The following is a part of a series exploring Vincent Price films that have eluded me throughout the years. My goal is to see every horror Price film and explore it further. I hope to inspire you all to check out these films if you haven’t seen them or revisit them if you have. Thank you for reading!
You’d think the most unsettling aspect of Return of the Fly would have been yet another insectoid monstrosity but as it turned out, it was a guinea pig. The film opens on a rain-soaked funeral with Francois Delambre (Vincent Price) and his nephew Philippe mourning the loss of Philippe’s mother and Francois’s unrequited love 15 years after the events of the first film (which technically makes it 1973 but we’ll let the aesthetics slide).
Here passes from this earth Helen Delambre, widow of my brother, Andre, who I loved deeply, hopelessly. She was destroyed in the end by dreadful memories, a recollection of horrors that did not dim as the years went on but grew monstrously… – Francois Delambre
Philippe, played here by 50s hottie Brett Halsey, is determined to discover what secrets his family has been holding back from him. He has vague recollection and an almost PTSD reaction to flies but can’t wrap his head around the missing memories of his past. After needling his uncle, he finally learns the grim truth of his father’s demise and his mother’s madness.
Against Francois’s wishes, he decides to pursue his father’s work and perfect it so nothing like his family’s tragedy can happen again. With the aid of his partner, and all around sleaze, Ronald Holmes (David Frankham) he rebuilds his father’s work and even convinces Uncle Francois to join in. Well, that’s not entirely true he really just threatens to bankrupt the family biz if Francois doesn’t agree to assist.
Everything is peachy keen until Philippe’s greasy partner decides he is going to steal the blueprints and make off with all the fame and glory for himself (fortune and glory!) with the help of a local mortician/con-man. When an intruding journalist catches him in the act the machine goes awry transforming the journalist into a Guinea pig/human hybrid. Say what you will about old monster movies, some of them really got it right when it came unnerving its audience.
As you may suspect from the title of the film, Philippe is transformed into a hideous fly creature, far more frightening and hideous than his father before him, while trying to subdue Ronald. Will Philippe succumb to the same demise as his father? Will Ronald make off with the blueprints? Watch it your damn self! Conveniently on YouTube I might add.
Return of the Fly, in many ways, is a superior film to its predecessor. For one, and I can probably attribute this to the glorious Scream! Factory release, it’s much prettier to look at. Cinemascope does wonders and black and white suits me just fine, especially when the transfer is almost spotless.
But looks aside, the story is much more engrossing than the first. Andre, though very tragic, always lacked an intimate connection with me. While his transformation and struggle in the lab occurs behind closed doors we get a much more personal view at Philippe’s trials and tribulations which lead to his ultimate downfall.
And speaking of his transformation, the animal and insect mashups are far more grotesque and disturbing. Philippe’s fly design is much more other-worldly, the head is larger as well as the fly talon that is often used to strangle (well it’s the 50s, monsters still strangle people to death) his victims. But where his father turned almost completely fly-brained, Philippe manages to keep it together as best as a non-verbal fly creature can. Lest we can’t forget the other half of this equation, the fly with the human head. Remember how in the first film they actually just painted a real fly’s head white to signify it as Andre? Well, now we actually get Philippe’s head superimposed onto the fly body which is basically a nightmare all in itself.
The only real tragedy in Return of the Fly is the lack of Vincent Price. Well, lack of Vincent Price as we know him. The Fly films always placed him as a supporting character, but I would have enjoyed a “crazy with grief” performance from him here. Perhaps that was one of the things he had enjoyed from the first draft but was eventually cut out. Whatever the story may have been I kept finding myself longing for more screen time for Price (which has nothing to do with my weird undying love for him…I swear…)
Return of the Fly is one of those rare sequels that holds up, and in this writer’s opinion, improves greatly on the first film. I have a ton of admiration for the first film and I’ll never not love it, but Return of the Fly turned it up a notch and for that I applaud it. Evidently there is a third film in the franchise called Curse of the Fly (1965) directed by Don Sharp of Hammer fame, namely Christopher Lee films such as Rasputin the Mad Monk and The Brides of Fu Man Chu. It’s only loosely related to the first two films and should really be viewed away from the others.
Sure, some of the film is flawed, the most glaring being that his original lab was in the basement of the house in The Fly but was moved to the foundry where Andre was pressed to death. But hey, it was the 50s and shit happens. I highly recommend you check this one out if you haven’t already. I would wait until Fall really starts to settle in, though, this flick has a great atmosphere for the Halloween season vibe.
And one last thing before I go, The Return of the Fly churned out some pretty rad posters and if I didn’t find flies totally disgusting I’d have them all! Check ‘em out below!