Return of the Fly (1959) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

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Director: Edward Bernds
Starring: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham

It’s not often a rush-released sequel holds its own with the original, but Return Of The Fly at least makes an attempt to do so.

Naturally it fails to come up to the heady heights of the 1958 classic, but in trying to do something different, director Edward Bernds came up with a film that’s more of a noirsh industrial espionage thriller for the majority of its run time, but also one that opens up the horror more when it finally happens than it’s predecessor.

Of course it helps massively that Vincent Price is back reprising his thoughtful turn as the world-weary Francois, adding a touch of class and gravitas to every scene, while the new incarnation of the monstrous human/fly hybrid certainly ramps things up a fair degree.

Fifteen years after his father’s disastrous experiments with matter transportation ended in mutation and death, Phillipe Delambre (Halsey) is steadfast in his belief that he can complete his work.

Coercing his uncle Francois (Price) who has first-hand experience of the technology last time around by threatening to sell off his half of the family business, the young man sets about recasting the portals that led to his father’s downfall. He’s aided by a new assistant who calls himself Alan Hinds (Frankham) but is actually Ronald Holmes, an industrial spy and wanted criminal.

Holmes is looking to steal the secrets of the Delambre’s matter transporters to sell to a shadowy figure known only as Max and he’s prepared to kill to do it. It looks like he’s going to get away with it too, until he deliberately locks an unconscious Phillipe in one of the cabinets with a normal housefly.

Then, Phillipe changes, mutating in the same hideous way his father once did, with only one thing on his mind…revenge.

The biggest problem with Return Of The Fly is just that it isn’t the original film, no more, no less. Other than that, it’s a fine piece of good, if not great, entertainment.

The horror is dialled right down for the first 50 minutes or so, which is a strange choice admittedly. It’s a sequel, so we already know what we’re in for here, as do Price’s Francois and his old friend Inspector Beecham (John Sutton) who was involved in the investigation last time around.

There’s no ominous build-up or mystery to exactly what is coming, which could have derailed any suspense Bernds was trying to build, but it still works.

Initially you have the human drama, of the boy who is now a young man, desperate to fulfil his father’s legacy without realising the very real danger of history repeating itself. That might have been enough, but it’s the introduction of the murderous Holmes and his shady intentions that really lifts the whole thing. It’s not quite Hitchcock-levels of craft, but Bernds is going for the same kind of drama here. We know more than the characters and can just watch tensely as the sinister plan is unfolded. It’s quality stuff.

Of course, when that plan accidentally delivers the titular monster, that’s when things really switch into high gear. The new design is much more elaborate than what we’ve seen previously. The head is bigger and full of hideous detail in particular. Okay, it might be a tad oversized, but it’s absolutely striking and a real nightmarish vision.

Brilliantly, this new Fly doesn’t just lurk in his laboratory all the time, he’s got a job to do and that involves brutally murdering the man responsible for his plight. It’s almost like a standard monster rampage, but it’s laser-focused too and when he’s done, he comes home. Broken and without hope, the scene where he approaches a sleeping Cecile, (Danielle De Metz), the housekeeper’s daughter and his childhood friend, is genuinely heartbreaking.

Speaking of heartbreaking, the great Vincent Price is on magnificent form here. In his hands, Francois is a shattered man, one who has seen true horror destroy his brother and is now being forced to watch it do the same to his nephew. He resists as much as he can, but once he has no choice, he resolved to protect and guide Phillipe as much as he can, in the vain hope of preventing another tragedy. Naturally he fails and the moment that he realises that the same, horrible fate has (literally) reared it’s ugly head again is absolutely devastating. Watching Price slump to the floor in sheer despair is where the real horror of this film lies and he carries the whole thing off wonderfully.

From its bigger, brighter and generally more 1950s lab, all spinning computer wheels and flashing lights, to its more expansive and elaborate plot, Return Of The Fly is a very different film from the one that came out only the year before.

It’s also an inferior one, but not massively so and while it takes its sweet time to remember it’s a horror film, it’s never less than engaging and a worthy successor to the 1958 masterpiece that preceded it.

Rating: 3.5/5.


The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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