From the product packaging:
“Master of macabre Vincent Price breathes life back into one of the vilest villains in his long list of evil-doers! The eminent Dr. Phibes awakens from a decade of suspended animation and heads to Egypt with the corpse of his dead wife, which he intends to resurrect by murdering people in strange and heinous ways to invoke a magical incantation!”
Erm … I don’t really want to get into a case of matching wits with some advertising executive, but – in all honesty – that provided synopsis isn’t really all that accurate. Yes, Dr. Phibes is back in action, but the film very clearly picks up the action three years after the original’s ending. (FYI: it says so in the film’s preamble which rather effective recaps the events of the first picture.) Furthermore, the deaths that are dealt here – while occasionally creative and clever – have absolutely no connection to the good doctor’s mission, which is to revive his wife. Sadly, these dispatches are merely a means to an end, and none of them were required in any substantive way other than to attempt to match the gleeful, gory gratuitousness of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), itself a sensation with audiences of its time.
Therein lies by central complaint with the follow-up: was it even necessary?
When Abominable faded to black, Phibes and his wife (played by the luminous Caroline Munro) are reunited not so much in a form of death as it is a kind of ‘limbo.’ The script assured us that she died on the operating table, and the audience is shown embalming fluid flowing into his veins as he lies next to her. The final frames saw them sealed up together in one of the screen’s more extravagant crypts, so at the very least audiences were delivered a true horror flick’s conception of just what ‘happily ever after’ might mean. As the sequel opens, it’s revealed that the doctor had always planned for a revival at a time wherein “the stars would be in alignment,” and he could access some supernatural science tied into an Egyptian prophecy involving the ‘River Of Life.’ It’s there in which he believes resurrection of his dearly departed is possible, and thus begins the next chapter of their story. The blood is put back in Phibes’ veins, and voila! He’s back in form!
Furthermore, our introduction to Phibes and his murderous genius was that each death was accomplished with some underlying reasoning (along with some bizarre methodology). These were the very people who had either directly or indirectly participated in his wife’s demise, so our tortured hero sought a form of vengeance whether it was deserved or not. But the sequel abandons all of what made Phibes and his actions a marvel to behold and, instead, simply has him dispatching anyone who gets in his way no matter what. While the deaths are still accomplished in typical surreal fashion, there’s very little personal motivation behind them, thus robbing our villain of any code of ethics. Here, he kills because … well … it’s just neat and well-designed.
Aesthetically, there are still effective membranes which tie these two films together. (Do just a smidgeon of research, and you’ll likely find links to ideas openly discussed for a third film that might’ve tied all of them together had that production ever come to light.) View them back-to-back, and it’s undeniable that they benefit equally from lush set design, perhaps some of the best period detail one might see in a Horror film of the early 1970’s. While other Horror properties were going a bit dark and gritty, the Phibes experience almost charted a course directly opposite; and perhaps that’s why they’ve gained a cult audience and stood the test of time. Beyond the familiarity of returning cast members, Rises affectionately attempts to further a mythology established with these characters and situations; I’m simply arguing here that this outing is vastly inferior in the way its narrative goes about its business.
Sadly, it comes a little too late, but Phibes and Biederbeck prove a compelling pair with almost enough gravitas to pull off an otherwise dubious affair.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972) was produced by Amicus Productions. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by Kino Lorber. (Indeed, this was part of a 2022 Robert Fuest Double Feature collection.) As for the technical specifications? The film’s various sights and sounds look very good. As for the special features? There are two separate commentary tracks – one from author Justin Humphreys and one from film historian Tim Lucas; both a quite good, though I’ll admit I was more captivated by Lucas’ contributions and reflections than I was by Humphreys. I couldn’t say why this was with any degree of specificity; I just found his presentation a bit more engaging. It is what it is.
Mildly recommended. Sigh. Dr. Phibes Rises Again! is a film kinda/sorta difficult to review because it’s an inferior sequel that didn’t need to be (inferior, that is). Writer/director Fuest was encouraged by the studio to cash in on the first one’s property; and, in doing so, he delivers a film that nearly completely misunderstood what made the original such a pleasure. (Yes, I’m aware that other hands were at work in the final edit, but Fuest’s script still poses some divergence from Phibes’ charming origin picture.) This might be one of cinema’s chief exhibits about how too much of a good thing ends up being a bad thing at that. It had real potential but never quite connects in any meaningful way, though the showdown between its two heavies showed great promise. Perhaps the scripted but never filmed third film could’ve been a return to form … yet, alas, we’ll never know.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.