TITLE: Dr Phibes Rises Again
YEAR RELEASED: 1972
DIRECTOR: Robert Fuest
CAST: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Peter Jeffrey, Terry-Thomas, Caroline Munro
REVIEW BY ANDREW GARVEY
Precious few horror sequels surpass the original film and the previous year’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes was always going to be an exceptionally hard act to follow.
Released some fifteen months after the original, the film opens with a quick recap of events so far and offers the flimsiest of reasons for Phibes’ return, this time to bring about his beloved wife’s magical resurrection.
But for maximum enjoyment, try not to think about the explanation too much – a hastily cobbled together mess of absolute poppycock that involves a secret crypt, suspended animation, the position of the moon, an ancient papyrus and the River of Life – and enjoy the ride.
Unlike the first film, which plays out as a mystery, slowly revealing what is going on, Phibes mostly talks us through events as they happen. Chiefly concerned with his wife’s reawakening, our voiceless hero (and this time around, the audience’s sympathies are even more clearly, and deliberately with the dastardly Phibes), just can’t help himself but murder a few hapless human obstacles along the way.
Some familiar faces return but the silent Vulnavia, Phibes’ stunning assistant is played this time by former Miss Australia, Valli Kemp. The difference is barely noticeable, Vulnavia being expected mostly to look beautiful and say nothing. And of course, the Clockwork Wizards are back for some more jolly tunes played in the creepiest of ways.
Peter Jeffrey is also back as the frustrated, bumbling Inspector Trout along with his boss, the impatient, officious Superintendent Waverley, once again played by John Cater. As in the first film, they share some great exchanges. The most memorable of them featuring Terry-Thomas, seen in the first film being drained of every drop of blood, and back, this time playing an incidental witness who sets Trout on Phibes’ trail.
There are some notable newcomers too. Price’s co-star Robert Quarry, fresh off a pair of AIP films as the vampire Count Yorga, is passable as mysterious Egyptologist Bierderbeck, a man almost as ruthlessly obsessed with eternal life as Phibes. Beryl Reid, British star of music hall, stage, screen and TV shows up, while John Thaw, who later played two of Britain’s most famous television policeman (Detective Jack Regan and Inspector Morse) makes an unfortunate discovery. Even Peter Cushing makes a criminally brief appearance as a dapper, moustachioed ship’s captain.
Visually, this sequel just isn’t as visually striking as the original, despite the exotic Egyptian setting (filmed in Spain). The deaths are more elaborate but less genuinely memorable, although there’s a truly inspired one involving scorpions and trousers. Price’s eyebrows are back on form again, handling most of the acting for him but, second time around it’s just as satisfying a turn for the malevolently ingenious Phibes.
Some sequels aim for a different tone, something new. Dr Phibes Rises Again doesn’t. It’s visually stylish, imaginative, genuinely funny, just as the first film is. It just doesn’t do any of these things as well as the original. But it still does them much better than the vast majority of 70s horror films.
ANDREW GARVEY lives in Staffordshire. He writes (infrequently) about mixed martial arts, professional wrestling, history, horror and folklore. Follow him on Twitter: @AMGarvey Check out more Andrew Garvey articles for the Spooky Isles here.