Thursday, 5 November 2009

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

1972
Dir. Robert Fuest

Three years after he murdered the surgeons he held responsible for his wife’s death Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) awakens from his hidden tomb to discover his parchment scrolls detailing the location of a Pharaoh's Tomb – that grants access to the River of Life, thereby helping him revive his beloved wife, Victoria - have been stolen. Phibes quickly murders those responsible and reacquires the parchment. But! He soon realises he is not the only one looking for the Pharaoh’s Tomb and the secrets of eternal life – an archaeological team led by the dastardly Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) is close behind him. Phibes, aided again by his loyal assistant Vulnavia, resorts to what he does best to eliminate the competition – killing them off one by one in ever elaborate ways…

Flesh crawls! Blood curdles! Phibes lives!

Much like its predecessor, Dr Phibes Rises Again is drenched in an irresistible high camp Gothic and grandiose excess. We open with a recap of the events in The Abominable Dr Phibes, with an emphasis on Phibes’ fiendish and diabolical plot to avenge the death of his beloved wife Victoria featuring ‘highlights’ of his prior ridiculously elaborate murders. When Phibes emerges from his secret burial chamber, he calls on his impressively named assistant Vulnavia (here portrayed by Valli Kemp) to help him in get back his scrolls. Vulnavia materialises from some sort of never-world and seductively frolics in a mirror tunnel before indulging in the spectacle that is Phibes playing his ridiculously ornate organ.



The score, courtesy of John Gale breezes effortlessly from kitschy lounge jazz to sweeping and hopelessly romanticised orchestral motifs, perfectly capturing the dark heartache of Phibes. The flowery script by director Robert Fuest and co-writer Robert Blees uses language as colourful and vivid as the elaborate Art Deco set designs and ostentatious death scenes. The script also indulges in inevitable gallows humour resulting in a delightfully doomful and off-kilter tone.

The cast is rounded out by dependable actors like Robert Quarry as Darius Biederbeck, Phibes's main competitor for the secrets of the Pharaoh's Tomb, Fiona Lewis as Darius’s ‘girl’ and Hugh Griffith as Harry Ambose. Once again joining in the pantomime are the two bumbling and affable detectives from the first film, Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Sir Wayne Waverly (John Cater), whose comic timing and banter blend in perfectly with the ensuing chaos. Just as well really, as they seem to serve no other function to the plot whatsoever. Peter Cushing even puts in a cameo as the captain of a ship bound for Egypt.



Of course the best thing about the Dr Phibes films is Vincent Price. Obviously. Positively relishing his role with an unmistakable glinting glee, Price theatrically swishes his way around elaborate sets and manages to convey a rich depth of emotions simply by using his eyes and inimitably velvet voice. You see, a freak accident horrifically disfigured Phibes, rendering him unable to speak without the aid of a mechanical device attached to his throat – he never opens his mouth. Whilst eating, he inserts his food into somewhere behind his head. A rather comical moment has him almost choke on a fish bone – removing it from the back of his neck he shoots Vulnavia a dry, withering smile – encapsulating the knowing, tongue-in-cheek tone of the film. Who else but Price could carry off such a role with aplomb, deftly imbuing anti-hero Phibes with a heavy melancholy and ensuring that the viewer is constantly won over to his side. Or was that just me? Anyhoo. As did its predecessor, Dr Phibes Rises Again also possesses an oddly lyrical quality in the scenes with the titular doctor as he soliloquizes his dead wife Victoria. These moments are usually accompanied by Gale’s lush score ensuring a morbid and deliciously overwrought romance takes centre stage.

‘Sleep on, my sweet Victoria, for regal claws of noble birds guard well your place of rest. For those poor fools that dare intrude, the penalty is death.’



The death scenes, while not in keeping with the first film’s ‘themed’ murders (The ten plagues of Egypt) are still executed (pardon the dreadful pun) with as much precision. They range from the rather mundane (a clockwork snake and a booby trapped telephone, an eagle pecking out John Thaw’s eyes) and the downright nasty (stinging scorpions) to the absolutely ludicrous (the concertina bed and a giant fan masquerading as a desert storm) and slyly nod to the likes of Henry James and Shakespeare along the way. There is also the baffling scene in which an elderly gent is sandblasted to death in his own car; but only after he comes across Phibes’ clockwork band playing the bagpipes in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Yes, really.

