Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Vincent-a-Day: ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’

Leading up to the 100th anniversary of Vincent Price’s birth I’ll be checking out one of the maestro’s lesser known films every day this week.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972- dir. Robert Fuest)

When we last left the abominable Dr. Anton Phibes he was dispatching the surgeons he blamed for his wife’s death in gruesome manners inspired by the ten plagues of Egypt. I hadn’t seen the original Phibes in years, so I really appreciated the campily narrated recap that begins Dr. Phibes Rises Again. This sequel finds Vincent Price’s disfigured master of revenge returning to provide more AIP-style thrills. This is a long way from the relatively subtle Vincent we saw in Shock the other day. This is Vincent in full-ham mode, and that’s the Vincent we love bestest. As I said, it’s been a while since I watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes, so I can’t really comment on how much of a retread the sequel may be. Taken on its own, Rises Again is a gas: campy and clever in perfect proportion. There’s a real Ken Russell feel to director Robert Fuest’s use of extreme color, framing, and psychedelic art design. The film often resembles the interior of a pinball machine, something Russell would take to grotesque extremes when shitting up Tommy a few years later. Dr. Phibes Rises Again doesn’t blare in your face the way Russell’s films usually do, but it ain’t exactly what you’d call restrained either. Phibes unleashes his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (!) to sic clockwork snakes, a hydraulic brain poker, a spiky torture chair, a giant vice, and a menagerie of critters that crawl and fly on a new crop of chumps while hunting for an Egyptian potion capable of bringing his wife back to life. Vincent glowers like a coo-coo and intones purple vows of vengeance through it all. In one delightful scene, he eats a piece of fish through his neck. The concluding chorus of “Over the Rainbow” is… ahem… Priceless.
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