Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972)

The campaign starts here - it's been nearly 40 years since (The Abominable) Doctor Phibes and his saucepot assistant Vulnavia sailed off to enjoy eternal life under the pyramids - and I, for one, want 'em back.

After re-re-reviewing the cinematic perfection that is Doctor Phibes Rises Again, the only question I have is "why was there never a third film?" I'm not asking for a re-make - such things horrify and offend me - but surely, someone could have the nouse to come up with a new reason for our favourite insane serial killer to make a third outing?

But anyway - the film. If you haven't seen it - shame on you. It is quite possibly the maddest 90 minutes you'll ever have the pleasure of witnessing.

For a start, there's Phibes himself. Vincent Price usually came across as barking mad at the best of times, but add a daft wig, the inability to talk and some truly weird costumes, and you are taken into Salvador Dali territory by this performance. Phibes, his face disfigured, wears a rubber mask which makes him look reasonably normal - but speaks (and eats) through his neck. So the two main protagonists in the film - the good doctor and his faithful mute assistant Vulnavia, never so much as move their lips.

Luckily, their lack of diction is more than made up for by Price's mad voice-overs - and the other stars of the film. When you've got the likes of Terry Thomas (Policeman: "We're looking for a madman." Thomas: "Well you've found one. Do you know what time it is?"), Peter Cushing and Beryl Reid playing nothing more than bit parts, you know you're dealing with class.

Then there's the great double act of the police inspectors hunting Phibes down. ("Do you think you know where we are sir?" "I don't think - I know." "That's what I thought, sir.") And the deaths themselves - savaged by clockwork snakes and then impaled through the head, clawed to death by an eagle, imprisoned in a giant bottle of gin, sandblasted to a skeleton, squashed in a giant vice, and my personal favourite - painfully trapped by the forearms in the spiked pincers of a scorpion statue, then stung to death by real scorpions. (Yes, really)

I'm also a big fan of the enormous brushstrokes used to gloss over any gaping plot-holes. How could Phibes possibly know that Beiderbecke is the one who stole his parchment? How did Phibes escape from his demolished house? Etc etc.

If you saw it a while ago and tend to think of it as a gaudy example of psychedelic kitsch, it's time for a major re-evaluation. Phibes may sit and play organ music with his life size mechanical band through a variety of coloured Perspex screens, but the deaths are all totally unnecessary (every victim is a total innocent), which lends the film a brutal edge the modern viewer is unused to seeing. This is what we need on our screens. I say "pish!" to The Mummy Returns. Bring back Phibes, and give the job to Gary Oldman.

Director: Robert Fuest Writer(s): Robert Fuest & Robert Blees

Cast: Vincent Price - Dr. Anton Phibes, Robert Quarry - Darius Biederbeck, Valli Kemp - Vulnavia, Hugh Griffith - Harry Ambrose, John Thaw - Shavers, Keith Buckley - Stewart, Lewis Fiander - Baker, Gerald Sim - Hackett, Milton Reid - Manservant, Peter Jeffrey - Trout, John Cater - Waverley, Peter Cushing - Captain, Beryl Reid - Miss Ambrose, Terry-Thomas - Lombardo, Fiona Lewis - Diana, Caroline Munro - Victoria Phibes, Gary Owens - Narrator (voice)


Last updated: February 25, 2010

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