Of course, we’ve seen all this before really – namely in The Abominable Dr Phibes. But the film still charms with its absurdist humour and over-the-top melodrama, and though it is definitely the weaker of the two films, it still can’t fail to entertain. And of course, it stars Vincent Price – who is always immensely watchable.

An exquisitely absurd film that ends with Phibes and Victoria sailing down the River of Life on a gondola accompanied by the strains of Somewhere Over the Rainbow – a fitting end to a highly camp, oddly touching and riotously funny yarn.

9 comments:

The Igloo Keeper... said...

Young fans of The Saw series may want to watch this to see where the franchise really began :)

James said...

Couldn't agree more! The Dr Phibes films and Theatre of Blood were definitely precursors to the 'themed' deaths featured in the likes of Se7en, Saw et al.
Thanks for stopping by - hope all is cosy and snug in the igloo of the uncanny!

Carl said...

Hi James, thanks for your comments on my blog! Never saw the first Dr. Phibes, but this one was great kitsch fun... yeah, Theatre Of Blood is a cracking film!

Matthew Coniam said...

agree that it's definitely weaker than the first film because it lacks its sense of purpose behind the killings. It's interesting: I find horror fans are split more or less evenly between those who prefer the original, those who prefer this and those who hate both.
Theatre of Blood is really the perfection of the formula, but I also have a soft spot for Madhouse, the other variation on the theme Price made around the same time. This one usually gets a very bad rap, though. I like it: the Argentoesque gloved killer, the scene where he chases the girl into the lift, the old clips, the Michael Parkinson interview... What do you make of it?

James said...

Thanks guys.
Carl, if you liked Theatre of Blood, you'd most likely appreciate the first Dr Phibes film.

Matthew, I'm asshamed to say I've not seen Madhouse. As it stars Vincent Price though, its really only a matter of time before I get around to checking it out. I'm already highly curious because of what you said: 'the Argentoesque gloved killer, the scene where he chases the girl into the lift, the old clips, the Michael Parkinson interview...' Sounds very much like my cup of tea.

Cheers!

senski said...

Hello, James -

Gratified to have come across your blog - looks like I'll be spending a few hours playing catch-up!

Back in '73 or so another Phibes movie was said to be in production, either known as Phibes Resurrectus or The Brides of Dr. Phibes. The plans fell through, and Price went on to Theater of Blood and Madhouse. Shame - I would have loved to have seen one more appearance from the good doctor.

Also, in the early 70s the Warren b&w comic mag Eerie serialized "Dr. Archaeus," a Phibesian character who killed the twelve members of the jury who sentenced him to death according to the verses of The 12 Days of Christmas! Quite wonderful, and the writer said it was his homage to the Phibes films.

Stop in at The Jar, James - we just opened up a little over a month ago, and the Guinness flows freely!

James said...

Senski, thanks for stopping by - and thanks so much for your comments! I didn't know there was a proposal to produce a third Phibes film. In a way though, the ending to the second film was perfect - Phibes and his darling Victoria sailing off into forever...
Now all that needs to be done is for me to check out Madhouse - a couple of people have mentioned that one recently, so I must track down a copy.

Thanks again for stopping by - don't be a stranger. ;)

PS - I really like the look of Heart in a Jar so far... Keep up the good work.

lordwilyarm said...

Regarding PHIBES RESURRECUS, this was actually announced around 1977-78 as i recall. It surprised me because I had just seen the Phibes movies on tv, loved them and was surprised and delighted to see that after so many years we were to get a third movie - and it was announced that it would star not only Vincent Price but also Roddy McDowall - one of my favourite actors. I have not mis-remembered this, as it was reported quite widely in the movie press here in the UK at the time, yet no-one on any blog seems to have this tidbit, for some reason. Just mention this for the completists out there. :)

James said...

*gasp* Thanks for that, LordWilyArm - I had not heard of this before. Just imagine, a film with both Vincent Price AND Roddy McDowall!?

*gazes off dreamily*

Shame it wasn't made - could have been fun. I have such a soft spot for the Phibes movies - though I'm happy that they ended as they did - with Phibes sailing towards a happy ending with Victoria.
Thanks for dropping by - don't be a stranger! ;o)