Monday, March 16, 2020


by Erika Bromley and Patrick Bromley
F is for "F! We've got a lot of movies to watch."

Erika: Hi Babe! Glad to be back a few months since our last Shelf Life piece, and I was really looking forward to this one, since I knew from the START of this column what my F choice was going to be. In terms of Movie Shame (movies any movie lover should see but hasn’t yet), this film was at the top of my list. Finally, I’ve seen David Cronenberg’s The Fly. I’m sad that it took me so long but at the same time, it was SO worth the wait.

Many people, including this site’s Robyn Buckley, have asked me about The Fly after learning how deeply disturbed, uncomfortable, scared, and sad a lot of ‘body horror’ makes me. It’s a sub-genre that is incredibly effective in making me feel trapped and powerless. Nothing is scarier!
Patrick: If I’m not mistaken, we were originally going to watch it during October, but then decided it should be your ‘F’ movie for Shelf Life. I have been so excited for you to see this movie. There were at least three “holy shit” moments to which I couldn’t wait to see your reaction, and neither you nor the movie disappointed. I maintain it’s one of the best horror movies ever made, but what did you think?

Erika: I absolutely agree that it is, along with The Thing, which was one of my Scary Movie Month discoveries last year. Due to some luck (the kids having an activity at the same time, meaning we were home alone!) and our brilliant planning, we watched a record number of films in October, and I was able to cross a few things off of my “Movie Shame” list. It felt great! But yes, The Fly. So good. I’m sure anyone reading already knows this.

I feel like Geena Davis is doing a sweeter version of Sigourney Weaver’s character in Ghostbusters here, as she is first intrigued yet somewhat perplexed and then smitten with her new ‘mad scientist’ friend-turned-boyfriend Seth Brundle (played by Top Form Jeff Goldblum). Her performance is incredibly believable: warm, empathetic, graceful, and natural. I connected with her character in so many ways despite not really relating to the subject matter, if you know what I mean. It’s also one of the most heartbreaking performances, with Davis so subtly and perfectly illustrating feelings of shock and pain as Brundle slowly changes not just how he treats her, but also his physical form. His cells ‘rearrange’ into the Brundlefly, and the transformation could not be more grotesque -- or more heartbreaking.
Patrick: You’ve hit upon what makes The Fly one of the best horror movies ever made. It’s not just Chris Walas’ gnarly effects, which are incredible and still hold up to this day, and it’s not just Cronenberg’s exploration of bodily decay, a common theme throughout his work but never more effective than it is here. It’s the relationship and doomed romance between Goldblum and Geena Davis. Both are SO GOOD -- if the Academy ever actually saw fit to honor horror movies, both should have been nominated and probably won (to be fair, Sigourney Weaver actually was nominated this same year for Aliens) -- and create two people who like one another, who challenge one another, who are believably in love when so few movies take shortcuts and ask us to buy a relationship just because it’s between the two stars. That their love is destined to die makes The Fly such a human tragedy.

The tragedy of the film just wrecks me. Think about it -- Seth Brundle becomes a monster because of a simple mistake. He’s jealous and he gets drunk and he fucks up and it winds up destroying him. It’s not really the same ‘mad scientist’ trope we get in other horror movies. Yes, maybe Brundle fits that description, but the mistake he makes is rooted in a very real, very relatable, very human emotion. He’s hurt. We’ve all been there.

Erika: That’s an important distinction, and what makes this story so significant, tragic, and, as you said, relatable.
Can we talk about the name Stathis Borans? It’s perfect. John Getz plays this character so well - he’s flippant and funny but also shows some real emotion as the story becomes more fantastic and surreal (and boy do I love journalism-related jokes!). He has some quick, sarcastic lines that he delivers with the perfect amount of attitude. But he’s sincere in those more tragic, emotional moments, like when Ronnie confides that she is pregnant with Seth’s baby. In some ways, Stathis’s roller coaster of emotions mirrors the audience’s feelings and reactions to what happens to Seth/Brundlefly.

I have to applaud how this film shows Ronnie as in control of her body as was possible -- both because of the plot and the time period. It feels daring when she insists on an abortion. And it feels progressive that Borans takes her and tries to help, even if his motives are not purely unselfish. Showing up and demanding the procedure in the middle of the night is unrealistic, sure, but the emotions of the characters are so desperate and genuine - I imagine no one in the audience, no matter what his/her opinions on the matter are, was void of empathy for Ronnie in that situation.

