Written by: Edward Bernds (screenplay), George Langelaan (original short story)
Directed by: Edward Bernds
Starring: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey and David Frankham
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďShe was destroyed in the end by dreadful memories, a recollection of horrors that did not dim as the years went on, but instead grew monstrously..."
Fox didnít waste much time in capitalizing on the success of 1958ís The Fly. Arriving in theaters less than a year after the original film bowed, Return of the Fly looks like a quick-and-dirty B-movie cash-in of a film that transcended its own monster movie trappings. The second go-round canít quite boast that, but it can boast Vincent Price being back in the saddle for one of horrorís more underrated sequels, as itís one that doesnít simply bat its wings into the same path as its predecessor.
We begin about fifteen years after the original filmís events, at Helene Delembareís funeral. Though The Fly ended with the somewhat optimistic insistence that everyone had moved on, we learn that Helene never quite got over her husbandís death, nor did her son Phillipe (Brett Halsey), who grew up surrounded by whispers of his fatherís unfortunate fate. Now grown up, he insists on following in his fatherís footsteps by reviving his old teleportation device, and he even cows his uncle into going along with it. Also in tow is an assistant, Alan Hines (David Frankham), a man whose secrets send this endeavor spiraling into deadly consequences.
One thing Return of the Fly recycles from The Fly is its pot-boiler mentality; the film doesnít just begin with someone being transformed into a giant fly, even if thatíd be an understandable route to go since thereís no sense of mystery this time. However, even this follow-up eases into things a bit, though it eschews the previous movieís romance for crime and detective story beats when Hines is revealed to actually be a hardened criminal out to steal the Delembaresí technology, which is the subplot that eventually results in Philippe following in his fatherís footsteps by becoming commingled with a fly. Itís perhaps a little bit contrived, but Hines is a sadist with a real mean streak; in fact, the British secret agent that first snuffs him out gets grafted to a guinea pig. One half of that monstrous concoction ends up at the bottom of the river, while the other, rodent-sized portion ends up squished under Hinesís heel in an eerily unsettling moment thatís scored by the poor creatureís squeals.
Up until that point, Frankham has just been sort of a weasely little shit whoís continuously able to squirm his way out of trouble; itís a really fine performance that even Price himself would have been proud of, and itís only made better when he goes full-on heel for the filmís second half. Anyone who expected the original Fly to be a straight monster movie will be pleased to finally get their wish during this part of the film, where Return of the Fly finds the Philippe-fly hybrid stalking the countryside in search of Hines. As such, you actually see a lot more of the title character, and thereís precious little time spent on retracing the plot points from the previous film; instead, this is more of a brisk tale of revenge thatís a bit more joltier and violent than what came before. Gone are the subtle creep factor and scientific paranoia, both of which are traded in for the giant fly leaping out of the shadows.
Return of the Fly is better for this though; itís very much the yin to The Flyís yang, right down to aesthetics. Whereas that film was awash in disarming pastels, this one is sketched in shadowy black and white. The original Fly really is an odd duck; while itís no doubt creepy, itís almost sneakily so and juxtaposes quaint Americana with gothic horrors. This follow-up leans towards the latter right out of the gate by opening at a funeral before moving on to the old Delembare laboratory. Now covered in cobwebs and realized by an even more decrepit, creaky set, it resembles something out of an old Universal classic, and the father following in the footsteps of his infamous father even echoes something like Son of Frankenstein.
Priceís presence (which is also increased from the first film) and his skulking around mansions prefigures the run that would define his career; 1959 along found him stalking similar old dark abodes in House on Haunted Hill and The Bat. Return of the Fly gives Price the chance to star in the hero role, which is something he wouldnít do a whole lot of over the next decade; you may recall that he was mostly sidelined in The Fly, at least until that final memorable sequence. Not so here, as he commands the film pretty much from start to finish, leaving everyone else (with the exception of Frankham) buzzing as background noise. In addition to more Price, you also get more of the fly itself, and the creature design is much more pronounced and hideous in keeping with the monster movie vibe.
Itís fair to call Return of the Fly a B-movie to a classic horror film, but that isnít necessarily a bad thing in this case. Sequels that go out of their way to provide a little different flavor from their predecessors should be commended, especially when they work as well as this one does. Plus, at the end of the day, youíre getting more of Vincent Price and more of a killer fly. Fox has made it easy for you to stage your own double (or triple!) feature, as Return comes as part of The Fly Collection along with the original and Curse of the Fly. This first sequel fares well enough with a strong presentation that includes a crisp anamorphic transfer and a solid mono soundtrack. As this is the strong middle chapter to an underrated franchise, you'll want to trap it on your shelf. Buy it!
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