JULY 8, 2008
Not that I am any sort of scholar on the man, but for my money, Vincent Price’s shining moment was The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Since he’s so sinister, and yet so charming, what better role to give him than as a man who violently seeks revenge for the most noble of reasons: avenging his wife? It’s almost a shame it came about so late in his career, I’d love to see him play the character again and again, even if it made no sense anymore. Sadly, we only got one sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (a third was written but never made), which lives up to the original’s high standards, despite a slight decrease in the novelty department.
Anyone who really likes the Saw films would be right at home with Phibes. He’s a dying man, like Jigsaw, and his victims aren’t exactly noble. He sets traps to kill them (no pussyfooting here – these folks aren’t given a chance to free themselves), and it’s all in the name of love. Of course, being the early 1970s, this means that the films aren’t excessively gory; if anything, the sequel is less violent (I saw the original a while ago, but if memory serves he killed 8-9 people, here the body count is only 6 and one is so offscreen that it’s difficult to tell what even happened). Indeed, the original has been re-rated PG-13 (from PG), but not the sequel.
That doesn’t make it any less fun or exciting though. For starters, the sequel retains the original’s surprising amount of humor, mostly of the dry British sort. The cops and assorted “good guys” all seem rather blasé about the proceedings, which results in moments like this, when a corpse is discovered:
Guy: Hackett! (the corpse’s name)
Guy 2: He has nothing to say.
Hahahahaha, awesome. And of course, Price is a complete delight. One of his character traits is that he is a musician of sorts, and the film serves up a number of scenes where he plays the organ along with a creepy/hilarious clockwork band that he designed. The band also figures into one of the film’s creepier moments, as he places one in the desert (the movie takes place in Egypt or some similar location) and it is discovered by an eventual victim. I dunno about you, but if I was in the desert and I came across a clockwork band member who looked like the killer from Tourist Trap, I’d freak out.
Unlike the first film, this one gives Phibes a sole antagonist, a man named Biederbeck who also seeks the same fountain of life that he is looking for (in order to return his wife to life). Biederbeck is kind of a complete ass, but his intentions are somewhat noble as well, like Phibes, he does what he does to be with the woman he loves (and does so without killing folks). They only share two scenes together, but Price and Robert Quarry (a real life rival of Price) have a nice repartee in these moments.
It’s also a fast paced film, and even though there aren’t as many of the death scenes (nor are they always as elaborate), it moves along almost breathlessly, especially for an older film. Of course, anything with Price is bound to be entertaining on some level, but even he wasn’t enough to save other AIP films (such as Tomb of Ligeia, a film so dull I couldn’t even be bothered to write up a review of it when I saw it a few months ago), and the fact that this came about only a year after the original makes it even more impressive. Apparently some of the film’s more elaborate sequences were cut due to budgetary reasons, but it doesn’t really show; the only evidence is Price’s voice, which has a different tone to it on occasion (he had to come in and explain stuff that was cut out – apparently they didn’t have the technology to filter his voice properly).
Both films are on one DVD, and it’s often available for under 10 bucks, making its purchase almost a requirement for any horror fan. I will write up a full review of the original someday, but don’t wait for that – these movies are too entertaining to miss. And I’m sure a remake is in the works (may I suggest Geoffrey Rush, who did an amazing job channeling Price in the otherwise worthless House on Haunted Hill remake), so if you want to be on the “this remake is gonna SUCK!” bandwagon, act fast!
What say you?