Patrick: You said it: empathy is the key to the whole movie. Any other movie would make Stathis Borans an irredeemable douche. Even his name is punchable. But Cronenberg has enough heart to make us care about him, so much so that his eventual fate becomes that much more horrifying and hard to watch. He doesn’t have to be as three-dimensional as he is, but as the third player in what is essentially a three-character drama, Stathis is afforded genuine humanity. It’s what makes The Fly so goddamn great. I say this as someone who loves horror movies, even the not-so-great ones: so many horror movies are about stock characters caught in scripted situations. The Fly unfolds as a tragedy about real people.

My ‘F’ pick was of a Mario Bava movie that we own but which I had not yet seen: Five Dolls for an August Moon. It’s about a group of friends vacationing on a remote island who are killed off one by one, Agatha Christie style. There isn’t much more to it than that.
I have an odd relationship with Bava. While I’m always entertained by his films, I have to admit I don’t always see the genius in every single one of them that gives him the reputation for being the foremost master of Italian horror cinema. I’m not disparaging his talents, just saying that I connect more with the work of a filmmaker like Lucio Fulci than I tend to with Mario Bava. Five Dolls for an August Moon feels like one of his more minor efforts, like he’s just having fun with some pretty people and pretty photography. There’s a sense of humor to the whole thing that I enjoyed -- it was funny every time he cuts back to the freezer with a new body in it -- but on the whole it felt kind of forgettable.

Speaking of pretty people, though, let’s talk about the real reason we picked this movie to watch.

Erika: Did someone just say Edwige Fenech? It was me; I said it.
Clue meets Bachelor in Paradise. What could go wrong? I found this movie immensely amusing but almost entirely forgettable, too. This might be my own fault -- I was too focused on Fenech and the other lovely ladies. I’M SORRY. But truly, the plot about trying to steal one of the guest’s special inventions, a material made by scientist Gerry Farrell, got a little lost in between all the couple-swapping and use of a walk-in freezer and mysterious happenings with the guests on a gorgeous, sunny island. That’s ok, though, because who needs a plot about a wealthy man trying to steal a chemical invention when you have couple-swapping, use of a walk-in freezer, and mysterious happenings on a gorgeous, sunny island? There is also a woman who keeps showing up in the trees or on the beach. SPOILER: she ends up playing a major role! But for a while she was just the woman Bava’s camera kept revealing at the ends of major events. I remember us giggling the first few times she appeared in what seemed to be such a random way. Without MAJOR spoilers, am I forgetting anything?

Patrick: Until you brought her up, I forgot all about the woman hiding behind the trees. That’s symptomatic of the movie overall, which, like you, I found pretty disposable. I’m glad you mention Gerry Farrell, though, because his name sounds a lot like Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction. More importantly, it sounds a lot like Terry Farrell, who plays Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Can we talk about Star Trek please?

Erika: Dare I say, we boldly go there?
Patrick: The Bava movies to which I’ve responded most strongly tend to be the ones that are really heavy on style: Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby Kill, The Whip and the Body, Black Sunday. Five Dolls for an August Moon isn’t as overtly stylish, which is fine, but there isn’t enough else there to take its place. It’s like a Mario Bava lark. That has its own appeal, I guess, right?

Erika: Much like the aforementioned Bachelor in Paradise is not overtly stylish but serves as time-passing filler when one cannot gather the attention-span for actual thought-provoking narrative, Five Dolls for an August Moon helped pass 81 minutes of our time, didn’t require much while watching, and attracted my extra attention a few times due to beach scenes and some gorgeous ladies. Bava light is quick and easy, and that’s not always a bad thing!


  1. The Fly freaked me out so much the first time I watched it that I still haven't seen it again. Horror movies are easier to take when the people who suffer are stereotypical "baddies" - indeed, that's part of their appeal. Stephen King once wrote that most traditional horrror films are as conservative as a 50's Republican. Someone does something terrible, or IS terrible, and over the course of the film they pay the price. The Fly is heartbreaking because Seth is basically a good guy who, as you said, made a simple mistake. I sometimes think Cronenberg has an empathy problem - I admit, I despise The Brood with every fiber of my being - but The Fly shows that he does feel for his characters.

    I hope you and the whole F This Movie! team are staying healthy.

  2. I admit to not watching the 1986 version of The Fly, Erika. I had a DVD of it but am waiting for the right time to see it.

    Having watched a lot of Mario Bava's films, I agree with your assessment of Five Dolls for an August Moon. In a long career of filming weak scripts, August Moon stands out as not having much substance. After Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, this is probably Bava's most humorous production. The freezer full of bodies is a great gag. I remember reading that Bava was hired on short notice to direct it and was given little money, low even by the standards of the period, to work with. The fact that a watchable film was created was a testament to his ability to make the most of limited resources.

    You mentioned the lack of style in August Moon, Patrick. That is typical of the films Bava made in late '60s and early '70. Bay of Blood is similarly lacking in visual flair. My favorite film from this period, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, possesses some of the style of Bava's early period.