61 Days of Halloween: Return of the Fly (1959)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Return of the Fly (1959)

Where can one possibly hope to go in a sequel? It’s almost a rhetorical question (one I’ve asked quite a few times this year), but it’s a perpetually pertinent one in the horror genre because sequels are quite nearly expected and always possible whether they are implied or not. With the conclusion of the first film in the series the story was done, the tragedy set … or that’s how it seemed.

Another risky thing a series of films can do is jump ahead, or back, a number of years. It’s not a new idea, and it’s been done a few times with varying degrees of success. Here the story moves ahead 15 years. Vincent Price is retained, while Phillippe, the son of the ill-fated scientist who made the first experiments with the matter disintegrator is following in his father’s scientific footsteps.

While there is a bit of scientific zealotry, and borderline madness, what works especially well in this film is the inclusion of a most vile, very villainous character. It is he who ultimately brings the scares and chills into this installment, the seeking of revenge against him is but part of the suspense. Perhaps most importantly, his existence serves to buck this film from an identical narrative pattern to the first film.

While the first film kept the truth about the occurrences a closely-guarded secret amongst a few characters, here, years later, rumors have spread; a chase ensues and a few more now realize what this machine can do when ill-used. However, the knowledge doesn’t become widespread allowing the drama to play out with a fairly small number of characters.

In fact, it contributes to the drama by needing to keep the information about what’s really happening among only those who are in the know. As opposed to The Fly II, the follow-up to Cronenberg’s version, this is a highly successful sequel that keeps the spirit of the first while expanding the myth and throwing some twists into the story.

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61 Days of Halloween: Sisters (1973)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Sisters (1973)

One of the good things about going off a list, at least in part, to decide on viewing options is that it allows for more occasions for you to be a blank slate. A lot of the selections I’m seeing for this year are from Stephen King’s list of the best horror films from 1950-1980 that he included in his book Danse Macabre. I have replicated the list on my Letterboxd page (check it out!).

When I received Sisters from Netflix I knew it was De Palma and before Carrie and that’s all I could remember. Thankfully, the synopsis on the disc mailer didn’t give too much away.

On a personal note this may be my favorite film I’ve seen that set mostly on Staten Island. I had no idea that was coming and how it’s introduced is great: Danielle (Margot Kidder) is a Quebecois model/actress, and after a gig her and Philip (Lisle Wilson) have dinner and have it cut short by her ex (Emile Breton). Philip offers to take her home. She tells him she lives on Staten Island, and it goes something like this:
“Staten Island?” he says.
“Yes, Staten Island is part of New York isn’t it?”
Philip, smiling, says: “I guess it is.”

I was born in Manhattan, but I spent most of my formative years on Staten Island, and that statement in a nutshell is the conundrum of being from there; that whole “We’re New York too, dammit” subtext. A short exchange of dialogue encapsulates it on both sides.

Personal baggage aside, Sisters is a great little gem. I use that term because it starts with a fairly small series of events one after another that slowly turn in to a much bigger plot than was intimated at first. The simple Hitchcockian mystery element gets more byzantine as it progresses; even throwing some last second misdirection, making certain things even weirder than they are.

The first suspenseful passage features, yet another recently-viewed example of, a great use of split-screens. It’s a film that’s tied up in the psychology of its characters, their relationship to one another and secrets buried in the past.

In a certain way there were also parts of it that reminded me of Cronenberg as there were weird, significant things afoot with few characters noticing or being affected.

With scoring by the legendary Bernard Herrmann this film is quite the riveting pulse-pounder with a few jaw-dropping moments in store for those who do see it.