When Vincent Price scored a bullseye along with director Robert Fuest in 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes for AIP, one thing was a given. If you said a sequel, then you too have scored a bullseye.
Alongside Uncle Vinnie, you’ll also see Hugh Griffith and Terry-Thomas sporting return cameos though in different roles than the ones they played in the first film. Peter Jeffrey and John Cater will also make a welcoming return as the befuddled police officials looking to put and end to the carnage and bodies that Phibes will leave in his wake once again. In this outing he’s risen from his customized crypt to find eternal life in Egypt and bring back his dear departed wife, the lovely Caroline Munro in a wonderfully preserved corpse like state.
Like the first film, black humor will rule the day when after a brief recap of the first film, Price, will rise from his tomb and recall from her own slumber, his lovely assistant Vulnavia, this time played by Valli Kemp as opposed to Virginia North who aided Price with his ingenious methods of killing in the first film. The main thrust of the plot is that every so many thousands of years the River of Life will rise within Egypt and the thought is that if Price can set sail on it with his beautiful wife he can bring her back to life and the pair can live in wedded bliss for all eternity.
Once risen from the grave, Price, will discover his mansion is a shambles and his safe has been broken into. The contents was an ancient papyrus that held the key to finding the location of the tombs within Egypt that the waters of the River of Live will rise within. Price is soon going to realize he has a competitor in this journey played by Robert Quarry who is also looking for the rejuvenating waters for reasons of his own.
First things first. Price needs to get back his ancient piece of Egyptian paper which leads to the first ingenious killing on screen with the simple use of a telephone. With the paper back in his possession the next step of our journey is a seagoing voyage that will leave one of our celebrity victims inside a giant sized bottle. Corked no less and set adrift on the open seas. The good Peter Cushing will make a minor cameo as the ship’s captain at odds with Quarry leaving me to wish Dear Peter had a far more substantial role opposite Price as he would have in 1974’s Madhouse.
With what we are to learn about Price’s past foray into Egypt it leaves me wondering what a prequel to the skeletal Phibes might have offered us. He’s a genius as we all know with his inventions but the story clearly tells us that he’d been to the tombs of Egypt years prior and found inner chambers still unknown to man. Chambers he’s already outfitted in his customized style with marble floors and his prized Phantom of the Opera edition Organ to wail away on when the desire to create music strikes him.
Like the classic Mummy films of the Universal series, the penalty is death to all those who would dare to intrude upon the tomb beneath the mountain where the balance of the film will take place. Those who would desecrate the tombs of Egypt are Quarry, his own lovely bride, Miss Fiona Lewis, and a group of archeologists and diggers that Quarry has hired to assist him in his goal of locating the River.
Being a classic monsters fan, anytime I use words like desecrate, tombs, Egypt or Pharaoh all I can hear is the voice of George Zucco issuing a stern warning and calling forth Kharis.
“Who’s mind could conceive of such a bizarre way to kill?”
While the murders to come are not quite as darkly satisfying as those Price treats us to in the first film we do see some of our trespassers being brought to Phibes’ own brand of “justice” through the uses of sand, scorpions, a vicious bird and one method which is more akin to the first film, a bed that serves more like a giant sized vice then it does for getting a good night sleep.
There’s little doubting this is a fun sequel to the first film even if it isn’t quite as good as a whole. While I’m sure Robert Quarry has his fans let’s be frank. This is the Vincent Price show once again. Imagine Price as Phibes giving us a Rudolph Valentino look as The Sheik. Then there are the grand entrances he’ll make in practically every set he enters. And how about Price serenading us with a verse or two of Somewhere Over the Rainbow that probably won’t replace the memory of Judy Garland’s iconic take on the classic song. But it’s Price and it works.
Back to Quarry. He was at the time a hot prospect for AIP and he’s got a plum role here as Price’s competition for finding the River of Life. Leaving some of the plot to those of you who have yet to experience the Phibes films, he too has a story of his own that I wish might have been fleshed out a bit. Quarry had just come off the two Count Yorga films for the studio which I think it safe to say is what got him the role here. (Honestly I’d have loved to see Christopher Lee in this part) Quarry would rejoin Price and Cushing in Madhouse before more or less fading from the forefront of horror cinema as the 70’s moved on and audiences tastes changed towards the slasher film from boogeyman scares.
Director Robert Fuest would mainly work in television for the balance of his career but along with the two Phibes films he did helm another cult favorite, The Devil’s Rain, released in 1975. As for that third Phibes film I’d loved to have seen, it was not meant to be. Apparently there were some ideas and script(s) drawn up but the film never came to pass. As it is we have the two Price/Phibes movies to appreciate in multiple viewings and for fans of Vincent we can always delight in his not so subtle in jokes he incorporates into the two films. If you’re unaware of just what I mean than go back and look at them but first do your homework on the man off screen and his many hobbies and talents away from the movie world.
They’re in there. You just have to play along and wink right back at him.
Acquiring the two Phibes films is relatively easy as they’ve been released on VHS, DVD and blu ray in multiple editions from the Midnight Movie series to Arrow Video’s special edition to the recent Price Volumes from Scream Factory. Enjoy them once again or discover them for the first time. As for an original half sheet, you’ll have to root one out for yourself.