Mon, 11 Dec 2023

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Director: Robert Fuest
Screenplay: Robert Fuest and Robert Blees (based on characters created by James Whiton and William Goldstein)
Stars: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes), Robert Quarry (Darrus Biederbeck), Valli Kemp (Vulnavia), Hugh Griffith (Harry Ambrose), John Thaw (Shavers), Keith Buckley (Stewart), Lewis Fiander (Baker), Gerald Sim (Hackett), Milton Reid (Manservant Cheng), Peter Jeffrey (Detective Inspecter Trout), John Cater (Superintendent Waverley), Peter Cushing (Captain), Beryl Reid (Miss Ambrose), Terry-Thomas (Lombardo), Fiona Lewis (Diana Trowbridge)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1972
Country: U.S. / U.K.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes / Dr. Phibes Rises Again Blu-ray

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

The 1972 capsule review of Dr. Phibes Rises Again in the British publication Punch describes it as an "utterly absurd and ridiculous exercise in Pinewood-Gothic-baroque," and I really can't think of a better descriptor. A quickie sequel to the low-budget American International horror-comedy The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), which found Vincent Price's eponymous protagonist tracking down and murdering in glorious fashion all of the men he blamed for his wife's death on the operating table, Rises Again takes all of that film's art-deco grandiosity, dark humor, and absurdist horror in-jokes and ramps them to another level. Unfortunately, it is also hampered by lots of post-production editing and squabbling that renders chunks of the film incoherent without voice-over narration and results in a film that moves in awkward fits and starts, lurching from deranged near brilliance to simple clumsiness.

A quick recap at the beginning of the film sets the stage, filling in all the story from the first film just in case anyone in the audience hadn't already seen it. Price's musician-turned-murderer Dr. Anton Phibes puts himself into a three-year state of suspended animation alongside his wife's elegantly maintained corpse, only to-ahem-rise again when the moon enters into a specific alignment with the planets for the first time in 2,000 years. This alignment has something to do with his being able to pursue eternal life and resurrect the missus using the River of Life, which flows beneath a hidden pyramid in Egypt. Unfortunately, he is in competition with Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), a centuries-old man who manages to look not much more than middle-age due to his use of a magical elixir, which is almost running out. And speaking of eternal life and resurrections, Dr. Phibes is once again aided by his silent partner Vulnavia, who died in the first film, but is inexplicably still alive here and played by a different actress (former Miss Australia Valli Kemp, replacing Virginia North, who was pregnant at the time and therefore couldn't fit into Vulnavia's various form-fitting dresses).

Thus, we have the set-up, with Dr. Phibes competing with Biederbeck for the various tools (a scrap of papyrus, a hidden key) needed to access the River of Life, while Phibes is being pursued once again by the determined, but genially incompetent Scotland Yard Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Superintendent Waverley (John Cater). Luckily, Biederbeck has a host of assistants working with him, which provides Dr. Phibes with plenty of victims on whom he can unleash his absurdly complicated murder scenarios (one involves luring a character into a giant, golden scorpion chair whose claws clamp down on his arms, leaving him at the mercy of dozens of actual scorpions). None of this is played as anything other than horror-comedy ad absurdum, with returning director Robert Fuest admitting in interviews that he was basically trying to send up Dr. Phibes, who was already a send-up of mad horror-movie villains. Price once again lends his air of camp elegance to the mad doctor, leering with his eyes and his cheekbones because the character can't speak (he must do so through a device that attaches to the side of his neck, so that even when he speaks his mouth doesn't move). Nevertheless, Dr. Phibes has plenty of dialogue, much of which was added in post-production to fill in the gaps left by the chainsaw editing done to film's initial cut. Left in are a few one-scene cameos by familiar British character actors Peter Cushing (who has a literal walk-on as a ship captain) and Terry-Thomas, who can always be counted on for his erudite, upper-crust farcicality.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again is not a particularly good movie, but it is never boring and always gaudily gorgeous to look at. The sets by returning designer Brian Eatwell (The Three Musketeers, The Man Who Fell to Earth) never fail to impress, whether it be Dr. Phibes's funktastic multi-colored organ and attendant creepy-as-hell clockwork musicians, or a giant pair of stone feet buried beneath the Egyptian sands. This is a film that is designed from end to end to catch your attention. Much of the production belies the relatively cheap budget (they were able to recycle a lot from the first film), and the cinematography by Alex Thomson, who would go to earn an Oscar nomination for his work on John Boorman's Excalibur (1981), gives it a veneer of contrasty Technicolor flamboyance. Yet, as fun as it often is, Dr. Phibes Rises Again feels too cobbled together to work as well as the first film. It has its delicious moments, to be sure; but, as a whole, it feels slightly warmed over, never quite living up to its delirious promise.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes / Dr. Phibes Rises Again Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 (both films)

  • DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural (The Abominable Dr. Phibes)
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural ( Dr. Phibes Rises Again)
  • SubtitlesEnglish

    The Abominable Dr. Phibes

  • Audio commentary by Director Robert Fuest
  • Audio commentary by film historian Justin Humphreys

  • Dr. Phibes Rises Again

  • Audio commentary by film historian Justin Humphreys
  • Audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas
  • Radio spots
  • Theatrical trailers
  • DistributorKino Lorber
    Release DateApril 12, 2022

    There is no indication that either of the films in this new double-feature two-disc set has been given a new transfer, so I have to assume that they are both older high-definition scans (I haven't watch either film since the DVD days, so I am in no position to make any comparisons with previous high-def releases). That being said, both films boast strong transfers that don't look like they have much room for improvement outside of bumping up to 4K. Not surprisingly, color is paramount in replicating the gaudy spectacle of the Dr. Phibes duology, and these discs do a great job. The intense colors of Dr. Phibe's elaborate ballroom (the dominant colors are pink and purple) are well-saturated and nicely presented without any noticeable bleeding or shimmering. The images on both films maintain good detail throughout, which sometimes works against the low-budget special effects and make-up (that fishing line holding up the mechanical bat in Abominable probably wasn't so obvious on fuzzy video copies back in the day). Darker scenes manage good shadow detail and don't come off as overly grainy, although there is a nice sheen of texture to the images. Both films have DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, with Abominable in one-channel monaural and Rises Again in two-channel monaural. Both sound fine for their age, with the over-the-top organ score and use of period songs such as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sounding relatively good even though there is little range and not much of a low end. The dialogue sounds crisp and clear, and there is no distracting hiss or other aural artifacts.

    As for the supplements, set aside some time because there is a lot of audio commentary here for fans of these cult gems. Granted, three of the commentaries have been heard before: the Abominable commentaries by director Robert Fuest and curator/collector/film historian Justin Humphreys, author of the 2015 book The Dr. Phibes Companion, originally appeared on Shout! Factory's 2013 "Vincent Price Collection" boxset, while film historian Tim Lucas's track on Dr. Phibes Rises Again appeared on Arrow Video's 2014 Blu-ray. However, this set also includes a new track by Humphreys on Rises Again, and it is a great listen, as he imparts all manner of information about the film, especially about how it was mangled in post-production and everything we are missing. The disc also includes radio spots for Dr. Phibes Rises Again and trailers for both films, as well as a trailer for Scream and Scream Again (1970), another British horror film starring Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing.

    Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Kino Lorber

    Overall Rating: (2.5)


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