B&W, 1965, 86m. / Directed by Don Sharp / Starring Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray, Yvette Rees, Burt Kwouk, Michael Graham / Fox (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Still the ugly stepchild of the Fly series, this third installment came as a shock to viewers who came in expecting more outrageous fly/human body-swapping and instead got a dark, gothic, perverse meditation on deformity. The Delambre family name is still here along with dubious scientific experiments, but the "fly" connection is otherwise chucked out the window. Thankfully, at least for viewers with open minds, the result is by far the scariest and most poetic installment in the '60s cycle, even if Vincent Price and the titular insect are nowhere in sight. Here's a simple test: if you hate Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Curse of the Cat People, don't bother with this one; if you can appreciate a new stab at horror material with a completely different storyline, snap this one up.

In the eerie opening, lovely brunette Patricia (Island of Terror's Gray) escapes from a desolate Canadian mental institution under cover of darkness by smashing a window and skulking out clad only in her underwear. She winds up hitching a ride with Martin Delambre (Baker), who pinches a nightgown to restore her modesty. They hit it off and promptly get married, with the understanding that neither of them talk about their past; while Patricia thinks she's got a doozy of a secret, that's nothing compared to what's lurking at the Delambre estate. Martin's father, Henri (Quatermass 2's Donlevy), is still carrying on the family's teleportation experiments (and even beams himself to London from time to time), while Martin's brother, Albert (Graham), shares his sibling's lack of enthusiasm for these dangerous experiments. No one seems too thrilled with the recent marriage, perhaps because Martin apparently had a previous wife, Judith-- whose connection to the hideous monstrosities secreted away within and behind the house will soon become all too horribly clear.

Completely different in flavor from its predecessors, Curse of the Fly boasts a number of efficient shocks, some gruesome make-up effects, and wonderfully atmospheric direction by the always-interesting Don Sharp, whose previous Hammer experience with Kiss of the Vampire and the simultaneous Fu Manchu films comes into play quite a bit here. All of the potent gothic conventions are crammed in here: mad scientists, a disfigured first wife lurking about the estate, deformed hands clutching from secret passageways, two sinister servants (Yvette Rees and Kato himself, Burt Kwouk) who know more than they're telling, and a wild climax that doles out an exceptionally nasty fate to nearly everyone in the script. Composer Bert Shefter (the only big carryover from the previous Fly film) also offers an effective score, which ranges from the lyrical opening credits to some genuinely nerve-fraying atonal passages.

Despite the hopeful end title card which proclaims "Is this the end?," Curse of the Fly's lackluster box office performance ensured that most viewers would only encounter it for decades via substandard TV screenings which butchered its careful Cinemascope compositions; it never even merited a release during the VHS era. Fortunately this oversight is rectified with a beautiful transfer courtesy of Fox Australia; the nuanced monochromatic imagery has never looked better and should go a long way to winning over new fans. Audio is provided in English only, with optional English subtitles. No extras (not even a trailer, alas), but the price is right and the film is more than worth it.

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