Arrow Video ships a dated master for their Dr. Phibes sequel on Blu-ray, but it’s campy fun anyway
1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes with Vincent Price was such a success that a sequel was quickly rushed out in 1972. Dr. Phibes Rises Again is a pale imitation of the daring and stylish original, moving the action from London to Egypt. Vincent Price reprises the titular role as Dr. Phibes, still dedicated to his dead wife Victoria in this hammy sequel. Dr. Phibes continues his killing spree, this time against a group of witless archaeologists as he searches for the secret of eternal life.
The original Vulnavia, Virginia North, was pregnant during filming and had to be replaced by model Valli Kemp, who had been Miss Australia in 1970. When last we had seen Dr. Anton Phibes, he had been placed inside a tomb alongside his dead wife, replacing his blood with embalming fluid. Three years later, he has risen from that ghastly state due to the conjunction of the moon or something. The movie’s explanation for his return is not the most coherent as it tacks on some Egyptian mythology new to the franchise.
Dr. Phibes is still obsessed with bringing his wife back from the dead, forgetting all about his quest for revenge from the first film. Apparently he owns a mountain lair deep inside a cave in Egypt. There is a river that can supposedly bring the dead back to life and give eternal life to them. Darrus Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) and a team of archaeologists are after much the same goal as Dr. Phibes on a nearby dig. The stage is set for deadly conflict between Dr. Phibes and Darrus Biederbeck.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes was campy at times but always took its story seriously. It was more of a gruesome thriller with a few kitschy elements included for atmosphere. Dr. Phibes Rises Again takes the camp factor to a new level with a number of hokey elements, including the needless return of bumbling Scotland Yard inspectors. The sinister sense of mystery found in the first one is destroyed by a series of implausible and unexplained events in this sequel. Dr. Phibes just happens to have an underground lair in Egypt replicating his stylish London home?
Do not get me wrong, Dr. Phibes Rises Again has its moments and some of the cooler motifs from the first film are used once again for good effect. Vulnavia continues to play her violin as Dr. Phibes stages his elaborate murders, though his creative killing methods do not play as large a role this time. It is a bit of a shame that Caroline Munro, still a young starlet at the time who would later go on to greater fame as a Bond girl, plays little more than a sleeping body as Dr. Phibes’ dead wife.
This is one for the diehard Vincent Price fans and lovers of campy 1970s horror. Others may find it a miss despite a few cool scenes.
British distributor Arrow Video has once again utilized a mildly dated film transfer by MGM for this satisfactory presentation of Dr. Phibes Rises Again. If you read my review for The Abominable Dr. Phibes, I found it an average film transfer while still providing a noticeable improvement in clarity and definition. The film transfer for its sequel has a grittier texture, especially in the first act. There is almost certainly some sharpening added to it at some stage, creating noisier grain. While I graded them the same for video score, the sequel is a step behind the original for video quality in this set.
The 89-minute main feature has been included on a BD-50 of its own in this two-disc set. Averaging a stout 34.93 Mbps, the AVC video encode has to struggle to keep up with the fairly heavy grain exacerbated by the older film transfer. There is no overt macroblocking but the sharpened grain poses its challenges.
The high-definition transfer is likely derived from an older telecine struck for MGM’s original DVD, which does produce less dramatic improvements in detail. The film’s cinematography is not the sharpest to begin with, its inconsistent softness and occasional soft focus don’t produce extraordinary picture quality. The master shows a mild push towards magenta, possibly indicating a fading negative that needs restoration. Otherwise the color palette is a well-saturated affair with vivid hues.
The original monaural soundtrack is retained in a fine-sounding 1.0 PCM option. The exotic score by composer John Gale comes through in decent fidelity. The dialogue does become patchy in a couple of spots, as the voices become muffled in one or two scenes. It is a clean presentation of a mono soundtrack with no serious audio problems.
Optional English SDH subtitles are included, displayed in the standard white font.
These films are true cult classics and Arrow Video has packaged both films featuring Dr. Phibes together in this complete set. The following special features in bold are the ones found on the second disc, meant to go along with Dr. Phibes Rises Again. A separate review for The Abominable Dr. Phibes will cover the others.
This is a solid assortment of extra features for cult films. The featurettes on this disc are lightweight in nature, though Victoria Price sharing her memories and impressions proves interesting. This set is carried by fantastic packaging, it is a true collector’s edition.
Limited edition boxed-set (3000 copies) containing both films and 100-page collector’s booklet
Audio commentary on The Abominable Dr. Phibes by director Robert Fuest
Audio commentary on The Abominable Dr. Phibes by the creator of Dr. Phibes, William Goldstein
Audio commentary on Dr. Phibes Rises Again by critic and author Tim Lucas
Dr. Phibes and the Gentlemen (12:56 in HD) – The League of Gentlemen fondly recall a pair of British horror classics
Daughter of Phibes (13:05 in HD) – Victoria Price discusses Vincent Price’s career.
The Doctor Will See You Now (08:30 in HD) – An interview with Vincent Price’s biographer, David Del Valle
Original Trailers for both films (Both in HD)
- 100-page collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Julian Upton, Martin Jones, Justin Humphreys and Jonny Trunk, the on-set recollections of Caroline Munro, plus interviews with Tim Burton and AIP publicist Milton Moritz, all illustrated with rare and original archive stills
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.