I remember buying a battered VHS copy of The Fly from a dusty video store as a teenager. It was right around the time that I’d made the bulletproof decision to start collecting video tapes because it wasn’t like they were going anywhere anytime soon and they were really cheap for some reason. Until then, the only time I’d crossed paths with the movie was on late nights where I’d managed to stay up past my bedtime and even then I’d only seen snippets. I’d fallen asleep before the end, glimpsed some gore and heard rumours about its outlandish spectacle. I was instantly intrigued.
Because back then (well, in the mid-90s), you couldn’t just Google a film, learn all its trivia and watch a Youtube montage of its best bits within the space of three seconds. That’s why finding an old video shop was such, well, a find. It was akin to what vinyl fans are experiencing today. When I saw that knackered copy of Cronenberg’s movie, I knew I had to snap it up.
That £3 investment didn’t disappoint. Looking back, The Fly perfectly encapsulates all that was great about 80s cinema. Fear of technology, dystopian futures, slime - I’ve always had this theory that the 80s had the best movie ideas but lacked the technology to do them all justice. However little did filmmakers at the time know, their barriers were in fact charm generators. All those shortcuts and rough-and-ready make-up techniques are now the most fondly remembered scenes of all and no film has more of these than The Fly.
People think Cronenberg was making a comment on AIDS with Seth’s speedy and unfortunate transformation and maybe he was. However reflecting on it thirty years later, it’s eerily resonant of our crippling need to better ourselves, at any cost. Seth Brundle had his revolutionary telepods to help carve his name in the history books. We have the internet. Both of us will do whatever it takes to succeed, going to reckless or even dangerous lengths. “You’re jealous!” shouts a clammy and paranoid Jeff Goldblum to Geena Davis’s wide-eyed Veronica. With so much social-media personality sculpting going on these days, it’s not just Seth Brundle who’s green-eyed and paranoid.
But more importantly, the very way in which audiences discover films like this has changed indefinitely. I can’t fully quantify the impact wandering around video rental shops, be it a Blockbuster or a cigarette smoke-filled family chain, had on shaping my film tastes. It was a rite-of-passage of sorts. There was always that one film that was never in or a video box with cover art so cool, you didn’t even need to know anything about its story, you just knew you had to see it. The Fly was certainly one of those films and the impact of that experience lingers. I’m still searching all corners of the internet for long-forgotten titles that I remember purely from those childhood trips. Which reminds me, if you’ve got a copy of Spaced Invaders, hit me up.
Later, I worked in a video store myself, spending countless hours manning a desk with a Clerks-esque expression on my face because I usually wasn’t even suppose to be there that day. And while family-run shops were long-extinct and the Blockbuster chain wasn’t looking too healthy, I noticed that the treasure-trove hunt mentality was still very much alive and well. Making recommendations to punters who wanted nothing more than a decent time-killer for a Sunday afternoon was all part of the experience too, transporting them down a cinematic side-path they may have otherwise ignored.
Kids born post-2013 will never, ever get the chance to experience that. Robbed of something they never even knew existed. You could argue Netflix provides a similar substitute but it’s more insular and less social. While water-cooler hits like Stranger Things and Making a Murderer rise to the top, more obscure but no less compelling titles remain ignored. The only difference is this time, there’s no snarky desk monkey with a name badge to point them out or eye-catching artwork hiding on the bottom shelf to pique your interest and influence your cinematic tastes forever.
Maybe 2016’s answer to The Fly is lurking in Netflix's digital depths. In fact, I’m sure it is but kids these days are none the wiser. Like Seth Brundle, the system’s experienced a stark transformation. It’s been taken apart and put back together as something new. Let’s just hope there aren’t any hidden side-effects.
This blog can now be found on The Skinny.