THE RETURN OF THE FLY — I thought maybe I’d seen this, but when I stuck it in the Panasonic and was surprised to find it was in b&w, I knew I hadn’t. And since it appears in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, and since I’m sworn to see every film illustrated in that green-tinged tome, I had to see Edward Bernds’s sequel.
We begin at a funeral, and I assume this to be that of the protag from Film 1. “He died as he lived, with a massive insect head on his shoulders…” I imagine a coffin with a massive bulbous bit at one end, and another tiny coffin next to it, for the “help me” fly-guy. But no! This is the funeral of Mrs Fly, who died of grief some years later. Now her adult son has returned to continue dad’s work in teleportation, rather like Eric Stoltz in THE FLY II.
Again the setting is, pointlessly, Montreal (or is there an assumption that if you lived in Montreal you’d HAVE to invent the telepod just to get out?). Again, Vincent Price is on hand as a gloomy best friend, rather a waste of his horror movie talents, but Uncle Winnie is always welcome. Here, he has to explain how Mr Fly Snr wound up with a fly’s head and arm (arm?). I have to admit I’m curious about how this will play out — he can’t just get ANOTHER arthropod in his telepod, and ANOTHER fly head stuck on his neck, can he? And yet, if a fly isn’t involved somehow, it’s rather a cheat on the title, isn’t it?
Whizzkid Brett Halsey has a morbid horror of houseflies, we soon learn, which is reasonable enough considering his family history. Soon he’s disintegrating rats and leaving them whirling about as disembodied molecular streams overnight, but his lab assistant, a shifty Cary Elwes type Englishman, is plotting to con him out of his invention. At this point, I start to hope we’re going to get a human-rat fusion, and when an unwelcome snooper gets disintegrated and then reintegrated, we do!
Horror upon horror!
What director Bernds lacks in vowels, he makes up for in truly fucked-up imagery. I think I’m in love.
Disgusted with his new-born rodent detective, the proto-Elwes disposes of the man-handed rodent by stamping savagely upon its little furry torso (and we actually see it BULGE beneath the pressure!), but the dead detective with the giant joke-shop paws can’t be gotten rid of so easily. Bundling the furry-fisted flic into the trunk of a gigantic finned monstermobile, he arranges the proverbial watery grave for both man and Merc’.
But! What seems like mere seconds later, wunderkind Brett Halsey (a no-name actor who literally HAS no name, just a series of random syllables) is roundly pummeling the bad guy — only to get knocked unconscious and placed in the transportation booth. Adding bio-insult to injury, the villain deliberately picks a fly out of the sugar bowl and casts it into the booth with young Halsey, consigning the pair to a conjoined future. Poor Halsey, hoist by his own telepetard.
The bad guy flees, shooting Uncle Winnie in the nearest spleen, and then the cops arrive and start shooting at Halsey-fly, who runs away into the grounds, catching his vast head on overhanging branches. Perhaps as a side-effect of having a fly’s leg, he runs like a man carrying an Olympic torch clenched between his buttocks. The sight of the fly-headed man clambering over a low fence is inexplicably hilarious (inexplicable that it should be any funnier than him just walking).
Meanwhile, a housefly with the head of Brett Halsey is buzzing about, going “Help me!” Why do man-headed flies always say that? Maybe, like Roald Dahl’s vermicious knids, they only know how to say one thing. More importantly, why have I never seen this film before? It’s like THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE made by a talented director who cares, rather than a fast-fading Roy Del Ruth, staving off extinction by perambulating a muppet through a mock-up everglade. And yet it’s exactly as bad as THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE. Which is amazing! Orson Welles was right — it has no limitations!
The human-head is represented at first by what looks like a real fly wearing a tiny Don Post Studios mask, then by a cheap superimposition, with a translucent Halsey visage shimmering where a set of mandibles ought to be. Either approach is aces with me, as long as he gets more to do than cry “Help me!” in a Mickey Mouse falsetto.
OK, so now fly-head is off on a mad quest for vengeance against people who, as a transplanted insect, he has no possible knowledge of, gamely maneuvering his space-hopper cranium through doorways, clanging it against metallic ceiling lamps, and pincering everyone in his path. Bernds’ script, hitherto a model of Holmesian logic, now falls at the hurdle of imagining “the murderous thoughts of a fly.” Not only is he attacking his body’s enemies, he knows how to open doors, something I never saw a fly do. Fiona suggests maybe flybody and flyhead are each sharing one hemisphere of the scientist’s brain, and this is slightly borne out by the romantic interest the big fellow shows in nubile Danielle de Metz. I never saw a fly do that, either. Yet the good guys still hope to persuade him back into the pod so his various bits can be jumbled back together.
In one way, fly-guy shouldn’t be funny at all — with his outsized head, big hand and misshapen, dragging foot, he has the proportions of John Merrick. But the filmmakers seem somewhat sensible to his comedy potential — time and again his physical awkwardness is highlighted, as when he has to nudge his big clawed foot to get it over a bannister he’s climbing, or when his enormous head gets caught in some net curtains. Throughout his bug-eyed ordeal, he remains neatly dressed in a natty suit, an unbuttoned collar his only concession to comfort (I can imagine Groucho’s response: “A trained scientist, running around open at the neck? With a fly’s head? The idea!”) At times, the effect puts me in mind of the late Frank Sidebottom.
Bernds eschews the multi-faceted fly-eye POV shots which are a principle distinguishing touch in Kurt Neumann’s original, presumably considering such playfulness beneath his dignity. Have another look at that guinea pig and see if you think his concern is justified.
A happy ending! Even for the fly! Next came CURSE OF THE FLY, which I saw ages ago. British-made, it has a really striking opening with a woman smashing through a window and running in slomo through the woods… and then it gets a bit dull. Dependable journeyman Don Sharp directed, Brian “Quatermass” Donlevy plays another member of the ill-starred Delambre family of scientists, and the movie was British-made.
I should investigate the world of ’50s Twentieth Century Fox sci-fi horror — there does seem to be an interesting, crazed camp sensibility going on. Meanwhile, I can’t leave the subject without a nod to MANT! ~
From MANT! directed by the fictitious Laurence Woolsey, from MATINEE, directed by the factual Joe Dante.