Thursday, 29 October 2015

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (4 Stars)

This is a sequel to "The Abominable Dr. Phibes". It takes place three years later, in 1928. At the end of the last film Dr. Phibes lay in a machine that replaced his blood with embalming fluid, which we assumed killed him. In this film the same machine puts the blood back in his veins, bringing him back to life. That's a lot of trouble to go to. Couldn't he just have gone into hiding for three years?

1928 is a very significant year. The planets Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon will be in allignment for the first time in 2000 years. This will trigger the draining of an underground chamber in an Egyptian pyramid, opening the way to the River of Life. Whoever drinks from this river will live forever. Dr. Phibes doesn't just want this treasure for himself, he intends to use it to bring his wife Victoria back to life.

Unknown to him, another explorer, Darrus Biederbeck, is also searching for the River of Life. A few hundred years ago he discovered a small quantity in flasks, and he's been keeping himself alive by drinking it until the planetary allignment occurred. Biederbeck and Dr. Phibes engage one another in a battle of wits, each trying to get to the River first. Biederbeck has a large group of people helping him, while Dr. Phibes only has his assistant Vulnavia at his side. Dr. Phibes kills the men in Biederbeck's group one by one with cunning machines. A gun or a knife would be far too simple.

Robert Fuest returned as director, but this time he had problems with the film. He wanted Dr. Phibes to have a new assistant, but the film studios insisted on Vulnavia returning. This was rather foolish, because Vulnavia was killed in the first film. No explanation is given as to how she miraculously re-appears in the opening scene. There was also off-screen tension between Vincent Price and Robert Quarry, the actor who played Biederbeck. Robert accused Vincent Price of over-acting. That's actually true, Vincent Price always over-acted, but that's what made him so good. However, Robert Quarry said it as an insult, and the two men never got on well together.

Vulnavia plays a bigger role than in the first film. In "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" we only see her occasionally, but in "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" she assists Dr. Phibes more actively in his murders. She's frequently used as bait to lure the men into traps, although the doctor himself is always the one to carry out the murders. He enjoys killing too much to delegate it to his assistant.

I saw this film on television many, many years ago. I visited a friend, Gareth, and he was watching it with his family. I missed the first few minutes and didn't see the film's title. It amazed me, and for years I tried to find out what it was. Certain scenes haunted me for years, they were unforgettable. Those were the days before the Internet -- yes, I'm that old! -- so I couldn't do a web search to see what films Vincent Price had made. It wasn't until 2004 that I finally knew what it was and bought both Dr. Phibes films on DVD. Better late than never.

Over the years several Dr. Phibes films were planned. Full screenplays were even written, but the films were never made. That's a shame. I would have liked to see Robert Fuest and Vincent Price reunited. It's too late now. I don't think any other actor could step into Vincent Price's shoes.

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