My God, how I hate this movie.
Would that I could leave it at that. But no, one should
not consider one without the other, so let us progress
on to The Abominable Dr. Phibes' sequel, released
a mere year later: Dr. Phibes Rises Again, although
it will, to employ the parlance of the stoner, "Harsh
my Phibes buzz."
The movie begins with a recap of the previous movie,
narrated by none other than announcer icon Gary Owens,
which gives us hope (in announcer terms, Paul Frees
= serious, Gary Owens = comedy). But the first spot
of trouble, for me, occurs when Gary tells us of Phibes'
wife enshrined, "not alive, nor completely dead."
First of all, I despise sequels that start off by telling
me that everything I learned in the first movie is a
lie. Highlander II did that to me, and I bitterly
washed my hands of the franchise, and never looked back.
Now, according to the timeline established in the first
movie, the death of Victoria Phibes on the operating
table preceded the events of the movie by about five
years. During that time, Phibes recovered from his car
wreck, stole Victoria's body from the family mausoleum,
planned his revenge and tinkered together his infernal
devices. Now, given that Phibes was ostensibly in Switzerland
when his car went off a cliff, it's very hard to make
the leap that Victoria moldered in a coffin "not
alive, nor completely dead" for the time it would
have taken Phibes, battered, bloody, faceless and probably
still smoldering from that crash, to get to London to
steal her body... no matter how inept Phibes
felt the surgical team.
has a theory that Phibes is some variety of the undead,
and his animation may be the result of some dreadful
Satanic pact; witness that, in the opening of this movie,
after the machinery in his crypt-for-two reverses itself
and replaces the embalming fluid with blood, the resurrected
Phibes flourishes, "I summon you again, Vulnavia!"
and his silent female assistant appears, dancing down
some brightly-lit 2001 tunnel of mirrors. This
is a different Vulnavia - Valli Kemp, to be precise
- which is unsurprising, as we saw the last Vulnavia
walking under an acid bath at the end of the last movie.
Andrew posits that Vulnavia is actually a demonic entity,
sent to assist Phibes in his worldly depravations.
I, too, have a theory, but I'll save it for later.
No, wait, I have another theory, and I'll tell
it to you right now: Andrew and I have just spent more
time thinking about this movie and its plot than director/screenwright
Robert Fuest ever did.
Oh, let's get on with it. It's been three years since
the events of the first movie. The planetary conjunction
that set Phibes' resurrection equipment into motion
precedes another astronomical event which will open
the gates to the legendary Egyptian River of Life, which
Phibes feels will revivify Victoria and grant them both
eternal life. Fortunately, he has an ancient papyrus
map in his safe upstairs which will take them to this
location. So Phibes plays the tune that causes his organ
to rise to the ground floor of his mansion.
Only to find that someone has demolished the house
and taken the papyrus (shouldn't something that important
have been in the crypt with him? I know, I know, hindsight
is always 20/20, but...). Fortunately for Phibes (and
the length of the movie) he knows that only someone
who knows the value of the artifact could be responsible...Biederbeck!
Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) is an archeologist who has
other portions of the papyrus map and is quite pleased
to have found this last, largest piece. He's also something
of a prick about wanting to go to Egypt, as in right
now. The reason is that Biederbeck is also looking
for the River of Life. He is so old that he has forgotten
his age, and is secretly taking an Elixir of Life©
to maintain his youth, but he just about run out of
the stuff, and his HMO won't cover the refills anymore.
I'm sorry, that was supposed to be a surprise revelation
at the end of the movie. Yeah, it's about as surprising
as finding out that Citizen Kane is about some
guy named Kane.
Anyway, Biederbeck goes to a soiree with his fiancee
Diana (Fiona Lewis) and partner Ambrose (Hugh Griffeth,
who was, curiously enough, the Rabbi who illuminated
Inspector Trout as to the Plagues of Pharaoh in the
first movie), leaving the papyrus in a wall safe, guarded
by his hulking brute of a butler (Milton Reid). Not
that this sort of frippery will stop Phibes, of course.
As the butler plays a round of snooker, he becomes
aware of strange whirring sounds. These he tracks
to the enormous snakes slithering across the floor toward
him. Well, Brute + Stick in hand + snake = flattened
snake, if you get my drift. And that whirring sound?
