07th Jun2014

‘The Complete Dr. Phibes’ Blu-ray Review (Arrow Video)

by Paul Metcalf

Horror tends to come in many forms, but it can be truly at its best when something so offbeat comes along that feels truly original. The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rides Again make up Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray collection The Complete Dr. Phibes and manage to have this feel. These are two movies that stand out in the seventies as going against the trend when it comes to horror, becoming something that is truly special and felt tailor-made for its star Vincent Price.

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 The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is our first introduction to the character as he seeks revenge on the nine doctors he considers responsible for his wife’s death. Using the nine Biblical plagues as inspiration for his murders the police are at first baffled, then the evidence begins to show that Dr. Anton Phibes, thought killed in a car accident may not be dead at all. Phibes as we know, with the help of Vulnavia (Virginia North) have moved full steam ahead with their planned assassinations, with no view on letting up on their macabre deeds.

Straight from the first shot you know that The Abominable Dr. Phibes is something special.  Both Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia are flamboyant and eccentric, and the clockwork band that plays in the background as they plan their deeds gives the audience just a slight hint that this is not your average movie. I’d actually say that Dr. Phibes is a horror that fits more into the world of The Avengers (the British TV show) than into what you expect from a typical horror movie. This is not to say that there is no gore, as the death scenes are styled in such a way as to not only be visceral but high on the dark comedy. The deaths are often the highlight of the story, with the humour at just the right level to raise more than a few laughs.

Arrow Video have done an excellent job on the picture quality, as is expected and commentary tracks provide plenty of trivia on the movie. It’s interesting that not only this movie is discussed but also the next (Dr. Phibes Rides Again) but thankfully they don’t ruin the plot. A nice extra is also the League of Gentlemen discussing their love of Dr. Phibes, as a League fan it’s always nice to see their inclusion in these releases.

Dr. Phibes Rides Again

For me Dr. Phibes Rides Again may be a sequel that wasn’t really needed, but this does not make it a bad movie. The fact that the movie doesn’t fit Robert Fuest’s vision as the director though is a shame and I would have liked to see his version instead.

Dr. Phibes Rides Again see’s the return of Phibes and Vulnavia (this time played by Valli Kemp) as Phibes awakens based on a predestined angle of the moon’s reflection on the Earth. Finding that his home has been demolished and an important papyrus map stolen, first he has to get that back from the thief, before using it to lead himself to the River of Life in Egypt, which only flows at this time. Travelling to this place he hopes to awaken his wife Victoria (Caroline Munro).

In many ways Dr. Phibes Rides Again does feel slightly rushed in its presentation, but the addition of Darrus Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) as a new nemesis for Phibes adds an interesting rivalry and element to the story, that Phibes is no longer restricted in his ways of murder also provides a new level of inventiveness to the kills. Listening to the commentary for the film it is also interesting to hear about the competition between Price and Quarry too, who Price saw as somewhat of a replacement for him as the new horror star. In a business where age was important, it’s not a surprise that the now aging Price did feel his career in movies coming to an end.  Not that the fans would want that though.

Although Dr. Phibes Rides Again is not as good as The Abominable Dr. Phibes when the movies are presented together it’s not hard to see them as one long film. This works as a strength as it somewhat hides the weaknesses of Rides Again, and it does leave you wanting more (something that was planned but never came to be). Arrow Video’s presentation of both movies is very good with a further commentary track being included for Dr. Phibes Rides Again as well as even more special features including Victoria Price once again talking about her father. For fans of British film the Phibes movies are always fun, especially the cameos that are included.  Just seeing Terry-Thomas and Peter Cushing is an added bonus of sorts and they both add to the eccentric nature of the films. As my first introduction to the world of Dr. Phibes I enjoyed the offbeat nature, and of course the excellent work of Vincent Price himself, for fans it’s a must buy. It’s also a reason why I will also say they should never be remade, nobody can recreate the screen presence that Vincent Price had as Dr. Phibes, and why should anybody try?

The Complete Dr. Phibes is available on Blu-ray in the UK from June 16th, courtesy of Arrow Video.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek
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