Bonus Reviews for this Week
The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Bonus Reviews Weekly Oct 31!
Let’s see… the previous issue of bonus reviews had five reviews, and we promised two per week in the future. My not-so-advanced math says that’s 8 or 10 reviews each month, which is just too long for one email. The simplest solution is to simply send out the promised two bonus reviews each week. So, from here on out, you’ll get two emails each week; one with the regular four-films-and-short from the website, and one with two (or more?) bonus reviews that don’t appear on the website or podcast.
Of course, all the regular reviews AND bonus reviews from each month will appear early each month in the “Horror Bulletin Monthly” issue available as an eBook or paperback from Amazon and other booksellers.
This week, our two bonus reviews are “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” a couple of Vincent Price classic films from the early 70s. Why these two films?
First, they’re a couple of my own personal favorite horror films of all time. They’re silly, they’re fun, and they literally never get old, at least not to me.
Second, it’s time to announce our newest book, “The Horror Guys Guide to the Horror Films of Vincent Price” that’s now available for pre-order. Only the eBook is available for pre-order; the paperback will be released on November 12th.
Naturally, we’ll be sending along this week’s regular reviews this weekend.
Brian and Kevin,
“The Horror Guys”
1971 The Abominable Dr. Phibes
· Directed by Robert Fuest
· Written by James Whiton, William Goldstein
· Stars Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton
· Run Time: 1 Hours 34 Minutes
A black-robed figure on a pipe organ rises onto the said as credits roll.
The camera draws back and we see a villain’s lair, complete with a clockwork orchestra (“Dr. Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards”), which the man in the black robes winds up and conducts. As they play, a door opens up, and in walks a woman in an over-the-top white dress. The man in black and the woman in white dance around the ballroom. He’s Dr. Phibes, and she’s Vulnavia, his devoted, but unspeaking assistant.
Phibes lowers a covered cage down into eh garage, where Vulnavia loads it into their car. The pair lower the cage into the bedroom of a sleeping man and pull away the empty cage. The man wakes up and finds himself locked in with several vampire bats! The next day, the serval brings breakfast only to find the man drained of blood. Phibes puts a little amulet around the neck of a bust of the man and then melts it.
Detective Trout is on the case of this doctor’s murder, and his sergeant mentions that there was a case just last week where another doctor was stung to death by bees. It looked like his face was covered in boils.
We see Phibes picking up ears and a nose and a wig. He may not be what he appears. We finally get to see his face, which looks like a very pale Vincent Price. He’s clearly dressed to go out.
There’s a costume ball, and Phibes hands an elegant frog mask to his next victim, Dr. Hargraves. He’s a psychiatrist, or as he jokes, “a head-shrinker.” The mask, over the next several minutes, shrinks his head. Phibes then melts another statue.
Trout says it, “bats, bees, and frogs.”
Dr. Longstreet is staying at home tonight, watching Victorian porn on his projector and drinking. Vulnavia comes in, looking far better than his old film, and he lets her tie him to the chair, because he’s a kinky old fart. Phibes comes in and drains out all his blood as Vulnavia plays the violin.
This time, Phibes drops one of the little amulets, which Trout finds the next day. Trout figures out that all the dead doctors once worked with Dr. Vesalius at one time or another. He goes to see Vesalius, who is playing with toy trains all through the interview.
Trout takes the pendant to the jeweler who explains that it’s part of a set or ten. “A lady” paid him to make them. The symbol on the thing was Hebrew, so Trout goes to see a rabbi. The rabbi explains about the ten plagues of the Bible. “Boils, bats, frogs, blood,” and Trout is convinced that this is the pattern. But how does that help? “Rats, Hail, Beasts, Locusts, Death of the firstborn, and then Darkness,” are still to come.
