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!