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Dr. Phibes Double Feature [The Abominable Dr. Phibes/Dr. Phibes Rises Again]
Kino reissues the two Vincent Price starring classics, The Abominable Doctor Phibes and its sequel, Doctor Phibes Rises Again, on Blu-ray with some nice extra features accompanying the second film for the first time.
The Abominable Doctor Phibes (1971):
Director Robert Fuest's 1971 film The Abominable Doctor Phibes stands as one of Price's finest moments, a wonderfully bizarre horror picture with loads of great visual style and a twisted sense of humor. The movie, which is set in the 1930s, follows the titular Doctor Anton Phibes (Price), a former vaudeville performer who has since retired and seems to spend his spare time wailing away on the massive organ that is the centerpiece of his home.
Phibes has a checkered past, and most believe him to be dead from a car crash. Before that crash, he lost his wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro), who died on the operating table. The surgeons who tried to save her did the best that they could but it was to no avail and now Phibes wants revenge against them. He's a pretty creative, if slightly insane, type though and not content to simply murder his subjects with something so simple as a knife or a gun, he instead constructs an elaborate plot in which he hopes to dispose of the surgeons by recreating the ‘ten plagues of Egypt' put upon the Egyptians the Bible. With some help from his mute violin playing assistant, Vulnavia (Virginia North), Phibes also hopes to be able to resurrect Victoria, whose body he keeps on site in suspended animation. Unfortunately for Phibes, a police detective named Trout (Peter Jeffrey) is suspicious and with some help from Doctor Visalius (Joseph Cotten), he just might have figured out what Phibes is up to…
This one might be a bit campier than the other films in the set but Price is amazing in the lead role here. He's obviously exactly what Fuest wanted in the part, the right balance of over the top and completely sinister in the way that only Price could deliver. He performs the role with plenty of scenery chewing enthusiasm and his work here perfectly complements the style that Fuest was going for, which is equally over the top. Fuest's experience working on The Avengers for TV in the UK prior to this picture shines through here, as that mix of sly humor and slick set pieces that made that show so much fun pop up in this picture as well.
Production values are excellent. Phibes' lair is amazing to behold, an ornate house built around a theater style design obviously in homage to his prior experience in vaudeville. It gives off a perfectly weird vibe but also seems completely in keeping with how this character would want to live. Accompanying Price in the cast are Joseph Cotton, who is pretty solid here, and Peter Jeffrey, who is great as the cop and the lovely Caroline Munroe as Phibes' muse. All three contribute nicely to the movie but not surprisingly, Price steals the show.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again!:
The 1972 sequel to The Abominable Doctor Phibes was made very quickly and hit theaters only a year after the first film proved a box office success. While it doesn't stray too far from the concepts explored in the first movie, it definitely ups both the bloodshed and the intentional camp value aspects and it proves a very worthy follow up.
When the movie begins, a narrator tells us how three years after the events in the first movie, Phibes (Price, reprising the role) has arisen from his death trance to once again attempt to bring life to his wife Victoria (an uncredited Caroline Munro) who is being kept in suspended animation until such a time as he can complete his quest. His assistant, Vulnavia (Valli Kemp, taking over for Virginia North from the first movie) is on hand as he schemes to find the rumored ‘river of life' believed to be located underneath a mountain in Egypt.
However getting to it may well prove difficult not just geographically but logistically as well. Phibes finds himself competing with a rival scientist named Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) who has not only already stolen some of Phibes' Egyptian scrolls but is out to beat him to the punch... and then there's that pesky Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) to contend with too.
Once again directed by Robert Fuest, this sequel is pretty over the top and, at least in terms of style if not content, all the better for it. Price really throws himself into the role, hamming it up and just going for it. The concept is ridiculous of course but so committed are both Price and Fuest that you can't help but love it. Quarry is no slouch here either, he brings a zealous enthusiasm to his role as Phibes' foe while the beautiful Valli Kemp is a lot of fun as Phibes' trusty resurrected assistant. Throw in Caroline Munro in a small role and a quick cameo from none other than Hammer horror legend Peter Cushing and it's easy to see why this one turns out to be as much fun as it is.
