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THE FLY II – Christopher Young


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

David Cronenberg’s horror classic The Fly was such a critical and commercial success in 1986 that 20th Century Fox and Brooksfilms green-lit a sequel almost immediately. The Fly II was written by Frank Darabont and Mick Garris, and directed by Chris Walas, who supervised the first film’s makeup effects, and won an Academy Award for his grotesque efforts. The film is set several months after the events of the first one, and begins when Veronica (Geena Davis’s character from the first movie) gives birth to a baby, the son of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum’s character). The baby was conceived after Seth began mutating into a fly, and Veronica dies in childbirth, but the infant – who is named Martin – initially appears to be healthy. Martin grows up in a laboratory owned by Anton Bartok (Lee Richardson), the scientist-businessmen who funded Seth’s research, but before long it becomes clear that Martin is different – he possesses a genius-level intellect, has incredible reflexes, and grows faster than a normal human, so much so that by the age of five he has the mental capacity of a 25-year-old man, and looks like Eric Stoltz. Eventually, Martin begins to question his life and existence, and slowly begins to learn some unnerving truths about Bartok, especially when he starts to exhibit some of the same fly-related symptoms as his father…

The score for The Fly II was by Christopher Young, newly-crowned as the king of dark horror following his work on the Hellraiser series of films. Tonally, as one might expect, The Fly II has a great deal in common with Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Even in approach, Young structures his score in a similar way – there is a big, bold, grandiose central theme for the film as a whole, a more restrained secondary theme that laments for the fate of the central character, and a significant amount of occasionally quite challenging dissonance and atonality that speaks to the more horrific elements present in the story. In terms of the ensemble, The Fly II is performed by a decently-sized symphony orchestra recorded in London, and is augmented with subtle synths and some unusual specialty instruments, but unlike its masterpiece predecessor it lacks a choir.

The main theme for the film is introduced in the first cue, “The Fly II,” which explodes into life via a bank of portentous brass, swirling strings, and cymbal clashes. The brass writing in this cue, and throughout the score as a whole, is excellent, especially when Young revisits the horn triplets he used so effectively in the Hellraiser series. The theme is quite deliberately paced, which gives it weight and importance, while the almost subliminal accents from woodwinds and a harp give it a magical, mysterious edge.

The score’s main secondary theme is for Martin, and is first introduced in the second cue, “Come Fly With Me.” Throughout his career Young got into a habit of writing themes which were beautiful and spooky at the same time; examples of this type of writing abound, from earlier works like Invaders from Mars and the Hellraiser scores, through subsequent efforts like Jennifer 8, Copycat, and Species. He invariably used these themes to add a bittersweet, melancholy quality to the main protagonist’s circumstances, and in this instance the music speaks directly to Martin’s sad life of isolation, as well as the fate that we in the audience know he will have. Young uses high, wavering strings and icy metallic accents to create an atmosphere of darkly enticing romance for Martin, and this continues later in cues which address his relationship with the pretty but naïve lab employee Beth, played by Daphne Zuniga.

“Fly Variations” contains a set of large scale explorations of both the main Fly II theme and Martin’s theme, in which Young offers some different takes in terms of orchestration and arrangement. There is a bold, heavy brass presence throughout the cue, as well as a level of purporseful pacing that conveys dramatic intent. Interspersed throughout the piece are statements of Martin’s theme, chilly but elegant, while around the 3:00 mark Young introduces a new sequence built around some unusual string and flute interplay, backed by piano chords and low brass interjections. It’s fascinating to hear Young playing around with his babies like this, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and using his deep knowledge of the orchestra to convey subtly shifting emotions through instrumental changes.

Similarly, both “The Spider and The Fly” and “Bay 17 Mysteries” contain a different, oddly playful variation on the main Fly II theme, which appears to represent Martin’s growing curiosity about himself and his surroundings. Young augments his orchestra with an array of surprisingly perky percussion items – woodblocks, triangles, shakers, tambourines – while the high woodwinds and slow, languorous strings that carry the melody feel inquisitive, and sort of mischievous. These pieces have tonal similarities to some of the music Young would write for Species in 1995, which fans of his work will surely appreciate.