Turns out the snakes are merely cunning clockwork replicas,
as evidenced by the gears in their guts and the big
windup key in their side. The butler is quite impressed
with the workmanship, and when he picks up a third snake
to admire it, notices too late that the whirring is
coming from a device taped to a very real snake. As
evidenced by the way it bites him (although it's a reticulated
python and I had no idea they were poisonous).
playing Mash The Snake and cutting open his wound, the
butler grabs a phone to call for help, but the wily
Vulnavia has substituted a fake hand set, and a gush
of compressed air drives a golden snake completely through
the butler's head, killing him, and leaving Phibes all
the time in the world to crack the safe and make off
with the map.
Enter once more Inspector Trout (again, Peter Jeffrey),
who is more than a bit nonplussed that Biederbeck is
more concerned about his stolen map than his dead manservant.
Upshot of it all: Biederbeck, Diana and Ambrose board
an ocean liner for Egypt the next day, and if you presume
that Phibes has already loaded the glass case with dead
wife and some new clockwork musicians on the very same
liner, then you get an "A" in Movie Coincidences
For extra credit, you may write a report on why Ambrose
was rummaging around in the ship's hold, allowing him
to discover the case holding Victoria, which immediately
earns him the wrath of Phibes - although anybody
could see the damned thing, propped up as it is against
a wall in the hold of the ship - and the poor fellow's
corpse is stuffed into a six foot tall gin bottle (don't
ask) and tossed overboard.
puts things back in Trout's court. Interviewing the
shipping agent for the cruiser (Terry-Thomas, who was
exsanguinated by Phibes in the first movie - I mean,
here he's playing another character entirely, but still...
what, are there only four or five actors available in
England on any given day?) (where was I? Oh, yes...)
interviewing the shipping agent, it is revealed by accident
that one passenger demanded an organ in his room...
and he was accompanied by a beautiful young lady...
and some clockwork musicians....
Trout demonstrates the brilliant deductive reasoning
that has been his hallmark throughout the series and
realizes that Phibes is back, and the body count is
only just beginning. Trout's superior, Waverly (John
Cater) upon learning that Phibes purchased a one-way
ticket, theorizes brightly, "Maybe he won't come
back!" Wishful thinking on the part of Scotland
Yard aside, Trout and Waverly prepare for the dogged
(and rather unbelievable) pursuit of Phibes.
Meantime, Phibes arrives at the mountain everyone is
converging upon and sets up shop. Years ago, it seems,
he "prepared a palace" for this occasion,
meaning he has an organ and art deco furnishings, his
robot "Alexandrian Quartet", and obviously
a whacking great generator for all this stuff. Please
don't ask me when the hell he did all this, I have a
headache as it is.
Biederbeck arrives at his camp and is angered to find
that the younger archeologists got tired of waiting
for him and went searching on their own. This is quite
unfortunate for one, who gets too close to Victoria's
resting place and runs afoul of the eagle left to protect
her. Yeah. An eagle. I know, you were expecting a pneumatic
jackal or a clockwork crocodile or somesuch - I know
I was - but no, he gets jumped by a bird. And we find
out, once more, that facial lacerations are fatal.
Biederbeck is bitching at the other diggers for mucking
about in "his mountain", Diana notices something
unusual on the floor of her tent. Brushing away the
sand, she does a bit of excavation on her own, using
her hairbrush, until she reveals - the ruined face of
the eagle victim, buried in the sand underneath her
tent. Wha? Waitaminnit!! when did he...? How did
he....? Oh, never mind. All I can report with any
certainty is that this is the point where my Willing
Suspension of Disbelief announced it was going to do
something easier, like teach advanced calculus to the
indigenous tribes of the Amazon jungle, and left, slamming
the door behind it.
Well, too bad about that fellow, pip pip and all that,
there's still a mountain to expedite, or something.
Phibes finds a "secret" door (imagine "secret"
said with big David Spade-style air quotes) leading
to an ornate golden sarcophagus. Pulling back a lever
in the shape of a cobra opens the case, revealing the
dust and pitiful bandages, all that remain of some long-forgotten
ruler. Pulling it back further reveals a secret
compartment beneath the mummy case. Phibes immediately
surmises that this would be an excellent place to conceal
Victoria. (What? Did he give the watch-eagle the night
off? Or perhaps, in the three years he spent in his
own little crypt, some of his stored blood evaporated
and he now doesn't have enough to reach his brain.)
