IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! (1972)

Dr Phibes Rises Again Cover ArtThis column, a reprint from September 2006, is currently appearing in the September 2013 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

Don’t forget, if you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

You just can’t keep a good madman down.

Thus, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! (1972) is the sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971), the campy classic that gave Vincent Price one of his most memorable roles.  Price is back in the sequel, once again playing the mad disfigured genius who murders his enemies in the most creative and grotesque ways.

In the first film, Phibes seeks revenge against the doctors who couldn’t save his wife.  In DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! Phibes searches for an elusive Egyptian elixir to resurrect his wife, played by the beautiful Caroline Munroe [THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) among others] in an unbilled performance.

However, there’s another man also looking for the same supernatural elixir, Biederbeck, played with equal effectiveness by Robert Quarry.  At the time, Quarry was an up and coming star, riding the fame of his huge hit COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970), and he shares equal billing with Price.  Quarry is quite good in the film, and it’s too bad his career didn’t take off as expected.  He’s a lot of fun to watch, as is the whole movie.  If you haven’t seen the PHIBES movies, you’re missing quite a treat.

In a way, the PHIBES films are precursors to the current crop of gross-out movies, films like HOSTEL (2006) and SAW (2004), though the PHIBES movies kept everything campy and possessed a spirit of fun the current films don’t have.  They also had an actor like Vincent Price in the lead.

Price plays Phibes so over the top there’s really no way you can truly believe in the character.  Usually this is a bad thing, but here it’s good.  Price takes Phibes into the realm of fantasy.  As a result, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! doesn’t play like a gritty crime tale, the way many modern “horror” movies do.  HOSTEL, for instance, it’s really a crime movie.  DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! is a horror  movie.  Violent, yes, macabre, sure, stomach churning, you bet, but it never forgets one simple lesson:  it’s fun.

Dr. Phibes is one of Vincent Price’s best characters.  Phibes is a “phantom of the opera” character- his face is disfigured, he wears a mask in the likeness of Price’s own face, similar to his character in HOUSE OF WAX (1953), but unlike that character, Phibes can’t move his lips when speaking, so when Price speaks as Phibes, his voice is metallic, as if heard through a small tinny speaker, and his lips don’t move.  Price literally looks like a dead man talking.  Very effective, very cool.

And when we do see him without his mask, his face is a skull, and the skull make-up here is phenomenal.  It’s among the best “underneath the mask” make-up jobs ever. Other than Lon Chaney’s make-up in the silent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), there’s none better.

Robert Fuest directed DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! with the same flair he displayed while directing the original.  There’s an energy about these films that’s contagious.  Fuest also wrote the screenplay, along with Robert Blees.  There’s just the right mix of humor and horror.

There’s a great supporting cast as well.  Why, even Peter Cushing shows up, though for just one scene as a ship’s captain.  Blink and you’ll miss him!

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN! is the most fun you’ll have watching murder this side of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Where else will you find a grown man stuffed into a bottle and thrown overboard off a ship?

Hopefully, nowhere.

(September 2006)

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