Director – Robert Fuest, Screenplay – Robert Fuest & Robert Blees, Producer – Louis M. Heyward, Photography – Alex Thomson, Music – John Gale, Makeup – Trevor Crole-Rees, Art Direction – Brian Eatwell. Production Company – AIP.
Vincent Price (Dr Anton Phibes), Valli Kemp (Vulnavia), Robert Quarry (Darius Beiderbeck), Peter Jeffrey (Inspector Trout), Fiona Lewis (Diana), John Cater (Waverly), Gerald Sim (Hackett), Hugh Griffith (Harry Ambrose), Terry-Thomas (Lombardo), Peter Cushing (Captain)
At the proper conjunction of the moon, Dr Phibes is automatically resurrected from his crypt and makes plans to travel to the Temple of Ibiscus in Egypt. The River of Life, which only flows every two thousand years, is about to flow again and with it Phibes will be able to resurrect his beloved wife Victoria. However, Phibes’s rival Darius Beiderbeck has stolen the map to the Temple of Ibiscus. As Beiderbeck mounts an archaeological expedition to find the Temple, Phibes and his trusty assistant Vulnavia set forth in pursuit, concocting a series of bizarre deaths for the members of Beiderbeck’s team.
The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) was a sublime exercise in camp horror, conducted with a droll elegant wit. It featured Vincent Price at his very best and was the single high note in the career of director Robert Fuest. Fuest and Vincent Price returned the following year for this sequel, which makes a valiant attempt to re-ignite the same elements of the original.
Certainly, many of the fans of the series hold Dr Phibes Rises Again as being up there alongside if not better than the original. To cast a contrary note, i felt a disappointment. It appears caught between the two camps that all sequels do in trying to maintain the same elements that made the original a success while heading off in its own directions. The results appear more haphazard and ultimately lack the surefooted sense of droll humour that characterised the original.
The original and its revenge motif was perfectly self-contained as a story, this feels much more strained trying to copy it. The set-up this time – Vincent Price employing his novelty deaths to kill the members of a rival archaeological expedition – is contrived. It is not exactly a realist film but the improbability of some of the set-ups – that Vincent Price has carted an entire clockwork army, concertina beds and the wherewithal to rig somebody’s car into a deathtrap with him into the desert – does seem ever so slightly incredible.
The film brings back Peter Jeffrey as Inspector Trout and several other actors from the first film – Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas – in different roles, as well as a small cameo from Peter Cushing as the captain of the ship. The film also gives Dr Phibes a nemesis in Biederbeck, played by Robert Quarry who had become a hot genre name following his success as the title character in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970). Alas, the film never pits Phibes and Biederbeck off against one another right until the end and the potential of the confrontation is largely missed. It should have been a confrontation on the order of James Bond or Batman facing off against a supervillain.
Vincent Price is still wonderful with that marvelously contorted job he does with eyes and hands. However, the film makes a mistake in giving him dialogue – he sometimes inconsistently speaking with the speaker phone he did in the original, mostly not. The voice-overs also destroy the witty sophistication that came in the first film’s silent pantomimes.
Some of the killings remain amusing – the pickling of Hugh Griffith’s victim in a giant gin bottle, another victim concertinaed up in his bed, a victim drowned in sand in his own car and Biederbeck’s servant being dispatched by a compressed-air snake substituted for a telephone receiver – and the film is entertaining enough in its own right.
A third Dr Phibes film was touted for a time but never emerged. In the 1980s, both director George A. Romero and actor Paul Clemens each tried to get their own Phibes sequel off the ground without success.
Robert Fuest went onto make a couple of other dull genre films, The Final Programme/The Last Days of Man on Earth (1974), The Devil’s Rain (1975) and an episode of the obscure horror anthology Three Dangerous Ladies (1988?), before entirely vanishing from cinema screens into tv.