Just to prove that last parenthetical point, Phibes
discovers that pressing the lever forward causes
the cobra to stick out its tongue: the key to the gates
of the River of Life! But then Phibes puts it back
in the snake, instead of keeping it close for safekeeping.
Or giving it to Vulnavia, since everybody who comes
within five feet of her tends to wind up dead.
just to prove that point, one of the other diggers
(who has been eyeing Diana's silhouette as she changes
in her tent) is enticed away from camp by the winsome
Vulnavia, and into a tent of her own, where she seats
him in a golden throne in the shape of a scorpion. Well,
the appearance of Phibes (in a sheik outfit, no less)
insures that the claws will close on the fellow's arms,
trapping him (as the claws are lined with spikes, ouchie!)
and places the key that will unlock the contraption
in a porcelain dog at his feet (why a dog? There's a
gramophone nearby, and he's just made the RCA Victor
logo. The lack of a close-up providing the punchline
makes me believe the product placement money did not
The trapped man (do I care enough to note his name?
Hardly) smashes the decorative dog, and.... well, it's
never that simple with Phibes, is it? The dog is full
of scorpions, and they must have really loved that dog
a lot, because they proceed to swarm all over the poor
bastard and sting him to death. Maybe they were on loan
from Lucio Fulci. No, wait, they're not making any sounds,
so never mind. Forget I said anything. Phibes sits nearby,
quoting Shakespeare and listening to Vulnavia play the
violin. And the guy screaming. Man, how far from his
own camp did he follow Vulnavia?
This chess game goes back and forth: Biederbeck's party
breaks through a wall and finds the sarcophagus, meaning
that they now have Victoria and the key (though they
do not know it). No sooner does Biederbeck discover
the key, however, than Trout and Waverly finally manage
to find the camp, along with what they found in the
middle of the desert: no, not Priscilla, but the scorpion
throne with a very dead and very swollen victim guy
still trapped within.
the news that they're dealing with no less than Anton
Phibes, it is decided that everyone will head for civilization
the next morning, except, of course, for Biederbeck,
who still won't tell anybody why he's really there.
He tells the last digger to spend the night in the tent
with the sarcophagus, though really, he might as well
have asked the guy to commit hara-kiri on the
spot. The results would have been the same.
That night, Phibes whips up a sand storm with an enormous
fan (where did he get that, you might ask? I say a better
question is what's powering it, but these questions
pale in comparison to the next bit). The Bad Doctor
then proceeds to crush the guard slowly in an
enormous vise - this victim somehow managed to sleep
through Vulnavia strapping him to his cot - and makes
off with the sarcophagus.
But! Biederbeck was smart enough to pocket the all-important
key! Which means when, the next morning, when Hackett,
the camp Foreman tries to take Diana to safety, they
will stop their car when they hear bagpipes and see
the Union Jack over the next dune. Why, it must be the
Scottish Fusiliers, on desert patrol! Hackett walks
over the dune to inform the soldiers of the Phibes Menace,
only to find that the music is playing on a gramophone,
the flag held by a clockwork musician (in full regalia,
though). And returning to car, discovering that in his
absence, the fiend has made off with Diana! Sadly, he
starts the car - and the gas
gauge erupts in a stream of sand, endlessly directed
at him as he screams in pain. You might ask when Phibes
might have had time to install this new infernal device.
You might, because I was too busy paging my Willing
Suspension of Disbelief, trying to find out if there
was another seat on that plane to the Amazon.
After the truck containing the sand-blasted skeleton
of Hackett crashes into the camp, Biederbeck runs off
to confront Phibes, Trout and Waverly in lukewarm pursuit
(meaning they wind up on the wrong side of a secret
door). Phibes has placed Diana on a wooden platform
in a room that slowly floods with water. As the water
rises, she will rise on the floating platform toward
the ceiling, where golden snakes with spiked tongues
wait to impale her. Only the key, which will open the
gates to the River of Life and send the water flowing
into it, will save her. Biederbeck's love for her is
stronger than his will to survive, ultimately, and he
surrenders the key to Phibes.
making certain that Diana is alright, Biederbeck returns
to the flood room too late, as Phibes' funeral barge
with Victoria in her bier has passed through the gates,
which slam shut behind him. Biederbeck bangs at the
gates, begging Phibes to return for him. Diana, rescued
from her cage by Trout and Waverly, tells him, "It's
not the end of the world." Which shows how much
she knows, as Biederbeck's true age manifests
itself in the twinkling of an eye. Oh, and Vincent Price
sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The end*.