Plot wise, it does feel at times like this was put together with less care than its predecessor. The murder set pieces are, not surprisingly, the stand out moments in the film and they definitely do impress, but the story is a bit disjointed at times. Without the whole ‘Ten Plagues' theme that the first film used to tie everything together, there is instead quite a bit of convenient circumstances that aren't as well defined. Regardless, the film has loads of garish style and some great effects, sets and costumes. If it's not as good as the first movie, it is still loads of entertaining fun.
Each movie is offered up on its own 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The two films in the set typically look very good, generally speaking. Typically, we see good depth and dimensionality throughout. Colors look excellent across the board, particularly in the first movie where they really pop quite nicely, while skin tones look nice and natural in each movie. There isn't any obvious edge enhancement to note and there weren't any obvious compression artifacts even on the double feature discs. These don't looks as good as a series of more modern bigger budgeted movies might, but given their roots and age, they look very good in high definition.
The only audio option on each disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, with optional subtitles available in English only. There's a bit of very minor hiss in a few spots here and there, but otherwise the audio for both features sounds pretty good. It's properly balanced with a decent bit of range to it.
Extras are spread across the two discs in this collection as follows:
The Abominable Doctor Phibes:
This disc includes an audio commentary with director Robert Fuest. Here the director shares his memories of making the film and what it was like working with Price on the picture. Joining Fuest is moderator Marcus Hearn (who is quite well regarded as a Hammer Films historian) who describes the picture as one of the most incredible British films ever made. The two have a pretty good vibe here, qith Fuest in a relaxed mode describing Price as one of the ‘nicest old men I've ever worked with' and having a good laugh at that. They discuss the film's name, where all of that came from and how it was originally called The Revenge Of Doctor Phibes, and they discuss the locations, the set design, the motivation for Price's character and much more. Other topics include the scripting process, the input of the two writers and how Fuest gave it all his own ‘strange, macabre twist' to better suite Price's comic flair. This is a great track, very listenable, very informative and packed full of some really interesting stories.
We also get a second commentary with author Justin Humphreys (who wrote Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget). Humphreys offers up some insight into the art deco look that plays such an important part in the film and offers up all manner of trivia about the picture, including where the organ Price plays in the movie originally came from. He provides some great trivia about Fuest's career and how work on The Avengers worked its way into this film, how and why the Rabbi's office is, in his opinion, the most interesting set in the film and quite a bit more.
Finishing up the extras on the first disc are a trailer for the feature, a TV spot for the feature, bonus trailers for Theater Of Blood and And Soon The Darkness, menus and chapter selection options.
Doctor Phibes Rises Again:
Extras on the second disc start off with an audio commentary from Tim Lucas. In typical Lucas fashion, this is a hyper-detailed track with a lot of information packed into it. He goes into detail on the differences between the first and second film, the locations, Gary Owens' uncredited narration, how Robert Quarry wound up in the movie and details on his work, thoughts on some of the props featured in the picture, why Peter Cushing is in the movie, details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the picture, the effect that Price's different contracts had on the production and on Price's career, thoughts on the score and plenty of other details about the picture and its merits.
A second audio commentary features Humphreys again, that talks up AIP's penchant for capitalizing on successful films with sequels, the film's narration, Fuest's involvement with AIP and work on this picture, the lighting style on display in the film, the different drafts of the script that were done, the use of handheld camerawork in the film, how this really is ‘an art director's movie,' the quality of the editing in the movie, Price's performance, the film's modest budget, the quantity and quality of art deco work on display, differences between this and the first film and lots more.
Finishing up the extras on disc two are a trailer for the feature, a few radio spots for the feature, a bonus trailer for Scream And Scream Again, menus and chapter selection options.
Both discs fit in the same standard sized Blu-ray keep case, each on its own spindle. There's no reversible cover sleeve art here, but it is worth pointing out that the first pressing of this release comes with a slipcover.
Kino's Blu-ray release of the two Doctor Phibes films offers up both classic Vincent Price films in nice shape and with good audio. Audio commentary tracks make up the bulk of the extras on the two discs in the set, but they're interesting and worth listening to. The movie themselves are excellent, weirdly creepy with plenty of effective black humor, each a great showcase for Price and his co-stars. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.