The use of offscreen violence tends to get a lot of respect, under the thinking that a lack of explicitness leaves more to the imagination. But there's something to be said for onscreen violence, especially in the films of David Cronenberg. Cronenberg's masterful remake of The Fly ranks among the most disgusting films ever made by a major studio—it's packed with stomach-churning images of a scientist's slow, excruciating metamorphosis into an insect, not to mention the inside-out baboon and the excised "monkeycat" sequence, which turns up among the DVD's deleted scenes. Body horror has always been a running theme in Cronenberg's work, with psychic scars manifested as physical disfigurement in films like Videodrome or Crash. And Cronenberg shows every gory detail so the audience can share in his heroes' revulsion.
Few of The Fly's scares are of the booga-booga variety: On the commentary track, Cronenberg calls the film an "operatic" love story, so the true horror comes from the scientist gradually receding from himself and the woman he loves. Brilliantly played by Jeff Goldblum, who adds great emotional depth to his usual spaced-out otherworldlyness, the character breaks from the protagonist of 1958's The Fly in that he can articulate the changes in his body right to the very end. Though the film's famous tagline ("Be afraid. Be very afraid.") is spoken by Goldblum's girlfriend (a science journalist played by Geena Davis), she isn't as terrified by him as she is concerned about his deteriorating health. Take away all the big shocks and special effects, and The Fly is about nothing more or less sensational than death itself, a process that Cronenberg realizes with excruciating visceral power.
The Fly II, on the other hand, is about cashing in on a franchise, though it isn't even accomplished on that front. Director Chris Walas did the creature effects on the Cronenberg original, and he cares more about outdoing Aliens' special effects than about coming to grips with the stock characters, laughable dialogue, and uniformly poor performances. Premised on the impossible idea that Davis' character from the first film agreed to bring Goldblum's baby to term, The Fly II stars Eric Stoltz (after Mask, apparently the go-to guy for facial disfigurement) as the mutated son, whose intellectual and physical capacities are fully matured at age 5. Monitoring Stoltz's every move, an evil corporation plans to use this genetic miracle as a model for future manimals, with a little help from Goldblum's transporter pods. But once they find out about this scheme, Stoltz and his girlfriend (Daphne Zuniga) prove to be tougher adversaries than the machine-gun-toting corporate goons might have expected.
There's no reason to revisit The Fly II, other than to savor some of the cheesier lines. (Lone returning cast member John Getz on Goldblum: "He really bugged me.") But it's been released as part of a two-disc "collector's edition," which begs the question "Who are these collectors?" Fortunately, the two movies have been packaged separately, and the better special features are on The Fly, including a fine Cronenberg commentary track and a two-hour making-of documentary that's as good as such a thing could be without Cronenberg's participation. The Fly movies could be a metaphor for sequels: Always go for the real article, not the freakishly mutated copy one telepod over.