American International Pictures wast­ed no time when The Abominable Dr. Phibes became a hit vehi­cle for star Vincent Price: the next year, they had a sequel at the the­aters with Dr. Phibes Rises Again.  Despite reunit­ing direc­tor Robert Fuest with  Price, this sequel is often looked upon as a lesser, some­what mud­dled piece of work.  That said, there is plen­ty of pop-goth­ic fun left in the char­ac­ter and premise if you can make allowances for some vis­i­ble seams in its sto­ry­telling.

DrPhi2-posDr. Phibes Rises Again starts three years after the end of the first film’s events.  It is quick­ly revealed that Dr. Phibes (Price) was mere­ly hiber­nat­ing and has arisen once more, com­plete with trust­ed assis­tant Vulnavia (Valli Kemp), and this dev­il­ish duo heads for Egypt so they can access “the river of life” that will revive Phibe’s beloved wife.

Unfortunately, there is com­pe­ti­tion for this dis­cov­ery in the form of Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), a sci­en­tist who is ruth­less­ly dri­ven in his quest by a super­nat­u­ral secret of his own.  As the two race to a fin­ish line locat­ed beneath an Egyptian pyra­mid, Phibes and Vulnavia bump off Biederbeck’s acolytes in col­or­ful­ly gDrPhi2-01rue­some ways.  However, they soon find them­selves not only hav­ing to con­tend with Biederbeck but also Scotland Yard inspec­tors Trout (Peter Jeffery) and Waverly (John Cater).

Legend has it that Dr. Phibes Rises Again was a trou­bled pro­duc­tion: there was ten­sion between Price and Quarry and bud­get slash­ing result­ed in some hasty rewrites and added dia­logue for Dr. Phibes.  The sto­ry prob­lems show in the film as the sto­ry­line often feels dis­joint­ed until it reach­es Egypt and the rea­sons for Phibes’ mur­ders are both less clear-cut and less inter­est­ing this time around.  It feels like Phibes “talks” via his voice­box about three times as much as he did in the last film and much of it is awk­ward­ly craft­ed expo­si­tion thrown in to keep the sto­ry afloat.DrPhi2-02

However, it’s easy to over­look the­se prob­lems if you approach Dr. Phibes Rises Again in its intend­ed spir­it.  The Phibes films are essen­tial­ly macabre black come­dies shot through with a won­der­ful sense of baro­que visu­al style.  Thanks to the efforts of Fuest and his crew, the style holds togeth­er beau­ti­ful­ly and keeps the wonkier parts of the sto­ry mov­ing for­ward.

Brian EatDrPhi2-03well’s gor­geous, art deco-influ­enced sets mix in Egyptian touch­es this time around and Fuest makes them look sump­tu­ous with the help of cin­e­matog­ra­pher Alex Thomson.  Fuest uses their artistry to cre­ate a play­ful yet exteme­ly styl­ish vehi­cle for ghoul­ish wit and some E.C. Comics-style set­pieces (look out for the one involv­ing scor­pi­ons).  Even when the sto­ry hits dead ends, Fuest’s style is fun for hor­ror fans to lux­u­ri­ate in.

Best of all, Fuest tops it off by get­ting ace per­for­mances from a smart­ly select­ed cast.  Price hams it up in a charm­ing way, despite the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion requir­ing him to nev­er speak, and Quarry makes an excel­lent foe who pro­vides a nice con­trast with his icy, straight-faced nas­ti­ness.  Jeffery and Cater provide sub­lime­ly low-key comic relief as the inspec­tors who fol­low Phibes’ out­landish mur­ders with qui­et frus­tra­tion and there are brief but fun cameos from Peter Cushing, Terry Thomas and Beryl Reid.

In short, Dr Phibes Rises Again is more like a styl­ish­ly craft­ed set of left­overs than a sequel that can stand on its own two feet.  That said, Price and Quarry give the pro­ceed­ings a shot of life and no one ever quite made baro­que hor­ror films the way Fuest did.  As a result,  this ‘shocks & chuck­les’ ride still offers plen­ty of ghoul­ish fun.