The rest of the score tends to be quite abstract and abrasive, embracing a challenging set of compositional techniques and collisions of sound that speak to the increasing horror in Martin’s life, as the legacy of his father’s teleportation experiments begins to take hold. In many of these cues Young again indulges in his love of musique concrète, blending organic instruments with sampled sounds and electronic textures to create an atmosphere that is at times quite unsettling.

“Musica Domestica Metastasis,” for example, mixes whistling wind effects with deconstructed brass chords, clattering percussion, and slow dirge-like strings which build to a brutally dissonant finale. “More Is Coming” features unusual throbbing and creaking effects, as well as a buzzing brass idea that sounds like the noise a fly makes, and pulsating synth effects. “The Fly March” is aggressively rhythmic, and features an especially noteworthy passage for whooping trumpets that gives the cue a wildly frenetic attitude. “Accelerated Brundle Disease” is menacing, creepy, and insidious, a nightmarish musical depiction of Martin’s increased physical decay.

“Bartok Barbaro” is probably the best of these difficult tracks; although it is still highly atonal and dissonant, the music is punctuated with numerous explosions of rhythmic power, including some resounding brass that foreshadows the music he would write for The Core in 2003. The wooden knocking sounds that rush through the cue are unique, while the final third of the cue appears to contain a sort-of deconstructed version of Martin’s theme, where the broken-sounding melody is surrounded by an array light metallic textures, including tubular bells, celesta, and glockenspiel.

The two conclusive cues present the score’s last significant statements of the two main themes. “What’s The Magic Word?” is a slow-build version of the main Fly II theme, gradually becoming more and more dominant as it develops, and eventually culminating with a grand, Gothic final performance that adds an appropriate level of dramatic importance to Martin’s fate. The subsequent “Dad” ends the score on a tragic note, featuring a long-lined and emotionally wrought statement of Martin’s theme that captures the essence of the film’s disturbing finale.

The score for The Fly II is a little tricky in terms of its release history. It was released on CD and vinyl LP in 1989 by Varese Sarabande when the film first came out, but quickly went out of print and was unavailable for a number of years, until the Japanese label Volcano collaborated with Varese and released a double CD of the scores for The Fly and The Fly II in 1998. Unfortunately, this version was an expensive import, and was never widely available in North America or Europe; in addition, the release omitted the “Accelerated Brundle Disease” cue from the Fly II portion, for no apparent reason. Thankfully, Varese finally released both scores as a 2-for-1 special edition in 2005, and this release of the score remains available. At this point, I also want to quickly mention Young’s clever cue titles: not only does he get to name-check Béla Bartók as part of his ‘composers I admire’ series, but “Musica Domestica Metastasis” is a clever play on words, where Young intentionally confuses the word ‘musica’ with ‘musca domestica,’ which is the Latin name for a common house fly. Clever!

The Fly II fits comfortably within Christopher Young’s top tier of bold, expressive orchestral horror scores, and many people consider it to be one of his best. Although, in my personal opinion, it pales in comparison to the music from Hellbound: Hellraiser II, there is still a great deal to admire here, from the near-apocalyptic grandeur of the main theme, to the wistful darkness of Martin’s theme, to the bold and intellectually challenging dissonance that Young injects into much of the score. Anyone interested in exploring the career-best Christopher Young scores will certainly want to add this one to the list of titles to obtain.

Buy the Fly II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Fly II (1:52)
  • Come Fly With Me (2:33)
  • Fly Variations (6:23)
  • Musica Domestica Metastasis (7:22)
  • The Spider and The Fly (1:35)
  • More is Coming (3:35)
  • The Fly March (4:11)
  • Accelerated Brundle Disease (4:17)
  • Bay 17 Mysteries (2:39)
  • Bartok Barbaro (5:17)
  • What’s The Magic Word? (4:59)
  • Dad (2:56)

Running Time: 47 minutes 39 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5220 (1989)
Varese Sarabande VSD-6688 (1989/2005)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by Allan Wilson. Orchestrations by Christopher Young and Jeff Atmajian. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Earl Ghaffari and Jay Ignaszewski. Album produced by Christopher Young.

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