to cure himself it’s pretty obvious what will happen, but man if it isn’t a perfect ending. SPOILER: I think this is the only movie that ends with the jerky character living miserably in a concrete pit, pathetically wriggling across the dirt and hay floor to slurp vomit-like slop from a bowl. And a fly lands on the edge of the bowl, a reminder. He probly still has the mental capacity to be pissed that his life has become this as the result of a random fly happening to buzz into the telepod in 1986. All because of a fucking fly.
Seth Brundle was protective of his research, trying to prevent it from getting out before it was ready, but he didn’t worry that much about ethics, especially after the fly started to take over. I like that this one has two major moral decisions that have to be made. One, he has an idea how to cure himself, but he hesitates because he’d have to give his curse to someone else. Two, she had an opportunity to tell Bartok a fake computer password, which would erase Martin’s computer as he developed into a fly monster. She would spare the world of the dangers of the telepod technology, but also rob it of its gifts. It’s too much responsibility. She’s liable to go SUNSHINE-naked-stalker.
Director Chris Walas was the guy who designed Gizmo in GREMLINS. He elaborates on his effects from the first FLY and the sights just keep getting grosser and grosser.
Which is a good thing. Actually, the fly heads and misshapen lumps of flesh aren’t even the worst part. For some reason the stage of the transformation that sickened me the most is when he’s a monstery human head but with white hairs all over him. I don’t know man, it’s just nasty. And there are really well done animatronic monsters. Only the puppet dog looks fake, and I still felt sorry for the damn thing. The crying dog sound is too authentic to laugh off.
Walas’s only other feature directing work was THE VAGRANT starring Bill Paxton. But I think he does a good job here. The script is credited to Mick Garris, Jim and Ken Wheat (EWOKS BATTLE FOR ENDOR, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, PITCH BLACK) and Frank Darabont (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, THE BLOB). There’s lots of cool ideas in there, and some dry, dark humor, like when one of the security guys says over his walkie talkie, “Sorry guys, looks like I lost him. There’s no sign of him anywhere. AAAAAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!!” ‘Cause he gets his face burnt off by fly puke. They hear the most horrible screams of agony over the radio, but they have no idea.
Or the part where it’s revealed that there’s a secret control room in Martin’s apartment where Bartok employees monitor him from. When he discovers the cameras and starts destroying them the guy calls in that “He could be anywhere!” and then all the sudden the door flies open and it’s him.
Or when Bartok calls out “Stormy? Stormy? Where are you?” just before the broken body of said Stormy is tossed from off camera onto the floor nearby.
They’ve done the more traditional monster movie version of the story that Cronenberg avoided. The one with a big confrontation and more special effects showcase scenes and what not. They use some of the same iconography (the suspense of the metal locks on the telepods spinning, the doors slowly opening and the smoke coming out before you see what’s inside) but also new kinds of stuff. More ALIENS influence with the fly projectile puking as a weapon, acid that corrodes through meat or metal. And even when he’s human he escapes from the lab and he can do superjumps, that gives us some excitement.
I’m glad Cronenberg did the more original take, but it’s cool to see the normal approach too. A well-rounded individual can enjoy both styles. This is actually a real good ’80s monster movie. I recommend all of humanity give this one another shot.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.