MGM // 1972 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 7th, 2001
Coming off the success of the original The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the following year saw a sequel with an even more camp feel and a more intricate if less credible story. If you liked the first film, you'll like this one, and MGM has released them both on DVD.
Beginning with a wrap up of the events of the first film, the picture begins something like a follow up episode of a television show. But once that is out of the way, we're ready to take up where things left off. The original and very creepy end to the first film is reversed in the beginning of the second, and Phibes rises from his hiding place three years later. He has had his revenge on the doctors who could not save his beloved wife Victoria, but now he has a new mission: to journey to Egypt and find the headwaters of The River of Life, whose waters will bring back Victoria and give them both eternal life. Unfortunately, a rival scholar named Biederbeck (Robert Quarry, Count Yorga) has stolen the ancient papyrus from Phibes's safe during his absence and is also looking for the river.
First to ship and on to Egypt they all go, vying for the ability to find and control this river. Under a mountain (an easily found but somehow never explored one) there is a tomb that has the answers they seek. Phibes and a brand new Vulnavia set up housekeeping inside while Biederbeck leads his team of archaeologists from the surface. Murder in ever more inventive ways will follow, and you even get a chance to hear Vincent Price singing the beginning of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Creepy. We can't leave out Inspector Trout from the first film either; he and his idiotic boss will travel considerably outside their jurisdiction to track down Phibes.
The first Phibes film managed to balance a fine line between camp humor (of a decidedly dark variety) and horror in a way few have been able to copy. The sequel tends to lean more toward the campy side with ever more over the top methods and elements to the story. That said, the film still works because you are familiar with the players and know what to expect. Where the first film was more of a straightforward story about revenge, this one takes you into mythology, Egyptian lore, and is a story about love and immortality.
Production values are even higher in this sequel, with wonderful set design, costuming, and better special effects than the first. Again, this is partly a silent film filled with monologues from Phibes lamenting his lost love, plotting revenge on those who would thwart his plans, and looking forward to the reunion with Victoria. Fortunately there is quite a bit more dialogue to carry things through this time, with more characters on the opposing side left alive to talk to each other. Vincent Price gets even more of a chance to speak, especially during his confrontation with Biederbeck.
While the same macabre feel permeates this second Phibes effort, helped in large part by the setting inside a Pharaoh's tomb, there is definitely more to laugh at here. The two policemen are largely comic foils who add dry British humor to the proceedings at every turn. Vincent Price goes even farther over the top and Biederbeck becomes almost Shakespearean in his delivery when he pontificates. You might not always be totally comfortable with what you are laughing at, but jaded fans of the horror genre will feel right at home getting a chuckle out of murder.
Over the top this is, often for comic effect, but the results aren't always what you'd hope for. To become ever more ingenious and devious, Phibes reaches the level of ludicrous in his plans. There are holes in the story big enough to drive through to allow Phibes to come up with some huge gadget to kill someone else in a bigger, weirder way than before. He must have brought one huge generator to Egypt to power everything in his lair and have enough current left over to power these machines. Huge objects made of gold play a part in the killings and sit around for anyone to pick up, but no one seems particularly interested in them since the plot dictates they fight each other instead. Dead characters from the first film are back alive in the second. I can forgive the plot holes and times things stretch too far past credulity since it is obvious this is done in good fun.
The DVD presentation isn't quite up to the quality of the first film. While there is still an anamorphic transfer, the film elements used weren't of the same quality, and nicks and scratches are more noticeable. Some grain appears in brightly lit scenes. Still, the image is very watchable, with great color saturation and a fine level of detail. Sound is again 2-channel mono, with limited fidelity but a low noise floor and a surprisingly full sound for the music considering the type and age of the soundtrack. Again, there are no English subtitles, and only a theatrical trailer for extra content. MGM has priced these to own, but still doesn't pay as much attention to catalog titles as I'd like.
You absolutely must watch the first film before watching this one, and if you enjoyed The Abominable Dr. Phibes you will certainly like the sequel. Certainly I'd have liked the picture to have been cleaned up a little better, and some extra content (surely some film scholar has studied Vincent Price and could speak at length here), but the film itself has made a welcome home in my collection. Rent or buy both Dr. Phibes movies if you like horror films with a darkly humorous twist.
Again, I must acquit Vincent Price and the makers of the Dr. Phibes films, if for no other reason than I'd like to keep my head on my shoulders, and Phibes has proven he can get to you no matter how you try to hide. MGM gets a pass again for releasing these old favorite films, but really need to include English subtitles and extra content on even their catalog titles.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* The Vincent Price Exhibit