BluRay/DVD Reviews

DR. PHIBES

By • Feb 20th, 2001 •

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The Abominable Dr. Phibes (MGM) 1971
1 hour 35 minutes, Color, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for 16:9 widescreen Tvs. Original.
PASSABLE

Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (MGM) 1972
1 hour 29 minutes, Color, 1.85:1 ratio, enhanced for 16:9 screens. Original Theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED

The “Phibes” films are Art Deco uniquities, and if you have room for some stylish black-comedy-horror in your collection, they belong. Witty, eccentric Brit director Robert Fuest had a mercilessly curtailed motion picture career, of which Phibes Part the 2nd was the height, even though it is a patchwork quilt and not terribly pretty as a result. On a professional high after the Phibes films, he came over here and did The Devil’s Rain, on which I hear the studio system drove him to despair. He hasn’t done a feature since, to my knowledge, though I’ve seen his name crop up occasionally on British tv.

The first Phibes is the more polished, and also the more staid. It set the darkly comedic tone that Fuest was to take to its limits in the second film, and there were others planned, and the gauntlet was even picked up by other genre directors like George Romero, but nothing more ever came of the series. In it, the titular character (Price at his most inimitably expressive, despite the fact that his character doesn’t speak through his mouth) is a former concert musician, now a cadaverous remnant of his former self out to avenge the death of his wife, and further to bring her back to life by occult means. His vengeance is exacted in biblical proportion – literally – as each of the guilty parties meets their demise in ways mandated by old testament prophecy. Locusts…rats… you name it, Phibes arranges it.

And in Rises Again!, he’s once more up to his old tricks, this time on a race to Egypt to find the underground river of eternal life, with the reliable Robert Quarry (Count Yorga) as his (not quite well-matched) adversary. This second installment leads to a eurphoric ending, wild and cathartic in the tradition of City Lights, Ride the High Country, The Informer, White Heat, 2001, all those daring films that send us back into our own worlds on a tremendous high. But disaster was to befall every incarnation of the second Phibes after its theatrical release, you see… wait a minute! I want to tell you, but I’m committing a cinematic sin. I’m verging on revealing a STORY SPOILER. Why I should be so worried about this, I don’t know. Half the coming attractions shown in theaters today ruin the film for everyone, so why shouldn’t I? But I won’t, at least not without warning you first. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you might read this part afterwards:

When Dr. Phibes Rises Again was originally released, the ending involved Quarry’s character being forced to make a fatal decision in order to save his wife, which caused him to age a hundred years in a matter of seconds. Clinging onto a barred gate submerged in four feet of water, his life ebbing away, he stares forlornly out at Phibes, who is blissfully paddling his ‘beloved’ into the darkness of eternal life while singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. It was, I can assure you, one of the inspired endings of film history. But alas, all the necessary music clearances hadn’t been obtained, so subsequent video releases, and laserdisc releases (US and Japan) were forced to replace the MGM musical crescendo with an ethereal choral piece which, admittedly, was effective, if completely lacking in irony. On the DVD box for the film, in a red rectangle marked “Fun Facts!”, someone has noted “Vincent Price recorded the song “Over the Rainbow” which was supposed to run under the credits, but was cut from the final version.” Grimly I ran the film, and to my overwhelming surprise, there was the original soundtrack back where it belonged. A mistake? A mistake that soon may be corrected? Buy your copy while you can! Remember what happened with The Little Shop of Horrors!

The double bill I recommend is the first Phibes followed by dessert, followed by Phibes # 2. Sip some colorful liquor during the screening. The good Doctor would have appreciated that touch.


The Abominable Dr. Phibes (MGM) 1971
theatrical trailer.
Director Robert Fuest.
Written by James Whiton and William Goldstein.
O riginal Music by Basil Kirchin.
With Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas and Virginia North as Vulnavia.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (MGM) 1972
Directed by Robert Fuest.
Written by Fuest and Robert Blees.
Original Music by John Gale.
With Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid, Terry-Thomas, and Valli Kemp as Vulnavia.

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