Beyond Fest in Los Angeles launched it’s 2018 film series with a tribute to filmmaker David Cronenberg. In addition to the 13-film retrospective, the series also included special guests and chats with Cronenberg about his career.
At the screening of Cronenberg’s The Fly, Beyond Fest groupies and body horror fans were treated to a screening featuring the King of Venereal Horror and Oscar winner/Brundlelove Geena Davis and composer Howard Shore.
The panel was moderated by filmmaker Joe Lynch, who was a little more than excited to meet the iconic filmmaker.
“In my household, if we wanted to see a movie, we needed to get our homework done first. And there were certain movies where we got our homework done really fucking fast,” joked Lynch.
“I was excited by this movie because it was made by the guy who made THE SWEETEST images for Fangoria. If you grew up with Fangoria, and you will soon very soon again, you remember opening up the pages and seeing those images from The Brood or seeing the exploding head from Scanners and seeing Dr. Oblivion’s cancerous face all fucked up thanks to Rick Baker’s make-up and I went, ‘I will see whatever this person makes next.’”
Cronenberg remember the early days of The Fly and how the project fell into his lap.
“At the time, I was having a good time trying to make Total Recall with Dino De Laurentiis. I was in Rome, and spent time in Tunisia looking for locations,” recalled Cronenberg. “I think I wrote 12 drafts in the course of a year. But we had some serious disagreements on what the movie should be.”
“I realized I wasn’t going to be able to make the movie I wanted to make,” said the filmmaker. “I remember they said, ‘We want it to be Raiders of the Lost Ark goes to Mars.’”
“I realized we were making two different movies, and I didn’t want to make that.”
After the director left Total Recall, he was approached by Mel Brooks and Stuart Cornfeld, the producers of would-be remake, to come on board and give his unique spin to the adaptation.
“It was Stuart Cornfeld who came to me first and offered it to me. I read the script and was like, ‘Um. I’m not sure.’ Then they came back to me and said, ‘We’ll pay you twice what you made on your last film. And I said, ‘That’s interesting,” said Cronenberg.
“I said, ‘I cannot do this script. There are a couple good ideas but basically it doesn’t work. I will need to completely rewrite it. I would need to show out the first 17 pages. The characters in the script were married and bored with their marriage. I want to see these people meet.”
“They said, ‘You can do what you want.’ So I thought, ‘Ok..twice the money and I can do whatever I want..yeah, Ok. And you know, I never got that deal since.”
“That was the basis for it, but I didn’t meet Mel for a while after that.”
As a fellow filmmaker and producer, Brooks let Cronenberg run the show, but he did have a few small suggestions.
“At one point, Mel said, ‘When he says ‘don’t be afraid.’ The answer should be afraid, be very afraid.’ He wasn’t giving me dialogue, just being reactive. But I thought it was great. So let’s call it a collaboration, but it was Mel that came up with it.”
During production, Cronenberg found himself at odds with the studio, who didn’t always understand his vision.
“I remember sitting with Barry Diller. It was just the two of us in the room watching the movie together. He said, ‘This could…this could…this could actually be good.’ They apparently were expecting a relatively schlocky horror film and it actually pretty good.”
“He had one criticism…there was a scene when the Brundlefly creature comes out of the pod, and the tail of the creature drags behind him. He said, ‘I don’t like that shot. You need to get rid of that shot.’ And I said, ‘You might not like it, and I understand that, but the fans would really want that shot.’ So he said okay.”
“I think he realized he didn’t understand certain things about the movie and the audience of the movie, and he accepted it.”
The film went on to become a hit with critics and audience and a classic horror films for aficionados. In addition to the great performances and amazing effects, the success of The Fly is due in part due to the chemistry between Seth and Veronica. So much of the script deals with human tragedy which more you usually get with a “schlocky horror movie.”
“This is the Love, Actually of ‘80s horror films,” laughed Lynch. “The chemistry between our two leads was like a chamber play.”
This unexpected emotion from the pic is due in part to the casting of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, who were a real couple at the time. However, the studio wasn’t completely on board with this idea when it was first proposed to them.
“I had to fight for Geena. I had my eye on her because I saw her on a TV show, and of course Jeff knew Geena. I told them we needed to cast her because she’s tall. Jeff is very tall. That was my baseline argument.”
“They always go through crazy ideas over who’s hot, who’s now,” remembered Cronenberg. “It’s always very subjective. They try to pretend it’s actually objective, but it isn’t. So they made me audition quite a few actresses…I managed to defer all those auditions so they were all bad.”
“I never thought about until this minute that there might have been other people. I never occurred to me. I knew I wanted the part really badly, and I felt it was a challenge to get it. But I never knew,” said Davis.
“I wasn’t very well known…I was famous for being his girlfriend. When he got the part and I read it, I thought it would be amazing if I got the part.”
Luck was on her side, and Davis was cast as Veronica. Once filmed, the first audiences had a strong reaction to the film.
“Jeff and I had an idea on opening night to go to Times Square to see it and stand in the back and watch it,” said Davis. people reacted audibly to the movie. ‘It’s so fun to watch a movie like that. We heard people react audibly throughout the movie.
“There was an important and touching scene in which I overcome my revulsion and embrace the horrific that just happened. It was a significant scene. I didn’t think about the fact that his ear falls off. Then I hug him on that side. And the reaction in the theater was so loud and long that you couldn’t hear the next two scenes. They were just like, ‘Oh MY GOD!’ We should of thought of that, David.”
“I did think of it.”
Beyond Fest runs until October 10, 2018.