We cut back to Phibes, who talks through a tube to a painting of his dead wife. Vesalius says there was only one case where he worked with all the dead men. He shows Trout the file. In 1921, Victoria Regina Phibes died on the operating table. Her husband, Anton, a famous organist, rushed from their estate in Switzerland to be by her side, but his car went over the cliff, and he burned to death. At least that’s the official story.
In reality, Phibes spent the next four years working. He survived but could not speak; he built a device that plugs into the side of his neck to eat, drink, and speak through a huge phonograph-like device. Even more important, he’s come up with a plan to kill all nine doctors that had a hand in his wife’s death. Based on the ten Biblical plagues, Phibes and his mysterious aide, Vulnavia, kill them with blood, locusts, frogs, and so forth.
Trout and Vesalius open Phibes’ tomb, and there are ashes in there, but they could be anyone’s. There’s nothinginside the wife’s tomb.
The next doctor dies by hail, in the backseat of his car. The next gets swarmed by hungry rats in his tiny airplane, which crashes. Phibes and Vulnavia share a drink, which he pours into the back of his neck. Then they dance. Not long after, another doctor dies from being impales by a unicorn fired by catapult. The nurse that assisted in Mrs. Phibes failed operation is next, eaten by thousands of grasshoppers— because locusts are hard to get.
Vesalius’s son is kidnapped, so it’s going to be Death of the Firstborn for him. Phibes calls and tells Vesalius where to go. Phibes has his son hooked into a contraption that will pour acid on his head at midnight— unless Vesalius operates on him to remove a key from his chest in less than six minutes.
Phibes send Vulnavia to destroy everything. He pulls his own face off, and Vesalius sees what a monster Phibes really is. The police arrive but Phibes has already descended into his lair.
Vesalius gets the key and releases his son, just in time. Vulnavia, however, is standing right under the acid when it lets loose. Phibes puts his face back on and goes into a secret room with the body of his wife. He lays down next to her, plugs in a tube, and the room closes up as he’s embalmed right next to her. When the police finally figure out how to get down there, they can’t find him.
The final curse, that of darkness, is never used, but Phibes’ tomb does have a depiction of an eclipse, so just maybe he’ll be back one day.
This one is all about the color, imagery, and sound. It’s stylish, colorful, and has humor in all the right places; this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Phibes has his picture on the sunshade of his car. The clockwork band. The music. All the crazy sets. It all adds up to a fun time, even before the many creative deaths. Phibes seems to be having such a good time killing his enemies, you don’t want him to fail.
Trout explains that Phibes had no children, so exactly was Vulnavia, anyway?
This is easily one of my favorite movies from the early 70s. While most horror films of that period shoot for creepy, dark locales, this film goes for a colorful, musical vibe and whimsical silliness that wouldn’t feel out of place in the 1960s “Batman” series.
We never see Price actually speak in this. He sort of moves his lower jaw as a recording plays; Phibes cannot speak in his condition. This lack of speaking is probably why it’s not one of Price’s favorites, but it’s simply awesome anyway.
1972 Dr. Phibes Rises Again
· Directed by Robert Fuest
· Written by Robert Fuest, Robert Blees, James Whiton
· Stars Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp
· Run Time: 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
After embalming himself and accepting the tenth curse, that of darkness, Dr. Phibes died at the end of the first film. Or did he?
Nope. Three years have passed, and the machinery reverses itself, un-embalming Dr. Phibes (don’t think too hard about that). Phibes then summons Vulnavia, who now looks different, and they are going off to Egypt to find the River of Life and restore the still-dead Victoria to her former glory. Oh, and it’ll make them both immortal. The river only flows every two thousand years. Credits roll.
In the years that he “slept,” his house was wrecked. The safe has been opened, and the map inside is missing. Biederback was the only one who could have stolen it.
Biederback, a mysterious man with an interest in eternal life, is also searching for the river. Biederback tells his plans to his friend, Ambrose. He’s planning for a trip to Egypt as well.
