Thursday, 11 November 2010

High Phibes Diet

Dr. Phibes Rises Again 1972 UK/US
Directed by Robert Fuest
MGM Midnight Movies DVD Region 1

Abominable spoilers rise again.

Well, if you read my recent review of the first of these movies you’ll know the primary reason for me shelling out the achingly hard earned cash to purchase these was because the lovely Caroline Munro appears in them. You’ll also know of my crushing disappointment on discovery that her appearance in the films is uncredited as she plays the brief footage of The Abominable Dr. Phibes dead wife.

Caroline continues that role in the second of the Phibes movies and, to be fair, there’s a fair bit more footage of her in the second movie as she is pushed from pillar to post (or in this case, perhaps pillar to pyramid may be a more appropriate expression) as Phibes rises from his sleep/death which he commenced at the end of the last movie. Apparently this was the plan all along as he waited for the moon to come into some kind of alignment so he can cart his beloved Victoria (Caroline) away to Egypt and take her on a journey on the river of life once he has got to the critical time when he can unlock the gates and let some chambers flood and the course of the river resume (I think I’ve got that right... it’s all kinda vague and illogical to be honest... not that this matters of course). And of course, in order to do this, he also has to stand in the way of an interested party named Beiderbeck who has been living hundreds of years by extending his lifespan unnaturally but who wants to take that River of Life journey himself... so Phibes pretty much kills all of the Beiderbeck friends and colleagues one by one, naturally... much to the consternation of the English policeman and his boss, making a return from the last movie.

And it’s not just these two making a return here. Various character actors from the last movie (some killed in the last movie in fact) are back as different characters in this one (people like Terry Thomas) as is his mute assistant, the always good looking Vulnavia... although, to be fair, in this one she’s played by a different actress. There’s absolutely no explanation as to how she’s back after she was accidentally killed by a hideous acid Dr. Phibes death-trap which backfired in the last film... but she does turn up from some kind of heavenly lit tunnel and campily returns there at the end of the movie when her job is done. Bizarre!

Also on hand are a host of other character actors making quickie appearances, such as Beryl Reid and Peter Cushing. In addition there is also a young and, then relatively unknown actor, by the name of John Thaw who gets unconvincingly pecked to death by Dr. Phibes raven. The deaths in this movie aren’t exactly as sparklingly innovative as those in the first movie but the surprise tease of the first death is quite shiny and unexpected. A couple of snakes are left in the Billiard Room and the victim crushes them before they can do any harm. He realises they are just mechanical snakes and so ignores the third which turns out to be real and bites him. He cuts his wound open and sucks the poison out and gets on the phone to alert the police... however the phone has been rigged with a special receiver which sends a sharp spike through the man’s head... in one ear and out the other. Almost but not quite as haunting as being impaled by a catapulted statue of a unicorn which was one of the deaths in the first movie.

It’s not really much surprise that Dr. Phibes has an almost carbon copy of his London catacombs already pre-built in the egyptian tomb in question but it was unexpected to see the clockwork jazz band from the first movie back with him. All the elements are in place for a fun movie and although it’s in some ways a tribute to the old Universal Mummy series of movies from the 30s and 40s, it’s still not quite as entertaining as the first movie. All the stylistic trappings of the director are back in place but I suspect he’s better off with more episodic and less story driven fair... this movie does tend to pause more than the first to give more explanation as to what’s going on. I still think his absolute masterpiece was his third film, The Final Programme... but not that many people would agree with me on that one... especially not the writer of the original source novel on which it was based.

Still, Dr. Phibes Rises Again is certainly not a terrible movie and a fun enough time than a lot of other movies... even if it doesn’t have so much of the aforementioned Miss Munro in it! I’d have to say if you liked the first movie then you certainly should take a look at the second one. I’m surprised they haven’t tried to remake these for a modern cinema-going audience yet!

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