Synopsis: The boundaries of science are pushed to their eery limits in this sequel to the classic, ever-popular The Fly. Here, Philippe, the son of the ill-fated scientist, naively continues his father’s misguided experiments. The victim of his traitorous assistant’s greedy ambitions, Philippe finds himself in a terrifying limbo — he’s grown the head and limbs of a fly! Taking spectacular revenge on his betrayers, Philippe must also race against time and find a way to reverse the horrifying mutation.
Return of the Fly 6.75
eyelights: its gorgeous b&w photography. its well-conceived rehash. its cast.
eyesores: its familiar plot. its plot holes. its awkward man-fly costume.
“He ventured in areas of knowledge that man wasn’t meant to go.”
It’s funny how time has changed my perception of ‘Return of the Fly’.
Before I sat down to watch it this time, it had been years since I last saw it, and remembered it as a cheesy rip-off of the original. I especially remembered some uproarious moments when the actor playing the fly bumped into branches and held onto his mask to prevent it from popping off.
This time, I watched it expecting to chuckle at its many ineptitudes, but found that I was enjoying myself more than I’d expected. The 1959 sequel to ‘The Fly’, which was quickly produced to capitalize on its predecessor’s success, is surprisingly effective for a low budget horror movie.
The picture takes us back to Montreal, where Philippe is all grown up and curious about his father’s demise – especially now that his mother’s passed on as well. He’s been studying André’s work and is ready to follow in his footsteps – though he assures François that he’ll avoid his mistakes.
While he’s put him through school, François won’t directly assist him with his experiments, so Philippe builds himself a secret laboratory in his grandfather’s wine cellar. And, with the help of his former work colleague, Allan, proceeds to recreate André’s life’s work and build on it.
But he makes one mistake: he trusts the wrong man.
‘Return of the Fly’ follows much of the same course as the original but, instead of serving up a makeshift murder-mystery, it plays it straight, throwing in some backstabbing courtesy of Allan, who is in fact a British criminal who plans on stealing Philippe’s designs and selling them.
This adds a different layer of tension – a welcome one, given that we’re pretty confident that someone’s going to somehow end up becoming a man-fly at some point, so there’s little surprise there. Allan is utterly unscrupulous, so we’re left on edge, unsure of what he could do next.
In fact, he’s the reason why there’s a man-fly here: after getting in a fight with Philippe, who’d become suspicious, he puts him in the disintegrator – and cruelly throws in a fly, to mock Philippe’s entomophobia. When Philippe is reintegrated by François, he’s a terrifying man-fly.
The man-fly is less human this time, however, with its oversized flyhead, claw hand and… claw foot. It’s quite hilarious because the actor wearing the props could barely move with them, on the one hand holding his bulbous mask, on the other literally dragging his foot along as he walked.
Of course, the very conceit of a man-fly is absurd so this is hardly a disappointment. And it’s nothing in comparison to the man-guinea pig with these large rubbery rodent hands and feet that Allan initially created when he threw a British agent into the unit and brought him back.
That scene is the second most hilarious because it’s completely goofy: along with the man-guinea pig is a guinea pig with a man’s hands and feet. Inexplicably horrified by it, Allan decides to crush it underfoot, making it squeal like a cheap plastic toy before dropping a large item on it.
But the best of all remains that scene in which Philippe escapes the police by running through the woods, holding on to his mask and bumping into branches. Though it didn’t delight me quite as much as it once had, it was a rather funny scene – I mean, this was considered the best take.
The picture is generally entertaining and it lacks some of the awkward contrivances of its forebear, but it also lacks its depth: there are no discussions of the wonder of science and of all the ethical questions that spill out of technological advancement. There is none of that here.
But even the cast is more solid in this one: Brett Halsey is perfectly cast as the older Philippe, looking very much like his younger counterpart and maintaining that serious, self-reflecting quality. And David Frankham is excellent as Allan/Ronald, being at once congenial and cutthroat.
Vincent Price is about as good as he was in the first one, which is merely okay – not high praise. Though he doesn’t sleepwalk his way through this one, he makes unusual choices, like sleeping on his stomach after François undergoes surgery to his abdomen. It’s not his sharpest work.
And the script isn’t always the sharpest either: for instance, when François first shows Philippe his father’s lab, it’s “exactly as he left it” – except that it’s now set at Delormes Frères, not in André’s basement. Strangely, there’s actually no good reason for the writers to relocate it.
And there are slip-ups like Philippe just bumping into Allan while driving around the one-horse town of Montréal, a massive coincidence if there was one, or Philippe somehow knowing about and tracking down Allan’s co-conspirator to his mortuary. It’s all just far too convenient for me.
But I guess that’s what you get when you rush a production and do it on the cheap: you get weak writers and/or aren’t able to fine-tune your script. This was really just intended to piggy-back on ‘The Fly’s success – case-in-point, the producers chose to make it in black and white this time.
The cheaper the better.
Still, despite ‘Return of the Fly’s many weaknesses, its core is pretty solid, constructed as it is on the blueprint of the original. It’s not grand cinema, but it’s about as enjoyable as ‘The Fly’, albeit for entirely different reasons. This could probably be the perfect late-night b-movie.
I suspect I will see it again. It’s got its pincers on me.
Post scriptum: There’s a scene in the mortuary where one of the cadavers looks like it has seven toes on its left foot. According to IMDB, this is not the case, it’s just the angle the foot is at. But, frankly, having watched it on blu-ray, I’m not fully convinced that this is the case.
To me, that foot definitely has too many toes. Either way, that’s a pretty funny sight. And, again, that’s the good take. Lol.
Date of viewing: July 15, 2017