John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today we tag along with Vincent Price as he attempts to kill a group of archaeologists in the most complicated ways possible.
The Dr. Phibes films were to be the 1970’s equivalent of Saw. Characters are killed with various far-fetched contraptions based on a central theme. In Dr. Phibes Rises Again! Vincent Price makes his second appearance as the macabre music lover with a grotesque face and a undying love for his wife. He wears a an elaborate mask, has to speak using a cord that plugs into his neck and eats through a mysterious hole at the base of his skull. To put it simply, he is a very weird dude.
It’s been three years since Phibes went on a murder spree, killing the doctors who he believed messed up his wife’s surgery. He awakens from a self-imposed coma, determined to take his wife’s body to Egypt, where she is to be reawakened in the fabled River of Life. Along the way Phibes and his lovely assistant must murder a rival team of archeologists who are also in search of the mythological tomb of the pharohs.
This sequel was part of a proposed series of Phibes movies from American International Pictures. Based on the success of the first Phibes, AIP was anxious to rush this one into production and it shows. This doesn’t feel as polished as the first film. Phibes’ motivation to murder innocent people makes very little sense here. In the first movie, he was out for revenge, so he chose a theme (the ten plagues from the bible) and killed the people who wronged him via bats, locusts, rats, etc. This time, he chooses a loose egyptian theme for his kills featuring scorpions, sand, and... well the rest of the kills are kind of random really and don’t fit into the theme. One guy gets a nail through the ear when he answers the phone. Another is strangled, put into a giant empty gin bottle and thrown into the ocean. There had to have been some better ways to kill these people. How about mummification? Or scarabs? Or Phibes could have used a victim’s blood to draw hieroglyphics? I’m just spitballing here.
Also, why kill all of these innocents? It changes Phibes from a sympathetic madman into a cruel serial murderer. Apparently the producers had a series of pictures planned where Phibes would kill people using different themes. The Seven Fates of Phibes would feature kills based on Greek mythology. The Son of Phibes had to do with environmental disasters and kills triggered by tidal waves and earthquakes. Another film would involve Phibes taking on a think-tank of eccentric personalities and killing them via their greatest desires. Unfortunately none of these films materialized. Price was upset when he learned his co-star Robert Quarry was being groomed to take over his top spot at American International Pictures. Quarry had already starred in a couple of Count Yorga vampire movies for the production company and it’s rumored that AIP wanted to pit Dr. Phibes against the b-level vampire in a future film. That would have been fun to watch.
To really enjoy Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, you have to have a healthy suspension of disbelief. It would take weeks to setup some of these kills, yet Phibes and his assistant whip them up instantly. Somehow in a matter of hours, they transform the chambers of an ancient Eqyptian tomb into their headquarters, complete with pipe organ and marble floors. He has a robot band, spring loaded snakes, an attack bird that guards his lair and a mute beauty queen that does all of his dirty work. I’m kind of jealous.
The main reason to see the film though is Price and his insane performance. He’s a mentally deranged character performed by one horror’s maestro’s of the macabre. While this is far from his greatest film, there are a few interesting kills and a bizarre factor that make it worth a watch on a lazy afternoon.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again! is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s also available on DVD with The Abominable Dr. Phibes here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as a Japanese widower gets more than he bargains for when he courts a mysterious young woman.
Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil