Dr Phibes Rises Again!

Dr Phibes Rises Again!I’ve been very much aware of the Vincent Price “Dr Phibes” films for some time. First came, The Abominable Dr Phibes in 1971 (co-starring Joseph Cotten). And then came, Dr Phibes Rises Again! in 1972. But it can take me forever to get around to seeing films. For one thing, if I’m awake, I tend to be working. So I usually have to assign time to watch a film — usually with the intent of writing about it. So it’s kind of like work and I usually take notes. And it was in this vein (and to escape the Iowa Caucus) that I watched the second Dr Phibes film Monday night.

Why did I wait so long? I love those early 1970s British Vincent Price vehicles. Theatre of Blood is one of my all time favorite films. (I wrote about it a couple of years ago, Two Great Vincent Price Murder Films.) Part of it is just the color. In black and white, a film like The Last Man on Earth can still be pretty frightening. (When I was a kid it terrified me — but then so did The Bride of Frankenstein.) But in color, it’s just so much fun. I am of the opinion that horror films are never supposed to be taken seriously. Just look at wonderful films like Dead Alive and Dead Snow.

In fact, let’s watch a little Dead Snow:

You get the idea. Well, Dr Phibes Rises Again! is very much in this tradition. The film doesn’t make a lot of sense. Remember the Ben Affleck Daredevil film where he has this whole elaborate lair? (Or Batman or just about any other superhero movie?) Well, it’s kind of the same thing here. Somehow, Dr Phibes and his assistant manage to get his huge pipe organ transferred from his hidden lair in London to his hidden lair in Egypt. How? Oh, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that Dr Phibes is going to kill a bunch of people in ingenious ways, and in between, there is a very good police procedural. But there is surprisingly little gore. This is after all, the early 1970s — from England! This isn’t some indy (great) nonsense from Norway or New Zealand. People had taste!

But while Theatre of Blood is implicitly campy and humorous, Dr Phibes Rises Again! is explicitly a comedy. And it does not go for naturalism. The art direction is distinctly flamboyant. The set designer was Brian Eatwell, who was art director on such gorgeous classics as Godspell, The Three Musketeers, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Much of it looks like it is right out of the last act of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Perhaps the greatest thing about it is that all the acting is so great. So it really is a joy to watch it even while you are waiting for the next gruesome murder. Of course, it wouldn’t work if it didn’t have Vincent Price to work his magic. Apparently, co-star Robert Quarry (who is great in it) thought that Price overacted. Well, yeah. What kind of film did Quarry think they were making? Perhaps he should have asked some of these questions:

  • Why does Dr Phibes want to kill all these people, given that it just makes what he’s trying to do harder?
  • How did Dr Phibes plant the spike in that phone, since he hadn’t been in the room before?
  • Why do both Dr Phibes and Darius Biederbeck (Quarry) need the papyrus scroll when they both clearly have it memorized?
  • Why do all the murder victims do just exactly what Dr Phibes expects?
  • Where the hell did they get that wind machine?!

I could go on and on and on. The point is that it doesn’t matter. It’s just a really fun movie that is acted great, looks beautiful, and even, is well written. It’s not like Attack of the Puppet People (See my review: Earth vs. Burt I. Gordon!) that just plods along with no direction. You get pulled through this movie. What a joy!

Note: you can get both Dr Phibes films in one set: The Abominable Dr Phibes / Dr Phibes Rises Again!

16 thoughts on “Dr Phibes Rises Again!

  1. Attack of the Puppet People had its moments, but Dr. Cyclops (1940) was better. In Technicolor!

    Who doesn’t love Vincent Price, even if I never could really buy him in a serious role? Though I’ve never cared much for camp, one of my own favorites was 1963’s The Raven, with Price, Lorre, and Karloff all spoofing their status as horror icons. Yes, I used to read Famous Monsters and build Aurora models. Now why hasn’t someone made a movie about that — I Was A 1960’s Monster Kid!

    Oh, wait, someone did — Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) — and it was wonderful! Seriously, it’s an under-appreciated jewel and everyone should watch it right now.

    “Matinee” trailer
    “MANT!” trailer

    • The Raven is a favorite of mine. It’s another film that doesn’t make much sense, but that is quite fun. The Comedy of Terrors is perhaps better (same actors, writer, director).

