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When fans decry the current spate of remakes, they forget
that sometimes a true gem can emerge from Hollywood redoing past classics, a
picture that surpasses the original. Case in point: David Cronenberg’s 1986 version
of THE FLY, a redux of the ’50s chestnut about a scientist who invents a
teleportation device that has a dire consequences when his atoms are
accidentally scrambled with a house fly’s. On the occasion of THE FLY’s 25th
anniversary last month, Fango exclusively spoke with the film’s executive
producer, none other than legendary funnyman Mel Brooks. (Watch for a Fango
Brooks scoop on his new horror flick, THE PIZZA MAN, later this week.)
FANGORIA: When did you first become associated with the
MEL BROOKS: Well, there was a fellow working for me, Stuart
Cornfeld, who now works for Ben Stiller. Stuart said that THE FLY, which was
owned by Fox where we were working, was a great idea to remake, but not in the
fashion in which it was originally made-that is, a guy steps into a
teleportation chamber and bang! He’s a fly. I said, “What are you talking
about?” And he said something about metamorphosis…“Well, it starts with him
eating sweet stuff and maybe putting 16 spoonfuls of sugar in his coffee, which
is bizarre, and it’s because of the teleportation [experiment], because
obviously he doesn’t know why, he doesn’t know he’s becoming the fly yet.” And
he doesn’t even know that there’s a creature called Brundlefly on the horizon.
At any rate, that was the secret. That was the trick. That was the genius of
it. He would slowly, but surely, become a fly. It started with maybe
fingernails going away and then you’re taking off an ear and there are fly
hairs on his back. It was just gruesome, terrible, scary and brilliant. And I
got very excited about it and backed it. Right from the beginning, I thought it
was a great idea and I already had started my company, BrooksFilms, and I had
done THE ELEPHANT MAN. So I was prepared. The problem was to keep my name away,
keep “Mel Brooks” off it, because it’s Pavlovian. You see “Mel Brooks” and
you’re ready for a wild comedy, like BLAZING SADDLES. The trick was to have a
very low profile.
FANG: Considering the great reviews THE FLY and THE ELEPHANT
MAN got, did you ever regret not having your name front and center?
BROOKS: No, I never regretted it, because I knew there’d be
FANG: Were you a fan of the 1958 film?
BROOKS: It was actually pretty bad. It was good and silly.
It was very good in terms of a scary concept that was amazing. The little fly
with the head that said, “Help me, help me…,” I think was Southern. He said,
“Hey-ulp me.” I told [actor] Cleavon Little that story in the middle of
shooting BLAZING SADDLES when he had the gun to his head, and he actually says,
“Help me, help me.” So we had fun with the [original] FLY. It was good for some
aspects of it-the teleportation going wrong and…“bang!”
FANG: Talk about the casting of your version.
BROOKS: Jeff Goldblum was remarkable. [HIGH ANXIETY
co-writer] Rudy De Luca made a movie called TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000 with Jeff. Jeff
asked to use his girlfriend, Geena Davis, who was in that too. We didn’t know
who she was, but we saw some film on her and Rudy said she’s really good, so we
did a little test and we all agreed that she was terrific. She was very
talented, so we got lucky and she was the lead. And I was lucky to hear her
dialogue on one of the rough cuts of the movie, and I said, “I think that we
should use that on the poster.” Be afraid. Be very afraid.
FANG: Were any other actors considered for either of those
BROOKS: To begin with, I was thinking that maybe [Brundle]
should be a very handsome guy, a really handsome leading man. So I offered
Pierce Brosnan the script first, because Fox wanted a star. He was a big star
[on TV’s REMINGTON STEELE]. So I can’t say I got Jeff right away and thought he
was the right guy. I went along with Fox and thought a handsome guy [was the
way to go]. I was so lucky when Brosnan turned it down. That’s called taking a
good bounce. Brosnan’s a wonderful actor, and I’m sure he could have done it,
but every time he sees me he says, “Why didn’t you tell me THE FLY was so
good?” I say, “Pierce, please. I didn’t know myself till I saw it.”
FANG: Goldblum was largely known for comedy at the time and
this was a real departure for him. Was there any reluctance from Fox to cast
BROOKS: I beat them into it. They were happy.
FANG: Also originally there was a different director, Robert
Bierman, and a different FX person, Christopher Tucker, attached to the film,
but then that all changed for various reasons. How would their vision been
different from David Cronenberg’s?
BROOKS: Cronenberg was just born to do it. Stuart said that
and then I saw every film Cronenberg did and I said, “Yes, you’re right, he’s
born to do it.” And not even that, budget-wise, it was a slam-dunk. We got it
made in Canada, because of Cronenberg, which was half the cost. The American
dollar was a $1.50 compared to the Canadian dollar then.
FANG: So you got to watch all of Cronenberg’s films before
he was signed on. What were your impressions?
