Shadowvision: “THE FLY” (1986)
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
There’s always additional excitement when revisiting a remake in black-and-white, as oftentimes the concept reflects the era in which the original was conceived. Therefore, there’s somewhat of a built-in nostalgia, which certainly helps when revisiting contemporary genre films. This rings true especially for remakes that came out of the ’80s, when practical FX and patient filmmaking were much more prevalent than they are today.
Considering those elements, THE FLY (1986) was practically preordained for black-and-white success, despite its 1954 predecessor being shot in color. Cronenberg’s film has all the makings of a classic monster movie, but it more importantly contains an intelligent spin on the twist-of-fate concept that aligns THE FLY (1986) closer to THE TWILIGHT ZONE than anything else. Furthermore, THE FLY (1986) contains many elements reminiscent of an old-fashioned horror film, especially in terms of Cronenberg’s precise eye and Howard Shore’s terror-striking score.
Before we go any further, let’s get the technical aspects out of the way. As with last week, there’s no reason to spike up the contrast with THE FLY (1986), as the cinematography from Mark Irwin works to complement the naturally dark skin tone of Jeff Goldblum with the pale skin tones of Geena Davis and John Getz. This, in turn, stays consistent throughout the film’s creature SFX, so go about mid-level with the contrast and perhaps a slight enhancement to the brightness of the picture for a quality monochrome experience.
Of course, the longevity of THE FLY (1986) is greatly attributed to the jaw-dropping, Academy-Award winning make-up FX from Chris Walas, and I’m glad to say that these effects do not suffer in black and white as other films have. If anything, the black-and-white helps the FX appear seamless, especially during the transformation sequences in which Goldblum is falling apart, piece by piece. In fact, the FX are so naturalistic and transfixing in the new presentation that some of the more disgusting work becomes unexpected and shocking once again. In the final scenes of the movie, the FX of the climactic change go into full-on monster movie mode, which feel retroactively appropriate for black and white.
Cronenberg’s direction also feels suited for a black-and-white presentation, as his predilection for unique camera angles and sweeping movement brings class to the creature feature. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s aided by a sophisticated and terrifying script from himself and Charles Edward Pogue, which reduces the cast members to a minimum and allows the body horror to parallel the emotional trauma of our leads. Furthermore, Cronenberg’s production designer, Carol Spier, gives a timeless feeling to the science fiction of THE FLY (1986), which helps tremendously to ground the black-and-white version in the story’s defined reality.
The performances of the cast is where the black-and-white experience becomes a bit more subjective. On one hand, Goldblum’s scary descent into insanity and genetic mutation is so involved and devoted that it evokes mad scientist roles of horror past. The dialogue of the film feels so modern and era-appropriate however, that they don’t necessarily capture the same nostalgic aura that the exploratory and silent science fiction scenes can. The performances of the actors never suffer from the transition, but it’s evident that the scenes where Walas and Cronenberg’s work takes control of your attention truly stand out.
Nevertheless, THE FLY (1986) is a film that’s undeniably suited for a black-and-white re-examination. The work from Walas, Cronenberg, Irwin, Spier and Shore is even more fascinating when the film is stripped of color, as if their intention was to stylistically evoke old-school monster movies altogether. While the dialogue is mostly modern in cadence, THE FLY (1986) has more than enough to compensate and make this cinematic experiment an unforgettable one.
Recommended for black and white consumption?: Yes.