      You are so right about Matinee — a wonderful film. It’s one I force on people because most haven’t seen it and do love it once they do. Of course, I’m also a big William Castle fan, and it is kind of a loving ode to him.

      • Can’t recall ever seeing The Comedy of Terrors but it’s going on my list — Richard Matheson and the terrible trio from The Raven, plus Basil Rathbone and Jacques Tourneur? Hard to beat that lineup.

        • Yeah, I’m a huge fan of Matheson. He wrote so many things that I loved before I knew who he was. And he really can write comedy. The only thing about those two films that Peter Lorre looks so bad. He’s still wonderful. But he looks to me like he was suffering from edema. I can almost sense that he was in pain. But Comedy of Terrors is a nice swan song for him because he plays such a sweet character. Oh, and Rathbone is really great in it as well. And the direction is quite good. It’s all sound stage stuff, but it works.

    • Someone somewhere put together all of the “MANT!” scenes. The first part (which has the best stuff) was taken down. But the second part is still great and has that wonderful ending.

      • The “Mant!” mini movie is one of the extras on the “Matinee” BluRay, which I believe is still only available as a French release. Unfortunately it’s not on the US DVD, but you should be able to watch a lower quality clip of the trailer plus the whole 16 minutes of “Mant!” here —
        and this 9 minute “Mant!” fanedit is kind of fun too —

        • Thanks! It is brilliant. What’s more, placing the whole film during the Cuban Missile Crisis is great because it does provide the context of those films so well.

          Wonderful stuff in that. “But you didn’t have one cavity!”

          • I took a look at the start of Matinee last night and wound up rewatching the whole thing, this time paying a lot of attention to the backgrounds and set dressing. The comedic elements of the movie distract one from the amazing verisimilitude of the setting. There’s always a car cruising by or random characters playing out some other narrative behind the main actors in the foreground and somehow they look as if they are inhabiting the world rather than playing dress-up. The cars, clothes, hairstyles, advertisments, the interior decor of houses, school and stores — all of it spot on. Some things, like clothes and haircuts, look fresh and some worn, like the bedraggled carpet in the theatre.

            I can practically smell that theatre and the un-airconditioned grocery store, and they don’t smell like a modern multiplex or supermarket. It’s very evident that this movie was made by someone who actually lived through that time and remembers it. Another flick I love to watch for its “time capsule” effect was actually made during the time period of this one — 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

            By the way, there’s another short movie parody inside Matinee — the fake-Disney The Shook-Up Shopping Cart (with Naomi Watts). Like Mant!, it gets the look and tone just right.

            • I requested it from the library. I really enjoyed Dante’s “Gremlins 2,” which is just pure silliness from end to end. And the library blurb on “Matinee” suggested a kind of William Castle-type movie promoter. I think Castle’s a great American hustler. “The Tingler” is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

              • I assure you, those of us who saw “The Tingler” back in the day didn’t think it was funny. Nor even “The Alligator People”, not at the time, not as a pre-teen. Fun yes, funny no. Though I do often think of Karloff as Uncle Boris. “The Grinch” of course, also I still own an LP of him reading some of Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. Lovely stuff.

                • Oh, don’t get me wrong — it scared me a little — but I was old enough that it amused me more. As a preteen, the surprise switch to color would have given me a heart attack!

                • I’ll be damned. I got to thinking about some of the old novelty LP’s I’ve found on YouTube — the sort of thing they used to advertise in the back pages of Famous Monsters–so I did a YouTube search on karloff just so and hey, presto! Guess what popped up?

                  Karloff had one of the all-time great voices. Now I’m off to see what happens with Hal Holbrook Mark Twain. Have fun with Matinee, James.

                  • Back in 2000, I dragged my wife to see Holbrook do Mark Twain. She had no idea what it was and told me afterward that she expected it to be terrible. But she loved it, of course.

                • But The Tingler and even House on Haunted Hill are different from Dr Phibes or Theatre of Blood. As I touched on in the article, Bride of Frankenstein terrified me when I was a boy. Now I think it the most charming film ever.

            • It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. Now I should just buy it. I don’t know who wrote it. They may have lived through the period. Or just watched a lot of MST3K. Another thing that will block out everything else is Goodman himself. He’s such an overwhelming presence on the screen. And he works so perfectly with Cathy Moriarty’s sarcasm.

              Are you familiar with The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and the related films. They are wonderful. And what they do with forced perspective in The Lost Skeleton Returns Again really is amazing.

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