Deliciously Camp, The Doctor Phibes movies have everything you need for a great Vincent Price experience. 1971’s The Abominable Doctor Phibes sees Price play a horrendously disfigured musical genius seeking revenge of the doctors who failed to save the life of his wife, while Doctor Phibes Rises Again (released the following year, although set three years after events in the first movie) ups the kitsch, as Phibes tries to reincarnate his wife.
Both Phibes films were directed by Robert Fuest and he directs with a gory glee. Phibes gets revenge on those who wronged him through a selection of outlandish murders. He’s not one for using a bullet or a knife, Phibes likes to use intricate ways to murder his victims, like slowly removing their blood or crushing their heads with a slowly shrinking mask. They’re far-fetched – but that’s what makes them so much fun.
Vincent Price brings his usual precision to the role of Phibes, the organ playing villain with no voice box (he speaks through a modified gramophone). This means that for most of the movies Price is sadly devoid of his greatest asset – his velvet voice. The limited speaking in the role could mean that he had the opportunity to sleepwalk through the role, but Price gives it his all. However, it’s a low-key performance, which is on the lighter side of the Vincent Price acting colour chart. The rest of the performances in the films range from high comedy (Peter Jeffrey and John Cater) to serious drama (Joseph Cotton).
If you were to rate the films, The Abominable Doctor Phibes would come on top, but the sequel is so fresh (and monumentally crazy) that it’s definitely worth seeing. The film keeps the gory deaths, but transplants the action to Egypt as things take a more fantastical turn. It keeps things fresh while you wait for the next death to come along. This is how to make a horror sequel. What also makes Doctor Phibes Rises Again worth your time is the cast: Peter Cushing and John Thaw also appear. The former is the captain of the ship transporting Phibes to Egypt, while Thaw plays an over enthusiastic archeologist who feels the full wrath of Phibes.
The Doctor Phibes movies are yet another example of wonderfully old fashioned horror. Vincent Price once again proves why he is a master of the genre as he makes Phibes an iconic movie torturer decades before Jigsaw and the Saw movies came along.
Arrow DVD presents The Abominable Doctor Phibes and Doctor Phibes Rises Again in a Phibe-ulous double-bill. They come filled with interviews (Victoria Price and The League of Gentleman amongst them) and commentaries galore (director Robert Fuest included). This is the love that the Phibes movies needs. If you have even the smallest interest in theses or Vincent Price – you must own The Complete Doctor Phibes.