BROOKS: I thought he was crazy and very brilliant and very
talented. And very brave.
FANG: Cronenberg told me he wasn’t responsible for the
script’s gruesome moments. When he decided to rewrite it, he really amped up
the characters and worked on the relationships.
BROOKS: God bless him, because we needed that. We needed
that solid support that he gave. He agreed that Chris Walas was the guy [for
the FX]. That was the key to the success of the picture. It was not only
Cronenberg; it was Chris Walas.
FANG: Did you visit the set while they were shooting?
BROOKS: Oh, yeah, I was up there in Toronto a lot. I lived
there for a while so I could stick my two cents in.
FANG: What were some of those two cents?
BROOKS: I would sometimes say to Cronenberg, “You’ve done it
three times, you don’t have to do another take. It’s good, it’s really great,
get on.” I’d generally be patting people on the back, telling them how good
they are, like a coach on the field.
FANG: Do you remember any particular scenes that you saw
being shot or any FX moments that stood out while you were there?
BROOKS: Yeah, you know the teleportation was really scary.
Really scary. And at the end, when he becomes almost totally a fly and she
lifts the shotgun, but she couldn’t do it, just made you cry. And he lifts the
shotgun. It was so brilliant, it must have been Cronenberg…I don’t even
remember if it was in the script. That’s an incredible scene. And the one thing
that really killed me was [Brundle] vomiting that acid to dissolve his food.
I’m a horror fan and I love great horror films, but that was just a bit much.
FANG: When the film opened 25 years ago, it was a box
office sleeper. It hit number one and took people by surprise. It remains
Cronenberg’s most successful film.
BROOKS: I get the most successful! Richard Benjamin’s most
successful film is MY FAVORITE YEAR. David Lynch’s most successful film is THE
ELEPHANT MAN. Cronenberg’s most successful film is THE FLY. Graeme Clifford’s
most successful film is FRANCES. And they’re all BrooksFilms. So I’m
responsible, in some way, for these guys making their best films under my
FANG: I was on the set of THE FLY for three days back
when it was shooting in ’85, and I remember thinking it was going to be
BROOKS: Every time Fox complained about the cost, I said,
“No, no, it’s a bargain. Everything here is a bargain.” And we never went over
budget. The most money I ever spent was on SPACEBALLS, which was $22 million.
Most of my stuff was like BLAZING SADDLES-$2.2 million. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was
$2.4. I mean, just peanuts.
FANG: THE FLY came in at $15 million.
BROOKS: I think it was. But that was further along. We made
that in ’85 and averages budgets were in the 20s, and that was just for sexy
little comedies. And here we’re doing a massive film.
FANG: And you must have been doubly proud when you saw the
film win an Oscar for Chris Walas. Many people feel that Goldblum deserved a
Best Actor nomination too.
BROOKS: He certainly deserved a nomination. I was very
disappointed. And ELEPHANT MAN… we didn’t win any Oscars at all, though we got
a lot of nominations. [Lead] John Hurt was incredible. He should have won,
hands down. I don’t even know who won that year [Robert De Niro for RAGING
BULL], but John Hurt was better. Every other day he was in that Elephant Man
mask and makeup for about 18 hours. It was just amazing.
FANG: So Walas went on to direct the sequel, THE FLY II.
BROOKS: It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have the impact of THE
FLY 1, because THE FLY 1 was the revelation. And there was the teleportation
and the mistakes, but the trouble is that you’re going down the same road. So
the impact isn’t there, not to mention the fact that there’s only one Jeff
Goldblum with his rhythm of speech. The way he talks and stops and stops and
talks is just amazing.
FANG: At one point Fox wanted to make a movie called FLIES.
They hired Richard Jefferies to script it and it was going to ignore THE FLY II
and focus on Geena Davis’s character having given birth to twins. Were you
involved in that at all?
BROOKS: No, no. It wasn’t my place to stop them, because
they’re in business. But I certainly didn’t encourage them when they asked me
to be part of it.
FANG: There has also been talk about a third version of THE
FLY and going with a younger cast. Have you heard anything about that? Did they
BROOKS: No, not really.
FANG: When Cronenberg and Howard Shore teamed up to do that
opera on THE FLY, did you go see it in Los Angeles?
BROOKS: Yeah, it was good. It was really good. I’m sorry
that the public didn’t really cheer it as much.
FANG: So what was it about THE FLY that connected with
audiences and emerged as a modern horror classic?
BROOKS: That’s a good question. I don’t know, but I think it
was that one word: metamorphosis. Listen to me carefully-I think it’s the same
philosophical idea that you can’t fool with what nature or God intends. And
that’s the monster and, certainly, Mary Shelley wants you to know that too. And
the same thing in THE FLY, it’s about overreaching one’s bounds. He’s gone too
far with this concept of teleportation, and he’s being punished by nature or
God. If anything, I would say, philosophically, that’s the premise.
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