July 17, 2013

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Directed by Robert Fuest. Starring Vincent Price ("Dr. Anton Phibes"), Robert Quarry ("Darrus Biederbeck"), Valli Kemp ("Vulnavia"), and Peter Jeffrey ("Inspecter Trout"). Rated PG.

Source: Region 1 DVD (MGM)
Running time: 01:29:23
Country: UK, USA

After the events of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, which saw the diabolical Phibes and his trustworthy assistant Vulnavia go down in a blaze of glory, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN sees the duo rising from the wreckage after a three-year hibernation thanks to some sort of significance in the lunar cycle. Whereas Phibes was motivated by vengeance in the original film, his goal this time around is to resurrect his wife Victoria (Caroline Munro), so naturally he and the ethereal Vulnavia travel to Egypt to make it a reality.

Turns out an ambitious explorer named Biederbeck stole something that belonged to Phibes as he lay dormant following the disastrous events of the first film, and it's this particular item that Phibes needs to bring his bride back from the dead. The item is apparently a key to achieving immortality or something along those lines, which would probably explain the mystic origins of Phibes and the mysterious Vulnavia. Biederbeck has his own agenda, though, and it has to do with an Egyptian tomb and a hidden River of Life, hence why Phibes has to travel all the way to Egypt to track down the dastardly Biederbeck.

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN was apparently rushed into production following the success of the original, and it was supposedly given less of a budget as a result. That said, this particular film is somewhat reflective of a rushed production. Whereas the first one was extravagant and spectacular, this one is stripped down to the bare essentials in a lot of ways, but it's not to say that this sequel doesn't have that same weird atmosphere as its predecessor. The only difference that kinda bothered me personally is the absence of Virginia North as Vulnavia. As evident by the gushing in my review of ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, I adored both the character Vulnavia and the actress Virginia North, who couldn't reprise her role due to being pregnant. There was something so indescribably angelic and graceful about her, which is something I can't say about Vulnavia this time around. It's not to say that Australian actress Valli Kemp did a bad job, though; she's equally as gorgeous, but her approach to playing the role seemed a tad different and thus her chemistry with Vincent Price was lacking. But who knows, it could've just been due to the hurried production.

I hate to keep referencing the original, but I feel like I sort of have to. It's almost impossible to review this is a standalone film and judge it on its own merits. Same director, same cast, same lead characters, same expectations. Prior to watching ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, I've heard it referred to as campy, which is accurate to a degree, but the tragic background of Dr. Phibes makes the camp easy to overlook. For what it's worth, I can't say the same thing about this film, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The camp in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN is right at the forefront in a lot of ways, which is inherent considering the revenge angle is replaced with one that could be described as Frankensteinean. The fact that Phibes not only brings his entire band of Automaton musicians to Egypt but manages to rebuild his elaborate ballroom inside of a pyramid speaks volumes about the levels of absurdity in this sequel.

Vincent Price is great as usual, but the mystique and tragedy of his character is almost completely missing in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. He's a lot more exposed and talkative, and most of the time I have no idea what he's talking about. To say that he babbles a lot would be an understatement. I also think it's safe to say that he's more of a heel in this one.

Ultimately, DR. PHIBES is a step down all across the board in comparison to its predecessor, but, to be fair, that's a hard film to follow. As I already mentioned, this was essentially made to capitalize on the success of the original, so the sincerity won't be as evident. This is a more of a straight-forward campy horror-comedy; it's not as engaging and dazzling, but the beautiful cinematography is still accounted for, as are the elaborate set-pieces. The Ancient Egyptian imagery is noteworthy, and I admire how Phibes uses Egyptian iconography and themes when killing people in this. The final set-piece is a SAW-like trap where someone has to race against time to save someone. Overall, not nearly as good as ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, but not much British horror of this era is.

Score: 6.5


  1. Finely balanced review, Aaron. I haven't watched either in some time, but I remember liking them both about equally. I thought the sequel was a bit more grim, but loved the black comedy and humor of the police involved. A shame the third movie never got off the ground, although you could say THEATER OF BLOOD was a Phibes movie in disguise.

  2. Thanks! I liked the comedic elements that the inspectors brought to the film, but I felt they were much better utilized in ABOMINABLE. Despite me not being able to get into British humor all that much, I missed the presence of the inspectors in PHIBES RISES AGAIN.

  3. Definitely not as good as the original. Some outright weirdness helps but you can tell the director's heart wasn't in it. And yet, worth watching.

  4. As to Vulnavia, her character is a questionable one. Who is she? Where does she come from? What is her nature? For some speculations, most thought of her as a clockwork much like the mechanical band Phibes kept in his mansion, and the temple in Egypt. That may not be the case. Since his explanations about reviving his wife using the river of life was so openly talked about. It is suffice to say that Vulnavia was a muse. A deity brought about by Phibes after his discovery of the gate itself before his wife died under the knife. Using the book of the dead from his excursions, he called upon the Egyptian god Ra, to send him a trusted aid for his endeavors to find the river of life. This is more plausible since the mysticism's around the egyptian gods are so elusive. It explains on why or how she appears from an alcove from nowhere, a long tunnel with no end, which displays light around her, or that only she can enter or leave by. Continued speculations conjure up more theories, but in the end, she was not a piece of clockwork Phibes created. She was simply an aid from the netherworld, or more known as the land of the dead. Because Phibes had more experience other than Beiderbeck in theology, and believed with his heart other than Beiderbeck did who only thought of immortality. It was a great continuation in this series, and Vincent Price always gives a great performance, no matter what role he took. RIP Price. Thank you for so many nightmares.