Wednesday, 25 June 2014

MOVIE: The Complete Dr. Phibes (1971/72)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (UK/US 1971, 94m)

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (UK/US 1972, 89m)

Both from American International Pictures

Original certificate: X, currently rated 15

In this double bill, Dr Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) starts off by seeking revenge on the medical professionals he holds responsible for the death of his wife (an uncredited Caroline Munro). Aided by his accomplice Vulnavia (Virginia North/Valli Kemp), he starts to bump them off in murders based on the Ten Plagues Of Egypt. Is chief surgeon Dr. Versalius (Joseph Cotten) being saved for last?

In the second installment, Phibes heads to Egypt in search of the secret of eternal life itself! Can he get there before rival Darrus Beiderbeck (Robert Quarry), and wipe out his expeditionary team?

Make no mistake, the Dr. Phibes films are quite unlike anything else in British horror, or elsewhere on planet Earth come to think of it. They both draw from their star's past (think House Of Wax, The Mad Magician) whilst also providing a dry run for his tour-de-force Theatre Of Blood. However, that latter masterpiece still seems decidedly earthbound in comparison with this pair, both ably helmed by Robert Fuest.

Sure, they both require massive suspensions of disbelief at times, but then it could be argued that they inhabit their own universe anyway, a strange netherworld which feeds 1920's England through an art-deco filter and embraces the dying embers of the swinging UK captured in The Avengers. There's certainly more than a touch of that series (on which Fuest worked) in the style and execution of the doctor's diabolical plans, not to mention the look and feel of the productions as a whole.

It all provides a most unusual setting for the murders, ranging from animal attacks to deaths by mechanical contraptions. You can't help but wonder what influence they may have had on the Saw movies, whose whole raison d'etre isn't exactly a million miles away from this pair.

Price is excellent as usual, but this is actually quite a different performance from him. The doctor is unable to use his mouth, speaking through an amplification device, and Vincent acts the part entirely mute, overdubbing his lines later. The effect is quite disarming, adding a surreal dash to proceedings.

This is a fine duo of gruesome, yet laugh-packed films which feature sterling support from some of Britain's finest talents. If not quite the absolute pinnacle of Price's career, they're not far off and rank with his finest works.

9.5/10 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes
9/10 - Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Blu-Ray Notes: One of Arrow's most elaborate efforts, with two custom card cases and a beautifully rendered book, housed inside a textured case reproducing the first film's famous poster art.  There are commentaries from director Fuest, creator William Goldstein and film historian Tim Lucas spread across the set, recollections from Price's daughter Victoria, plus thoughts on the film from The League Of Gentlemen. The book is a real treat, full of new writing on the films, their music and the story of American International's short lived but notable UK branch, whilst Tim Burton shares his appreciation and Caroline Munro reveals exactly why she was uncredited...

The HD transfer does show up the low budget nature of the films, but in a rather endearing way, the set design making a virtue out of necessity. Vincent Price fans are being spoilt indeed. You really need this, but be quick - this edition is limited to 3,000! Comedy Of Terrors and The Haunted Palace are promised next...

Trailer - The Abominable Dr. Phibes:

Trailer - Dr Phibes Rises Again:

No comments:

Post a Comment