Alot of people like this movie. Most of them will still
admit that it's not as good as the first, but there
are also those who think it's better. People
in the latter camp will kindly go away and leave me
It's not just the playing fast and loose with the previous
film, though the knowledge that Phibes was just planning
on an extended vacation when he embalmed himself at
the end of the first movie really spoils the rather
artful symmetry of that climax. It's not just the new
Vulnavia. It's not just the jazzier organ music or the
larger range of facial expression that Price allows
himself in this campier outing. No - it's everything.
Alright, perhaps not everything - John Gale's
film score, for instance, is simply magnificent. But
few things sadden and anger me as much as squandered
potential, and Dr. Phibes Rises Again takes a
character full of rich possibilities and proceeds to
squander it. I also really like the word squander.
Squander squander squander....
By and large it is the lack of the revenge motif that
eventually torpedoes this movie for me. Without the
backdrop of a perceived wrong driving his actions, Anton
Phibes becomes merely another screen psycho, killing
people simply because they get in the way. Only the
clockwork snakes and the fake telephone show the old
Phibes style - everything else is leadenly overblown,
as if it were some graceless imitator putting on the
fake Vincent Price face (the eagle attack especially
reeks of desperation on the part of the filmmakers -
"What? We've gone ten minutes without a murder?
Do something! Incidentally, you've already spent
the art budget, so don't build anything").
the first movie poked at the "Oh, Come on!"
area of your brain with a pointed stick, it was playful
enough that the outlandishness of the murders just added
to the entertainment value. It was also put forth that
Phibes had years to plan his Byzantine revenge,
to cobble together the devices necessary. It was ghoulish
fun to see what he was going to pull next, how
he would exploit the Ten Plagues, how he would accomplish
the Curse of Beasts. Deprived of that structure, we
are left to wonder just where the hell Phibes is getting
all this equipment in the middle of nowhere.
Especially since almost everything in the dismal script
seems simply to be filler between murders. The first
movie's script was a ferociously lean affair, propelling
us from murder to murder with hardly an ounce of fat.
It doesn't seem like a movie that lasts 95 minutes.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again, on the other hand, seems
to go on far longer than its briefer 89 minute running
time. Not helping is some confusing camerawork, moments
where we're left unsure what we're looking at: the face
of the eagle victim, buried in the sand (with much more
of his face consumed than we saw - were we supposed
to recognize him?). And we are supposed to assume
that Trout and Waverly somehow lifted the scorpion throne
and its victim to the top of their car to motor
it into Biederbeck's camp, since we never see it and
the car in the same shot - just a picture of the throne
apparently floating in space. Some of this can chalked
up to the film's budget, some to draconian editing to
speed up its leaden pace - but some of it's just sloppy
I've pretty much already sniped at everything I found
tedious or annoying; Price is still great fun to watch,
at least. Robert Quarry plays a*holes with a lot of
conviction, it must be said. The poor guy's really been
just about every movie in which I've seen him .
puzzling of all is the cameo by Peter Cushing as the
ship's Captain, who expresses surprise that Biederbeck
is not more concerned about Ambrose's disappearance;
likely AIP could only afford him for the day, but the
movie would have been a far different creature had it
been able to employ more Cushing. Sigh.
Yhere was a third film planned: Brides of Dr. Phibes.
But having sat through this sequel for the fourth time
- and that's twice more than I ever intended to - I
can only say that I am happy I didn't have to endure
that one. Unless Fuest wasn't slated to have anything
to do with it. In that case, I'm really pissed off that
it was never made.
Oh, yeah, I said I had a
theory about Vulnavia, didn't I? It's a highly unlikely
one, but it would explain a couple of things. It all
hinges on the fact that Phibes is a mechanical genius;
I think that Vulnavia is his ultimate creation. Um hm.
She's a robot.
and myself are reviewing both Phibes films as Phibes-A-Poppin'
(well, that's what I'm calling it, anyway). Andrew's
review lies here.
Go there. Enjoy. I, in the meantime, need to go watch
the first movie again so this weakly-made dross doesn't
remain my last memory of Vincent.