By: Nick Vita
When it comes to horror film remakes, they usually aren’t that good. Just going on google and typing in “horror film remakes” will bring up a list of a bunch of different movies that have tried to recreate the magic of the original. Somehow, they always seem to fail. Clicking on the movies in this list brings up their Rotten Tomatoes’ score. I’m not one to base my criteria off someone else’s opinion, but generally, you’ll have a sense of how good or bad a movie is based on these percentages. The recent Black Christmas remake got a 38%, Evil Dead from 2013 got a 62%, Friday the 13th (2009) got a 26%, and Poltergeist, the 2015 remake, and probably one of the worst films I have ever seen, got a 32%. For the most part, these movies are just so blatantly, soulless cash grabs. If you keep looking at the list, you’ll come across some actual good horror remakes. While few and far between, there are remakes that were clearly in it for more than the easy profit. John Carpenter’s recreation of The Thing earned an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, and The Fly from 1986 got a 92%. This score is incredibly high for a horror movie, especially considering this film is in fact a remake. What did The Fly remake do so well, that made it stand alone as a piece of horror history, as well as earn a score almost equal to the original?
Both the original and the remake of the horror film The Fly, tell the same basic story in two drastically different ways. This is where signs of a worthy remake begin to show. Unfortunately for me, I watched the 1986 version before I ever saw the original. That meant, I already knew the story and plot going into the original.
The structure of the original is so unlike the remake that is falls into a different subgenre of horror completely. The film starts off as a murder mystery. The scientist who goes on to become spliced with a fly, is dead at the beginning of the original. The audience sees the ending before anything else takes place. For almost the first half, we are trying to figure out how he got killed. The wife was at the scene of the crime, and admits to killing her husband, but there’s more to it than just a wife that happened to snap.
In the original, we get characters that weren’t in the remake, like the scientist’s brother, who plays a main role in this movie, and the son of the scientist as well. The brother drives the plot by getting the wife to tell the story of what happened to her husband. This is where a flashback happens and takes up most of the runtime for the rest of the movie.
Throughout the flashback, we get to meet the scientist, Andre and his major work. In his basement laboratory, he’s developing machines capable of teleportation. We see his journey as he figures out minor kinks and works his way up to being able to teleport a cat, which sadly gets lost in space, as the machine malfunctions. After he fixes that issue, he successfully teleports a guinea pig. It’s never really explained what goes wrong with the cat, or why it’s even a problem in the first place to teleport living things. The remake does a great job explaining why living things are harder to teleport. Andre finally decides to teleport himself. Somehow, a common housefly entered the machine with him, and when they teleported, their DNA mixed, leaving a man with a fly’s head and arm, and a fly with a man’s head and arm. This is all done off screen, and I’m glad the remake shows this pivotal moment. Immediately stepping out of the machine, Andre already has the head and arm of the fly. The remake takes this aspect and throws it out the window.
The rest of the film is about the wife and child trying to capture the fly with the man’s head, so that Andre can reverse the teleportation and hopefully get his DNA back. Of course, we already know that Andre dies in the end, but we come to find that it was him who wanted to die. He was terrified of what he might do if kept alive. The movie ends with an amazing special effect of the fly with Andre’s head being almost eaten by a spider who caught Andre in its web. It’s a famous horror scene, and for good reason too.
The Fly from 1986 takes an amazing story and film and only improves upon it. The movie is in chronological order this time and tells the similar story of a scientist who accidentally teleports himself with a fly in, what’s now called a “telepod.” Right from the beginning we get a sense of this scientist character, Seth, and his motivation for creating these telepods. In a scene where him and a reporter are driving to his lab, he explains that he hates vehicles and gets motion sickness anytime he’s in one. That’s it. That’s why he decided to make teleportation a reality. I love it so much. It’s such a subtle line too. I mean come on, that’s his solution to motion sickness? Teleportation? It’s great.
When it does come time to test the telepods on living beings, Seth uses a baboon. This is such a random animal, and one that’s so impractical. Why would he use a monkey? Where did he even get a monkey? Was there no rat running around? His lab is in an old warehouse after all. The experiment fails and the baboon gets turned inside out in a brutally graphic scene. It’s explained that the malfunction has to do with flesh, and it being reconstructed in a sort of random way. Finally get we an explanation for why it’s so difficult to teleport living things. Once Seth figures out the math, he tries it again, and he uses another baboon! I wonder if there’s some behind the scenes reason or deeper meaning to why he keeps using baboons.
Eventually, much like the original, Seth enter the telepod. The improvement over the original would be that this all happens on screen. We see Seth enter the pod, we see the pod door shut tight, and we see that common housefly on the window inside the machine. The teleportation sequence begins. With a flash of light, he appears at the other telepod, teleportation successful. When he materializes in the other telepod, Seth is still a full human. There is no fly anymore though. It’s later explained that the fly was basically absorbed into Seth.
This is where the major plot changes begin. Seth isn’t the instant fly man. Instead, we see the transformation from human to full on gigantic fly. This is what the rest of the movie is about, seeing Seth deteriorate. At first its awesome. He has super strength and super agility. His condition gets worse as time goes on, however. His skin slowly gets pimples and rashes and starts to grow insect hairs. His fingernails fall off, and his teeth sharpen. When he eats, he starts by breaking the foods down with his corrosive puke. By the end, his flesh falls off completely, revealing an entire human-sized fly. The special effects in this are so topnotch, and this movie aged really well in that aspect.
Where the original doubled as a murder mystery, the remake doubles as a romance, strangely enough. The original had this love angle as well, but it didn’t hit anywhere near as hard as the remake did. They were already married in the original, and she didn’t see very much of the husband before his death.
In the remake, Seth meets a reporter at the beginning, and they fall in love. She sees his transformation over the entire course of the movie and helps him through his painful mutation. She really didn’t have to stay. Seth is so disgustingly scary, that you couldn’t blame anyone for running far away. She stays though. She also delivers a line that we all have heard before, but probably don’t know where it came from. The line is, “Be afraid, be very afraid!” That famous quote came from this movie, that’s pretty cool. By the end when she’s faced with having to kill him, it’s much more emotional than the original. She’s forced to shoot him in his fly face, but can’t bring herself to do it. With very little of Seth’s conscious mind still left, he uses his fly arm to lift the shotgun to his face, and she reluctantly pulls the trigger. The movie ends immediately after, and I’m glad it does. This makes that moment much stronger. It doesn’t matter what happens after she pulls the trigger; the story of Seth is over.