It Came from the ’50s: Return of the Fly

I’ve seen some embarrassing cash grab sequels in my many decades as an avid shitty movie fan, and this one is among the more shameful.

From writer/director Edward Bernds comes Return of the Fly, the sequel to The Fly, released in 1959. The first thing viewers of The Fly will notice is that, unlike its predecessor, Return was not shot in color. I cannot recall another sequel in film history that has gone from color in the original to black and white photography in the sequel. There are a couple examples the other way, notably The Hustler and The Color of Money.

The change in film stock doesn’t necessarily mean that the film is cheaper, or worse. But, that is what happened.

The film takes place a number of years after the events of the first, even though it was released only a year later. The son of that film’s protagonists, André and Hélène Delambre, Philippe (Brett Halsey), is all grown up, and has become a scientist, like his father.

As the film opens, we see Philippe and his uncle, Francois (Vincent Price, reprising the role), at Hélène’s funeral. The events of the first film, which left André deformed and then dead, were too much for her, and she took her own life. Philippe has lived much of his life Return of the Flywithout knowing any of the details of what happened when he was a child, but he presses Francois into divulging the secret.

That secret is the single most incredible invention in the history of man. André Delambre invented an instantaneous matter transportation device, just like in Star Trek. The only flaw with the machine, which I don’t think matters at all to its importance, is that it gets confused when transporting two or more forms of life, swapping body parts around in a laughable fashion.

Seriously, the Delambres are in possession of a machine capable of revolutionizing the shipping business, but they consider the project a failure because it can make a man with a gigantic insect head, or a guinea pig with tiny, little Trump hands. André’s invention would make the Delambres the richest family the world has ever seen, and end tyranny of distance, but the requirements of the story treat this technology as a curse. That’s just too silly not to note.

Anyway, Philippe dedicates his life and his fortune to recreating his father’s invention, much to the chagrin of Francois. Philippe is aided by another researcher from the family company, Alan Hinds (David Frankham). But, Hinds is not what he seems.

Hinds is actually a fugitive from England named Ronald Holmes. He’s wanted for stealing industrial secrets and murder. He must be quite a clever criminal, seeing as how he convinced an international company to hire him as a scientist. I don’t think even Frank Abegnale could have pulled off that con.

Hinds (née Holmes), goes to work as soon as he feels the invention is brought along far enough. He even figured out its mutative capabilities on his own, crossing the aforementioned guinea pig with a nosy cop. But, Hinds’s treachery is discovered by Philippe. After a tussle, Hinds stuffs Philippe into the transporter, then tosses in a housefly, because he’s a dickhead. The results, for Philippe, are unfortunate. Just like his father, he now has the head and hand of a fly. The remainder of the film follows efforts to capture both Hinds and Philippe-Fly. One, so he can face justice, the other, to possibly reverse his horrible condition.

There is a rollicking good movie to be had with an idea like this. But, this was a cash grab. The entire film takes place on little more than a couple of small interior sets, and the cast is kept just as spartan. It’s a film stuffed full with exposition, with a fair amount of overwrought performances thrown in.

The most egregious offender was Price. All a viewer needs to know about this film’s quality is encapsulated in an opening narration from Price, where his character on the screen emotes to the words of the voiceover. It’s the exact opposite of method acting or naturalism. It’s Acting, with a capital ‘A.’ That’s what we get from everyone in this film, including Price.

There’s a cheap love interest thrown in, as well, involving the daughter of the Delambres housekeeper, Cecile (Danielle De Metz). It’s such an underdeveloped subplot that it feels like De Metz’s presence in this film is by rote, as if it never occurred to the producers that a film could be made without at least one pretty face in it. It’s the low mark of laziness for this film.

This is a hammy flick all around. The original is more fondly-regarded by horror fans than I think it deserves, but a little more effort could have been put into the sequel. This is a film that wanted an audience’s money, and did the bare minimum of dancing necessary to receive its coin.

It has some moments here and there that produced guffaws while I was watching. For most of the film, I was just waiting for it to end.

Return of the Fly falls to the mediocre middle of the Watchability Index at #143, displacing the 2008 version of The Eye. I watched it so you don’t have to.

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