From within the bowels of his burned down estate…Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), in this cheerful sequel to the box office success from the previous year. Dear Vincent Price was on a macabre roll with a succession of very funny and ghoulish horror classics, and Again is no exception.
Released by AIP in July, this MGM-EMI co-production was successful enough to have producers seriously consider another sequel; but alas, it never materialized. What we are left with though, is yet another example of Price being teamed with the proper talent worthy of his own – not to mention a protagonist for the protagonist: Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry.
Robert Fuest returns in the director’s chair, as well as co-writing with Robert Blees (Frogs). The result isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s still filled with enough creative deaths and lip smacking theatrics from the leads to warrant a closer look. The only detriment to the film is the element of surprise.
Let’s see what the good doctor has planned this time around:
We open with a helpful recap for newbies of Phibes’ exploits from the previous film, ending with Phibes cryogenically freezing himself with his beloved (and still quite dead) Victoria until a better day arrives. That day does come 3 years later, as Phibes has his equipment set up to thaw him out when the moon is in sync with the thing that does the stuff. (Or something like that.) When he awakens, he finds his home demolished, and he and his trusty sidekick Vulnavia (Valli Kemp subbing for a pregnant Virginia North) discover ancient scrolls missing from his safe.
The purpose of the scrolls? Phibes plans on taking his betrothed to Egypt and wallow in the River of Life, which promises eternity and beyond to those clever enough to find it. The problem is, there’s another madman on the loose, Darrus Biederbeck, who’s lived for centuries off of a secret elixir that is in seriously short supply. Our not so good fellow Darrus has the scrolls, and plans on finding the river himself to achieve immortality.
Phibes and Vulnavia take passage on the same ship as Darrus and his crew, but not before Phibes retrieves the scrolls; it then becomes a race once they arrive in Egypt to see who will quench their eternal thirst first…
Dr. Phibes Rises Again skirts the issue of predictability by doing what most sequels do: go bigger and more elaborate. Again certainly bears this out; the production design is even more scrumptious with breathtaking sets of Phibes’ new underground lair in Egypt. And it’s good to see the film set (for the most part) away from England as it heads into international territory.
Of course, the main problem with tackling any sequel is perception; the new film can’t help but be compared to the previous, especially as it follows immediately after. Critics and returning audiences alike are looking for similarities as much as they are for differences, to the point where it just becomes a checklist of dos and don’ts.
So, apart from the more luxurious design and different setting, what sets Again apart from the original? And am I not doing the exact same thing I was arguing against above?
I suppose so, but instead of criticizing the checklists, I’ll celebrate them instead. Okay, similarities then. Phibes is out for revenge and still trying to resurrect his true love, at whatever cost. Frankly, the man’s pretty much been set on doing that from the get go, so there really shouldn’t be any blowback. The film really does feel like a continuation of the first in its set up; one big arc in which Phibes finds his peace and regains his happiness. Again peppers the film with creative offings much like the first; true, and they even stay with the Biblical format somewhat just by virtue of its setting in Egypt. That’s some clever calculation, I think.
As for the differences, they mostly have to do with tone. Again is less dry in its humor than its predecessor, so it comes off as a bit more campy. But look at what we’re dealing with here – a dead man preserved with embalming fluid looking to bring his dead spouse back to life – and the question of camp seems irrelevant. These films would be merely foolish if played straight, instead of the giddy relish the cast take in their parts.
As for the casts, I’m giving it to the sequel (albeit slightly); while the original had the American presence of Joseph Cotten, the sequel forgoes any bid for prestige and instead brings on Quarry, another American, and a foil much more in tune with the type of material. Darrus is most definitely a baddie; if there were any doubt the credits list him and Price as ‘The Protagonists’. It’s a big part of why these films work: they know exactly what they are. Terry-Thomas also returns, but in a different role; this time he’s full of blood and very funny in a scene with our same ‘heroes’ from Scotland Yard. (PS – even Peter Cushing tags along for a scene.)
But it is Vincent Price’s world and we all can only sit back and revel in it; unable to use his mouth to speak and only communicating through his throat muffler and facial expressions, Price tells us everything we need to know through a raised brow and piercing eyes. His voiceovers then, provide delectable morsels of heightened drama that accentuate the absurdity of it all; it may not be Shakespeare, but in Price’s hands it’s nothing less than art.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again has lived in the shadows of the first for long enough; the novelty may have worn off somewhat, but Phibes continues to fight for love in entertaining ways. After all, when was the last time you sandblasted off someone’s skin in the name of romance?
Dr. Phibes Rises Again is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory as part of the Vincent Price Collection II.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976)