Director: Robert Fuest
Screenplay: Robert Blees, Robert Fuest
Cast: Vincent Price (as Dr. Anton Phibes); Robert Quarry (as Darius Biederbeck); Valli Kemp (as Vulnavia); Peter Jeffrey (as Inspecter Trout); Fiona Lewis (as Diana Trowbridge); Hugh Griffith (as Harry Ambrose); Beryl Reid (as Miss Ambrose)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #1
[The following is a project to help boost my productivity in creating blog posts. While I felt 1000 Anime needed its own blog, the impracticality now of writing long form reviews for a thousand or more horror films alongside the main meat of this blog and the other, especially as it'll be a large category of films to go from than the abstract and anime, means that I'll stick to shorter reviews. Some will get longer posts on them, especially if they fit into the Cinema of the Abstract guidelines, but the shorter writing piece style feels more appropriate and will free me in my ability to write reviews. After a thousand films are covered, it'll be likely I'll go to a thousand more or at least change the title.]
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is absolutely worth seeing. As someone who admits that his own country's horror cinema can be exceptionally disappointing at times, the first Dr. Phibes film is a deliciously strange comedy horror. It's very loosely horror in honesty, but ghoulish enough to fit the genre perfectly, finding it better than Theatre of Blood (1973) in terms of a curious sub-genre of the early seventies about Vincent Price killing people in unique ways, standing out more for its Art Deco retro vibe and how the humour feels even more morbid in Dr. Phibes because of its elegant style and restraint. It stands out with a strange air that's more compelling, Price not speaking a great deal throughout the film and having to command the screen with his face, the strangeness of the murders in general, and touches such as the first ten minutes of the film having no dialogue, the first line of dialogue uttered after someone gets savaged by bats and gets the thrills going.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again is clearly a sequel meant to capitalise off the back of the original's success, and like many sequels it completely rewrites the original ending and tries to add new back-story which doesn't make sense to include in the slightest. In the same logic that through in pagan mythology for Michael Myers decades later, Dr. Phibes has now returned and is going to Egypt with the resurrected Vulnavia (Kemp) to revive his late wife through a river of life documented in Egyptian lore, terrorising a team led by Darius Biederbeck (Quarry) who also wants the immortality of the water for himself. Whilst it was established Dr. Phibes was a professor in music and religion in the first film, killing people by replicating the ten Biblical plagues that were sent against the Egyptian pharaoh oppressing Moses and the Jews, the film does slip out from the campy absurdity of the first film into full-on supernatural territory, not as bad as making a magic sword to kill Jason Voorhees in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) but still a strange change of place alongside rewriting the original film's perfect ending and the fact Phibes was just extremely go at making and planning elaborate methods of killing people.
The notion of turning the Phibes sequel into a turn of the century adventure film isn't that bad of an idea if you're willing to go along with the second film existing. Despite rewriting the original film it's not a bad idea to run with an Egyptian adventure aesthetic especially as the first film obsessed over twenties jazz music and interior designs. Making an entire film including the plot soaked in this style would've been perfect...until the very limited sets leave no sense of scale, just sandy dunes, and cameos from the likes of Peter Cushing as a ship's captain or Terry-Thomas wasted without the glee of the first film. The policemen from the first film Inspector Trout (Jeffery) and his superior Superintendent Waverley (John Cater) appear again, but unlike the important of the characters in plot and comedy from the prequel, they feel completely wasted, going out of their jurisdiction to Egypt and not contributing anything to the finale. And as an antagonist to Price, Quarry is very weak, who when placed against Joseph Cotton from the original is merely adequate in charisma in comparison.
It neither helps the plot is gibberish either and not fun gibberish in the slightest. This is signposted by Vincent Price has far more dialogue and narration in comparison to the first film; while Price had a magnificent voice which makes almost any dialogue sound like Shakespeare, Phibes was an exception where less was more for Price, better when he's mostly silent and allowing Price to relish the dialogue that did appear for the character in the prequel with greater emphasis. Instead here his continuous amount of exposition is a part of the sluggishness of the film in pace with the type of endless dialogue that I hate in many sixties and seventies British horror movies. The only really interesting aspect of the film in general is its style. The Art-Deco style is still as strong, hieroglyphics of top hated dancers in Phibe's new lair part of the wonderful kitsch in small details, and the deaths separated from the narrative are just as interesting even if they're not as inventive as the first film, from the use of a giant prop bottle to clockwork snakes around a pool table. It's unfortunately that this continuing high quality in the technical side has a less than interesting plot as its connective tissue, the result a pointless continuation.