Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Director: Robert Fuest

Peter Cushing’s birthday rather neatly coincides with those of his mates Chris Lee and Vincent Price, so this evening’s viewing was in honour of the latter. (Cushing’s in it too, but only for one short scene so I’m not making this part of the blogathon.)  You may or may not recall my delight at the first Dr Phibes film when I saw it about 18 months ago; people seem to be less happy about this follow-up, which came out a bit over a year later, some being particularly incensed about it “rewriting” and “undermining” the premise of the original. And, to be sure, the film doesn’t get off to the best start, i.e. a fairly long expository recap of the first film to set up the second (in which Phibes, having completed his mission of revenge against those who he blames for killing his wife Victoria, now returns on a new quest to restore Victoria to life); it’s fairly inelegant in its own right, but particularly suffers by comparison with the startling opening of the original (mind you, so do the opening reels of most films; the original Phibes is awfully hard to beat there). Once it actually does get underway, though, I actually found the thing extremely enjoyable; although the period setting is somewhat less marked here than in the first film, there’s still some fine production design on show, and the killings this time round have a memorably absurd cast to them (I thought the large scorpion-filled statue of Nipper next to the gramophone was a particular thigh-slapper). On some levels the film is perhaps even more preposterous than the original, which seems to be part of the problem the above review has; but The Abominable Dr Phibes was no model of serious storytelling either, and that absurdity is, I think, a large part of the appeal of both films. If the first Phibes still wins, the second one’s not too far behind. Hugely enjoyable.

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