*. The Fly II didn’t receive many positive reviews. In fact, it was panned. And I remember not thinking much of it at the time. Returning to it thirty years later I have to say I appreciate it a lot more. It’s not bad at all.
*. Why the change in opinion? For one thing, I think the critics who dumped on it may have been giving Cronenbergr’s The Fly a bit too much credit for being something more than a creature feature. Yes, Goldblum and Davis are strong as the leads, so we do buy into their relationship (which was a real one at the time). But it’s still a monster movie, with their characters taking a back seat to the make-up in the end. The same kind of story plays out in The Fly II, and while it dials up the gross-out effects I think it does so less than is imagined. Director Chris Walas (who’d been the effects man on The Fly) “specifically avoided” going full gore. We even have to start off with a version of the shocking maggot-birth scene from the first movie in large part because that’s all the gross stuff we’re going to get for a while.
*. Another reason for my changing evaluation of The Fly II is my increased appreciation for practical effects. As Walas says on the commentary, CGI does some things remarkably well but there’s “something about the reality of the moment that it just hasn’t captured yet.” And while Walas didn’t want to just make an effects movie he obviously didn’t have any issues with returning to what worked well the first time. This movie would have been so bad with CGI, especially the CGI they had in 1989. Instead we get some really good stuff (Martin in the cocoon, the man’s head dissolving in acid vomit and the other head being crushed by the elevator) mixed in with some merely OK parts (the mutant dog and transformed Bartok, primarily).
*. I also really appreciated Eric Stoltz playing Son of the Fly. As an aside, I’m not sure why they didn’t call this Son of the Fly. On the DVD commentary track Walas says that he tried to have a different title and “would have preferred Son of the Fly,” but this was “back in the day when sequels had to have a 2 in them.” Well, at least he got Roman numerals. That’s class.
*. Back to Stoltz: he’s very relatable without the goofiness or charisma of Goldblum. But then that wouldn’t fit with this story, which I find to be darker. Martin Brundle is a victim of his father’s original sin, and it’s hard to imagine him happy at the end (even in the deleted ending, which leaves him fishing off the dock with Beth). Let’s face it, he had a pretty traumatic, if accelerated, childhood.
*. I’ve read that Keanu Reeves, Josh Brolin, and Vincent D’Onofrio were all considered for the part of Martin as well. You always hear stories like this. I think it’s likely that everyone tries out for or is interested in every part at some point in their career.
*. The rest of the cast are role players. Daphne Zuniga is the girl. Lee Richardson is the usual cruel corporate head, going by the name of Bartok (a Cronenbergian moniker if ever there was one, just as Simon Fraser University provided an authentic Cronenberg location). Gary Chalk is slimy as the security chief Scorby. They all take a back seat to the monster.
*. It’s fitting that the DVD commentary has Walas conversing with monster memorabilia curator Bob Burns. They spend a lot of time talking about growing up as “monster kids” and their shared love of monster movies, which Burns sees this as being an old-fashioned example of. To which I’d say Yes, and perhaps a bit of No.
*. The script is actually pretty tight. I like the way the young Martin’s helmet that squirts water returns at the end with his ability to spew vomit. And the way the fate of the dog is worked back into the story. At first I took the bonding between Martin and the dog to only be a typical pat-the-dog bit of business, but it’s not superfluous. Beth’s fly-fishing was also a meet cute that worked.
*. There’s real darkness at the end too. Indeed, it’s quite a bit darker than the first movie. I say that despite the far-fetched notion that somehow Martin can re-integrate by being genetically spliced with Bartok. But it’s the fate of Bartok that is the kicker. Walas doesn’t mention Tod Browning’s Freaks on the commentary, but the ending here seems to me to be a pretty clear nod to the end of that nightmare, with Bartok in the role of the transformed Cleopatra. And just as with Freaks I think it may have been too much for audiences. There seems to be a line, not directly related to gore or shock value, that even horror audiences don’t want to go over. There may be a rule that the punishment of the wicked not be so severe that we feel poetic justice has transgressed moral bounds.