Biederback’s servant Cheng is left to guard the stolen map, but he ends up battling clockwork snakes. At least until a real one bites him. He rushes for the phone, which impales him through the head— all the way through. Wow.
Scotland Yard, Inspector Trout again, is back on the case. Biederback doesn’t care about Cheng, he just wants that papyrus back. Phibes gives a monologue explaining his whole plan, with a secret palace he’s built beneath the sands of Egypt where they’ll wait until the appointed time.
Phibes and Vulnavia take a cruise to Africa with Victoria’s body and the whole mechanical band stored down in the hold. Biederback is on the very same boat, writes that he is taking three more drops of his elixir of life; if he fails in Egypt, he is doomed. Ambrose goes down into the cargo hold. He finds more than he was looking for. The captain wants to keep searching for the body, but Biederback insists they keep heading towards Egypt.
Phibes and Vulnavia arrive in Egypt and head straight for his caves. It’s another lair with another organ and another band.
Ambrose’s body washes up in a giant bottle of rum. Trout and his boss, Waverly, start asking around, and one of Ambrose’s friends mentions that a passenger wanted an organ in his room and had clockwork musicians. This triggers Trout. Mrs. Ambrose tells them exactly where Biederback and her now-dead husband were going.
Biederback arrives a bit late; two of his men have gone to the mountains without him. One is killed by an eagle.
Phibes goes through some hidden doors and finds a key. Vulnavia lures one of Biederback’s men into a giant metal scorpion that pins his arms. Then he releases real scorpions that finish him off.
Trout and Waverly arrive in Egypt, and they start looking for everyone else.
Phibes goes to where Victoria is hidden and finds that Biederback has broken in and taken her sarcophagus. Trout arrives and tells Biederback about Phibes. Phibes vows to get revenge on those who stole Victoria’s body.
That night, Phibes causes a windstorm with a huge movie prop fan. He uses the wind to cover the screams of the man he crushes in a giant vise. Phibes recovers Victoria, but the key is now missing.
Biederback has the key, and he refuses to give up and go home with the others. He’s obsessed with beating Phibes. Phibes, on the other hand kidnaps Diana, Biederback’s girlfriend and kills Hackett by sandblasting him. Trout and Waverly follow Biederback into the tombs.
Phibes has a whole special trap set up. Diana is fastened to a table in the room filling with water. The bed she’s on floats, but the roof of the room is covered in spikes. If she floats too long, she’ll be impaled. He has only three minutes to free her. “What kind of fiend are you?” Asks Biederback. “The kind that wins!” cries Phibes.
Beyond the gate lies the river of life, which gives eternal life. All that stands in his way is the gate to which Biederback has the key. Biederback admits that he already had an elixir of life, but he’s nearly out. The river of life is his only hope, but he relents to save Diana. He gives Phibes the key to the gate.
Biederback frees Diana. Trout and Waverly come in just too late. Vulnavia goes back to wherever she came from. Biederback swims after Phibes as the gate closes. As he screams for Phibes, he ages a thousand years in a fe seconds. Phibes sings as he rows his boat down the river of life, his immortality and restored wife now a sure thing.
This movie is fun, but it pales in comparison to the first one. They re-used many of the same cast members, even some who died in the first go-round. Supposedly, there were several cut scenes amounting to more than ten minutes, which makes the whole thing seems bit choppy and rushed.
Also, many of the deaths serve no purpose. Revenge was the whole point of the first movie, but here Phibes just kills for the fun of it. Phibes was very sympathetic in the first film, but far more malevolent here. Some of the devices he uses would literally require trucks to move, and most of the action takes place in the Egyptian desert of 1928, where there aren’t any roads or electrical outlets. Again, don’t think too hard on this one.
If you liked the first movie, this is a must-see, but keep your expectations in check, as this is not as much fun as the original.
There were additional sequels planned, including “Phibes Resurrectus,” “The Bride of Dr. Phibes,” and “The Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes.” Unfortunately, none of these ever happened.
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