THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN
Although neither rates as Vincent Price's finest achievement as a thespian, I count THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES ($15) and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN ($15) amongst my favorites because of their unique sense of style and camp-horror atmosphere. These two movies are also rather unique items on the actor's horror resume because they limit Price to brief passages of dialogue, instead of allowing him to capitalize on one of the cinema’s most distinctive and chilling voices. Throughout both films, Price wears a blank, emotionless expression that forces the actor to convey his usual sense of menace strictly with his eyes and body language. Price's deadpan expressions are highly effective, generating dread when required, but more importantly, enhancing both movies’ tongue-in-cheek humor.
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES introduces the film going public to the character of Dr. Anton Phibes (Price), who is both a theology scholar and a celebrated organist. As the film opens we discover that Phibes has begun murdering a number of noted surgeons as retribution for their botched surgery, which ended the life of Phibes' beloved wife Victoria (Caroline Munro). Using the bible as inspiration, Phibes and his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) rein down the plagues of Egypt upon the heads of the guilty doctors, with each of their deaths being more gruesome than the last. Of course, these bizarre deaths do not go unnoticed by Scotland Yard, with Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) the first to realize that there a single person is behind the elaborate killings. Eventually, Trout pieces together the pattern of the deaths, which brings him to the door of Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotton), the chief surgeon that the murdered doctors worked under. After reviewing his case files, Vesalius realizes that Victoria Phibes was the only common thread that tied that select group of surgeons together. While this would normally place the bereaved husband on the top of the list of suspects, by all accounts Dr. Phibes burned to death in an automobile accident while rushing to his wife’s side.
Director Robert Fuest, who helmed many episodes of TV's THE AVENGERS applies just the right touch to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, keeping the elements of horror and comedy in perfect balance. Fuest also shows a keen visual sense and makes the most of the art deco trappings of Phibes' lair, as well as the period cars and costumes of the 1930's setting. The cast of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES also features Terry-Thomas, Sean Bury, Susan Travers, David Hutcheson, Edward Burnham, Alex Scott, Peter Gilmore, Maurice Kaufmann, Derek Godfrey, John Cater and Hugh Griffith.
MGM Home Entertainment has done a great job presenting THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES on DVD. The film is framed at 1.85:1 and the DVD has been enhanced for 16:9 playback. Image quality is absolutely first rate for a modestly budgeted film from 1971. I don't think that I've ever seen THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES look as good as it looks here. Everything appears quite sharp and there is a high level of detail. Colors are fairly vibrant and the flesh tones are appealing. There are no signs of chromatic distortion or smearing during the presentation. The film element used for the transfer shows a few blemishes, but nothing too bad. Blacks are accurate, plus there is a respectable amount of shadow detail in the picture. Digital compression artifacts remain in check throughout. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is crisp and clean, although there are a couple of moments, where it sounds a bit harsh. Dialogue reproduction maintains full intelligibility throughout. The track contains the expected frequency limitations of an older monaural recording, however the music still manages to sound pretty good. French and Spanish monaural soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are French and Spanish subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene and language selection features, as well as a theatrical trailer.
The success of the first film insured cinematically that DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. In this sequel, we find the good doctor revived from suspended animation, with a plan to resurrect his beloved wife Victoria (Caroline Munro). Unfortunately, while Phibes slumbered in his underground lair, his home was destroyed and the map that would lead him and Victoria to the river of life in Egypt stolen. With the map in the hands of the mysterious Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), Phibes finds himself with a worthy adversary, who is also vying to find the mystical waters of immortality. Once more aided by Vulnavia (Valli Kemp), Dr. Phibes begins another series of elaborate murders; eliminating everyone who stands between him and his ultimate goal. Of course, it isn't long before Scotland Yard's Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Superintendent Waverley (John Cater) stumble upon Phibes' trail of murder and mayhem.
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN plays up the comedic aspects of the story more than the first film, however there are enough gory deaths to satiate horror fans. DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN is a worthy successor that provides a lot of entertainment value, but the movie isn't quite as stylized as the first outing. Although constrained by his character's inability to speak, Price manages another delightfully creepy performance. Additionally, Robert Quarry plays well off of Price making Biederbeck an intriguing screen nemesis for Phibes. The cast of DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN also includes Hugh Griffith, John Thaw, Keith Buckley, Lewis Fiander, Gerald Sim, Milton Reid and Fiona Lewis. Additionally, look for Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid and Terry-Thomas in great little cameos.
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN looks good on DVD, but the image isn't as impressive as was found on the release of the first movie. Although framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 16:9 enhanced wide screen, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN looks a bit soft and film grain is pretty noticeable throughout. In addition, there are a couple of shots that look like they are several generations off the negative. Still, this presentation is better than Laserdisc, plus this would appear to be the most complete rendition of DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN released on video, restoring Vincent Price's rendition of Over The Rainbow during the closing credits. Color reproduction is usually good, although there are sections that appear somewhat pale. Blacks are accurately rendered, although a number of the darker scenes appear a bit muddy. The film element used for the transfer is in rougher shape than the one utilized to master the first movie. Blemishes are a bit more frequent and scratches are more noticeable- not terrible, but not nearly pristine either. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack sounds pretty good, however the frequency limitations of the original recordings give some sections of the track a slightly brittle quality. Dialogue is fully intelligible and the film's music sounds good at modest volume levels. French and Spanish monaural soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, in addition to French and Spanish subtitles. Again, the basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene and language selection features, as well as a theatrical trailer.
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN are a whole lot of fun for Vincent Price fans, which makes them great little movies to own on DVD. While THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES definitely looks better than DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, you are going to want to have both in your collection, especially at when you consider what on-line retailers are charging for them.
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