Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Reviewed by Steve Crow
Rating: 3 Beans
ell, since in the last week or so a few bad movie sites have been reviewing the two Dr. Phibes movies, I thought I'd take my shot at the one that I thought belonged here.
Those who have seen the first movie have a pretty good idea of what's going on here. If not, however, Gary Owens (??) provides a voice over recap along with clips to explain the previous movie. Phibes (Vincent Price) killed some folks, then sealed himself away until the right astral conjunction comes along, which awakens him so that he can be ready for another astral conjunction, which will let him use ancient scrolls to find the River of Life in Egypt, and resurrect his dead wife.
Unfortunately, the millionaire Biederbeck (Robert Quarry - Count Yorga, Vampire) got hold of the scrolls when Phibes' house was demolished. Biederbeck has his own unstated interest in the River of Life. Phibes tracks the scrolls to Biederbeck's house, pointlessly kills the butler (what did he ever do to Phibes?) and is off to Egypt.
Phibes finds Biederbeck's expedition, and begins killing the members off in various ornate ways (usually). He finds the secret River of Life and the key to it, and then hides the key in his wife's sarcophagus...but Biederbeck takes the sarcophagus and now unwittingly holds the key as well. Phibes kills a few more people, then kidnaps Biederbeck's wife and ultimately forces him to choose between eternal life, or his wife's life. Biederbeck gives Phibes the key, and the madman goes paddling down the River with his wife's corpse. Biederbeck, who has apparently been using a small dose of the River to keep himself alive for over a hundred years, turns into a withered prune.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (DPRA) is certainly a classy movie, but it has huge gaping holes plotwise in it which really get in the way of enjoying it. As other reviewers have noted, Phibes' actions and murders here make very little sense. In the previous movie he had eight years to prepare to kill the nine doctors: here he seems to have a nigh-on infinite supply of super-gadgets (giant scorpion machine, giant wind fan, screw press) that he hauls off into the desert and then kills the expedition members.
Also, the thrill of the first movie is somewhat gone because of the nature of Phibes' victims. In that movie there was a common bond both between the victims (they were all connected with his wife's death), and the method of their executions. If Phibes was right and they were responsible for his wife's death, then they get a justified comeuppance. Most of them are arrogant enough that even if they're innocent, they're not particularly sympathetic and the audience can cheer Phibes on.
But in DPRA, all the victims are essentially innocent. The only mistake or crime they commit is getting in Phibes' way. One of the more interesting scenes from the first movie is when Phibes kills the doctor with hail...but leaves the man's chauffeur alive. He was only focused on his nine planned deaths. If Phibes acted then as he does in this movie, he'd stuff the guy into the car's exhaust pipe or something. Phibes changes from a man seeking (perhaps mistaken) revenge to a serial killer with nifty gadgets: in other words, Michael Myers with Rube Goldberg killing devices.
The rivalry with Biederbeck is another area that gets completely glossed over. Biederbeck has his own backstory of longevity that is treated so casually it might as well not even exist. The two seem to have some kind of rivalry going on, but since they've apparently never met each other, it's hard to tell for sure. Again, Biederbeck doesn't seem to be a criminal or actually have done anything to Phibes: he's just in the way.
I've never been impressed with Quarry. Price is impressive in an understated way, but he's given a few more irritating quirks (eating grapes through his neck hole?), and he seems to like to cavort about unmasked a bit more then in the preceding movie. The rest of the cast are forgettable, except for such cameos as Peter Cushing and Beryl Reid.
Overall, I'd recommend DPRA, but it's a grave disappointment if you compare it to the first movie. The Abominable Dr. Phibes deserved a better sequel.
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