‘They haven’t built the coffin that can hold him!’
Doctor Phibes Rises Again is a 1972 British horror feature film directed by Robert Fuest (The Devil’s Rain; And Soon the Darkness) from a screenplay co-written with Robert Blees. The Louis M. Heyward production is a sequel to The Abominable Doctor Phibes and was promoted with the addition of an exclamation mark in its title.
The AIP production stars Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid, Terry-Thomas and Peter Jeffrey.
Three years on from being abominable, the conjunction of the planets cause Phibes to rise from his stasis. Finding the house above his lair has been demolished and ransacked of the ancient papyrus scroll detailing the location of the River of Life, he vows to take back what is rightfully his and finally grant himself and his beloved (dead) wife Victoria eternal life. A trip to Egypt is called for and no-one, the thief Darius Biederbeck, who is as desperate as Phibes to find the source, nor Inspector Trout, back again with his superb one-liners and comic misunderstandings, can stop him.
Biederbeck: “What kind of fiend are you?”
Phibes: “The kind that wins, my friend!”
After the success of the first outing, the studio wasted no time in bringing Dr Anton Phibes out of his self-induced hibernation just a year later. The film is enormous fun but it would be remiss of me to insist it’s as stunning as the first; however, there is still much to admire and the film is never anything less than terrific entertainment.
If the Phibes sequel is lacking one element present in the first that sets it down a rung on the ladder, it’s the cohesion the biblical plagues gave it; though the titular villain is still killing with ever more devious traps, it’s rather more indiscriminate and less joyously fiendish. The 1920s setting still allows Fuest’s skill at direction to flourish but the set-up is a little clumsy. Biederbeck provides the opportunity for the always reliable Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Madhouse) to flex his diabolical muscle but the relationship between himself and his aide, Ambrose (played by Hugh Griffith, who was cast as the rabbi in the first outing) is rather muddy and if anything gets in the way of the plot. An even bigger pinch of salt is required to accept that both Victoria and Phibes’ orchestra, The Clockwork Wizards, are able to be shipped across to Egypt undetected.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of The Abominable Dr Phibes and Dr Phibes Rises Again, transferred from original film elements by MGM, and both presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, region B/2.
• Audio commentary on The Abominable Dr Phibes by director Robert Fuest.
• Audio commentary on The Abominable Dr Phibes by author William Goldstein.
• Audio commentary on Dr Phibes Rises Again by Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas.
• Dr Phibes and the Gentlemen: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson recall the horror classics.
• Daughter of Phibes: Victoria Price discusses her father’s career.
• The Doctor Will See You Now: Interview with David Del Valle.
•100-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Julian Upton, Martin Jones, Little Shoppe of Horrors’ Justin Humphreys and Trunk Records’ Jonny Trunk, the on-set recollections of Caroline Munro, plus interviews with Tim Burton and American International Picture’s publicist Milton Moritz, illustrated with original archive stills
What these factors take away are certainly made up for in additions to the cast. Replacing the pregnant Virginia North in the role as Vulnavia is the tremendous Valli Kemp, who was due to remain as Phibes’ assistant for the proposed sequels, which sadly never appeared.
Also featuring are the instantly recognisable brute, Milton Reid (The Blood on Satan’s Claw, an alarming amount of British sex comedies of the 70s), paying the price for being Biederbeck’s servant by having his brain bisected by a booby-trapped phone, Peter Cushing as the ship’s captain, Beryl Reid as, well, Beryl Reid (see also the return of Terry-Thomas in a different yet equally memorable role) and John Thaw, pecked to death by an eagle. Frankie Howerd (The House in Nightmare Park) was also earmarked to star but, alas, we were denied this comedic pleasure.
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Though some of the desert scenes were set on location (in Spain), the set design is still sumptuous and Egypt is the 1920s looks as radiant as London, the detail of Phibes’ pyramid hideaway being everything you could hope it to be. Allegedly, relations between Price and Quarry were not perfect, animosity largely due to AIP positioning Quarry as the new star of horror, much to Vincent’s chagrin, whilst Quarry felt Price something of a ham. It is said that after giving Price a burst of opera, Quarry announced “I bet you didn’t know I could sing?” to which Price responded “Well, I knew you couldn’t f*cking act”.
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Music is again of critical importance in the film, duties on this occasion taken by John Gale, who surprisingly went on to very little else. The score is decidedly more orchestral, veering away from Basil Kirchin’s jazz stylings, although the Clockwork Wizards still play a key role. The film does at least provide us with the dizzying wonder of Vincent Price actually singing ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ over the end credits, a fitting end to a series which was sadly curtailed so quickly.
The great haste in which the sequel was made, as well as the noticeable budget cuts, certainly stifle what is still a great film. As a pair, both The Abominable Doctor Phibes and Doctor Phibes Rises Again bring to the screen one of the great villains of horror cinema, a particularly British creation, doused in tragedy as much as pure evil.
In-house wrangling at AIP deprived us of the planned sequels; Bride of Phibes has a well-fleshed out plot, seeing Phibes attempting to rescue Victoria from the hands of a satanic cult; vengeance coming in many forms from being sucked to death by leeches to being smothered in butter and eaten by lobsters (!).
Further sequels are scant on detail but were mentioned by both Fuest and Price in interviews; the last mention of the character being attached to George A. Romero‘s Laurel Production company, with David Carradine scheduled to play the lead…
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA