Edwards Bernds, 1959
Starring: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, John Sutton
After the funeral of his mother, Philippe Delambre insists that his uncle Francois finally reveal reveal the truth behind his father’s death many years ago. When he learns about the lab and his father’s experiments, he is determined to continue them, despite the fact that his father had a horrible accident and turned into a human fly hybrid. Though initially reluctant, Francois agrees to help. Philippe also has the assistance of Alan Hines, a man who formerly worked for the family company. But all is not as it seems. Hines is actually Ronald Holmes, a wanted con artist and spy intent on stealing Philippe’s machine. One night while working in the lab alone, Holmes is confronted by a police officer and puts the man in the machine, intentionally splicing him with a guinea pig. He is forced to destroy the monstrous creation, but Philippe confronts him soon after. They fight and Holmes puts Philippe in the machine with the thing he fears most: a harmless little fly.
It may seem odd that Return of the Fly is in black and white when The Fly was shot in such vibrant color, but I actually think it works in the film’s favor. There is a lovely, almost Universal horror feel the the film that sets it apart from its predecessor. It opens during a funeral and quickly moves to a dusty old laboratory and isolated mansion. With the themes of a son continuing his father’s outré experiments and a monster roaming the countryside, in some ways it also feels like one of the Frankenstein sequels, but with fewer paranoid villagers.
There are plenty of things about Return of the Fly that are completely ludicrous, but the film rushes by them as quickly and painlessly as possible. For starters, Francois insists that Philippe will not resume his father’s experiments, but 10 minutes later agrees to fully fund him and begins participating on experiments even though there is no indication that either of them are remotely trained for such an endeavor. Inspector Beecham is connected to the first film with some lazy exposition and is totally nonplussed by the idea of a human-fly hybrid. He essentially becomes the hero of the film. And so on.
While it seems next to impossible that a fly would happen to find it’s way into the machine a second time around, the film gets around this in a very clever way by introducing the vicious, manipulative Alan Hinds. He introduces an element of cruelty and thoroughly human horror not found in the first, more intellectually themed film. Where Andre Delambre is the only person to die in the first film, there is a lot more murder here, including one spectacular scene where Philippe (as the human fly) attacks Hinds in a funeral home and he crawls into a coffin to die.
The special effects are absurd in a fun sort of way. Philippe looks like he’s wearing a diver’s helmet disguised to look like a giant fly head. There are some scenes where he is running through the woods and appears to be holding the fly head in place. And let’s not forget about the human-hamster hybrid, which is both ridiculous and horrifying. As with the first film, all the actors maintain a serious mood throughout the film. Though the characters aren’t as well written as in The Fly, there are some good performances that mostly make up for that.
Vincent Price is as good here as he was in The Fly, though he is still underused, owing to the fact that he is shot during the second act and is somewhat out of commission. For some reason his character Francois is also quite a downer, shooting down all of Inspector Beecham’s ideas about how to save Philippe until the Inspector simply has to take matters into his own hands. Brett Halsey (A Cat in the Brain) is believable and sympathetic as Philippe, particularly if you can ignore the more ridiculous elements of his character (and costume). John Sutton (The Bat) is decent as Beecham and David Frankham (Master of the World, Tales of Terror) is good as Holmes/Hinds. He plays a malicious double crosser quite while and his character provides a breath of fresh air for the plot, preventing this from becoming simply a lesser imitator of The Fly.
Three Stooges director Edward Bernds wrote and directed this sequel to The Fly after the first film’s success. There is a third sequel, Curse of the Fly (1965), though it was shot in England by Hammer regular Don Sharp and has little in common with the first two, including a completely different cast. If you’re looking for a fast paced ‘50s monster movie that feels like a throwback to Universal horror, you will really enjoy Return of the Fly. You can find this in The Fly Collection with all three films. It comes recommended to fans of Vincent Price, ‘50s horror, and monster movies.