I was pretty stoked when I realized that The Devil’s Rain director Robert Fuest also did the two Phibes films! Vincent Price is one of my all-time favorites, so I was very excited to get to him for It’s All Connected 2020. As it happens, I actually watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes for last year’s mostly unblogged about version of It’s All Connected. I had gotten a Blu-ray copy from Arrow that is fantastic and even watched it with the director’s commentary. Since that was still relatively fresh in my mind, I opted to watch Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the 1972 sequel also by Fuest. Also, as a fun bonus, actress Fiona Lewis was also in The Fury!
I’ve been on a 70s sci-fi kick lately and have not been disappointed with a single one of my viewing experiences. I’m sure there’s a kind of reverse bias, but I love anything from that era that really went for it with story and special effects. I think about movies with wild concepts like this that are made these days and many of them either cut out some of the more difficult sounding scenes or tackle them with CGI that doesn’t look that great and doesn’t help. In At The Earth’s Core you’ve got everything from Pterodactyl-like protectors to a giant dog-like thing attacking the movie’s star with the oh-so-fantastic movie star name Doug McClure. Sure you can tell when the actors are working with a projection and that the monsters don’t work as well as they probably could have, but to me, that’s a lot more charming and real than CGI. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.
I should probably talk about the movie’s story at this point in my review, shouldn’t I? McClure plays David Innes a rich guy bankrolling his one-time professor Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) in an experimental drilling vehicle that’s supposed to break though the Earth’s core. As the pair take the machine on its first test run, they both pass out and wind up in a world within the modern world filled with the aforementioned monsters, but also normal humans like the lovely Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me, Starcrash) who luckily speak English. After a series of mini-adventures that split our leads up for a bit, they return in an effort to help free the people, stop the monsters and return home. It’s the kind of movie that might have been pretty common in the 70s, but one I haven’t personally seen much of. I actually just realized that it’s basically my beloved Planet Of The Apes under the ground with bigger monsters, but I’m still okay with that.
So, in addition to being an ambitious film effects- and story-wise, I also had a lot of fun with the characters. McClure is kind of a swaggering, old timey tough guy with buckets of charm, enough to make you think he might have a chance with Munro, even though he bares more than a passing resemblance to John C. Reilly. Better yet is Cushing, an actor I unfortunately have very little experience with aside from his turn as Grand Moff Tarkin. I know he’s a well respected actor who personified Sherlock Holmes for plenty of people for decades, but I loved his turn as the goofy, exasperated and supremely proper professor. Sure it’s an over the top character, but that can be fun when performed by an actor who really gets the idea and knows how to keep the balance.
I had a great time with this movie and hope anyone else who checks it out on Netflix will too. I don’t say this often, but I’d actually like to see this movie or one like it, made today. Just build lots of rad practical sets, snag some quality stars and make sure the CGI looks solid and I think you’d have a hit on your hands.
Regular readers might have noticed a bit of a drop off in horror movie reviews lately, that’s because I’ve been saving up for October. Like many of my fellow bloggers, I’ll be attempting to watch and review a horror movie every single weekday (who has time to blog on the weekend?). And then another one. That’s right, a daily double dose of horror during the working week. That’s my intent at least. I’ve tried things like this before and both succeeded and failed, so we’ll see how well I do.
To kick off my October adventure, I decided to give The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again another look for the first time. Back when I worked as a lowly research assistant at Wizard a very nice person saw me eying the MGM Vincent Price box set and gave it to me. I was super thrilled because I’m a big Price fan, but haven’t seen nearly enough of his movies and this set has a ton of goodness (much of which I will be mining for this month’s posts). With both movies on one disc, it made great to start with.
I remember back in high school when I first got into horror, I found a website that had the top 666 horror movies of all time or something like that. I went through, copied and pasted the entire list into a Word doc and printed it out which acted as my first horror checklist before I picked up Creature Features. Anyway, I remember Abominable Dr. Phibes being high on that list because it was in alphabetical order. I had no idea what it was or who was in it, but it sounded kind of silly, like one of those wacky sci-fi comics from the silver age.
As it turns out, the movie is a little silly, but in a really strange and disturbing way, like seeing Leatherface putting make up on one of his people masks. See, the idea behind the movies is that Dr. Phibes’ wife died on the table of several surgeons. He himself got pretty messed up in an accident while trying to get to her at the hospital, so what does the bereft and disfigured husband do (that’s him in the spoiler-ish poster above)? First, build a face for himself that looks like a lumpy Vincent Price, then invent an elaborate voice box magnifier so he can talk, third get a woman servant named Vulnavia, after that get a mechanical band and play organ with them in your well-lit and stage like underground lair and finally start taking revenge on the men you see as responsible for your wife’s death. For far too much information you can check out the trailer. It’s very SPOILER heavy.
As you may have seen in the trailer, the kills in this movie are spectacular. Phibes bases them on the 10 plagues of Egypt from The Bible which means you get to see things like an ever-tightening frog mask killing a man, a bat climbing up a man’s chest and locusts eating a woman’s face off. And, man, does Price play the character with the perfect mix of theatricality and creepiness. One minute he’s playing organ with the mechanical band, the next he’s arranging to murder a man’s son with acid. It’s intense and could have easily veered into the completely ridiculous, but Price keeps things from getting too over the top. Now that I think about it, Phibes is kind of like the evil version of Batman with his lair, gadgets and way to kill anyone (though I think sitting a man down and draining the blood from him would only work in England, those people can be WAY too polite). The first movie ends with Phibes locking himself up with his wife’s preserved corpse in an underground coffin…
Only to be revived a few years later (according to the story) in Rises Again, neither of them looking the worse for wear. This time, Phibes isn’t so much set on revenge as bringing his beloved back to life thanks to some Egyptian mumbo jumbo. But, while they slumbered, his house was razed and the key to her resurrection was stolen by none other than vampire Count Yorga. Well, not exactly, but the guy who played the Count: Robert Quarry. Apparently there was lots of bad blood on set because Price heard that Quarry was being brought in to replace him as the studio’s main horror actor and Quarry didn’t like how Price got to do all of his lines in post thanks to the voice box doohickey. That tension comes across well as Phibes is trying to hunt down Quarry and his crew who are on a dig in Egypt to help prolong Quarry’s unnaturally long life.
Once Price realizes that Quarry has the piece he needs to bring his wife back to life he heads to Egypt, builds another ridiculously complex lair that includes his organ and the mechanical band and starts building traps for Quarry’s people like an eagle statue that grabs your arms while scorpions kill you and a bed that squishes you until you’re a bloody pancake.
Once again you get Price’s awesome performance, this time boosted by Quarry’s. The kills don’t look quite as good (the eagle looks like it might have been made of paper), but once again the final trap is a real nailbiter. In the previous movie a surgeon had to open up his son to remove a key that would release him from his bonds and get him out of the way of an acid drip Phibes devised. This time around, Quarry’s love interest is tied up on a board and covered in chicken wire with ever-rising water that will eventually smash her into some spikes hanging from the ceiling unless Quarry gives Phibes what he needs. Again, be warned that the trailer gives away most of the kills.
I really dug both of these movies. They’re weird and wild and colorful without being too much of any one thing. Phibes ranks up there with some of my all-time favorite movie killers now. He’s got some of Freddy’s quippiness, some of Michael Myers’ theatricality (dude loved posing bodies, remember) and a gimmick to beat all gimmicks (sorry, Seven, but 10 plagues beats 7 deadly sins!). There’s a lot online about potential sequels that never got made which is too bad because I think with Price any of them would have been a hoot, however, I’m not too keen on the idea of a remake (not that I’ve heard talk of one, I’m just saying) because, frankly, I think it could be too easily turned into torture porn nonsense. In many ways, Phibes is the precursor to Jigsaw from the Saw flicks in that he spends lots of time devising overly complex traps for people, but that doesn’t mean I want to see a new, old favorite blasted through the Hollywood remake machine. I’m perfectly fine with watching these early 70s classics!
Man, how cool is this poster? And guess what? Aside from the text, it has zero to do with Slaughter High, a mostly boring movie that swipes from several better movies, has terrible acting, a cool looking slasher, some decent effects and one amazingly original idea ruined by a stupid ending. Instead of reviewing this movie, I’m just going to give you a look at the notes I took while watching. Also, if you want a more in-depth review, check out BC’s over at HMAD which I just re-read and it explains why so many of the actors talked funny. Hit the jump for the live blogging.
*”You wanna do it don’t you?” – girl to nerd “Me? I’m a sex machine” nerd Marty. This is exactly from Porky’s (1982) or Toxic Avenger (1984), two much better movies.
*Marty turning “Marty sucks” into “Marty fucks” is fairly clever.
*”April Fool’s! Where’s the beef?” They’re poking him with a stick! Jesus, they make the kids from Tromaville look like good Samaritans.
*They electrocute him, drag him across the bathroom floor naked AND give him a swirly all while filming the whole thing with what looks like the crew of a small budget film? that’s some cold shit.
*Now, this part with the coach giving the bullies shit is like Carrie (1976).
*Awesome, now they’re giving the nerd weed.
*Jesus, they just set this kid up to die in a chemical fire.
*So, there’s a time jump and now it’s reunion time.
*Hey, how come only 8 of us got invited to this reunion? DUH DUH DUH
*”Come on you guys, let’s parteeee.” Ugh.
*How the hell did the dude get the lockers in there?
*These are some truly shitty actors.
*They can’t even wink convincingly.
*This dude has to be retarded to fall for the funnel-in the pants trick. That was also in a movie, by the way, I just can’t place it.
*Why would they be going to their reunion in May/April anyway?
*Woah, the intestine shot is actually pretty cool.
*The Marty drawing on the wall is pretty amazing. It would be funny if it turned out that all the non-asshole kids actually really liked Marty and immortalized him forever, turning him into a folk hero.
*The part with the dude holding up the turned-on tractor is actually pretty cool. Oh, shit, the killer cut his arms! Deadsy!!!
*The plan to just put your backs to the wall and wait for Marty is actually a pretty good one. I’m sure they’ll follow it perfectly.
*April Fool’s Day ends at noon?
*Now they’ve just got to stay awake, like NOES (1984).
*They slept all the way till 11AM and Marty didn’t just kill them in their sleep?
*The Jester mask makes a cool silhouette.
*Is the blonde girl drowning in shit? Or is that tar?
*Seeing the jester mask outside in a letterman’s jacket is pretty cool. Especially in that extreme worm’s eye view.
*The Final Girl thinks it’s a good idea to return to the scene of the crime?
*Hey, I just discovered something else that grosses me out: old toilet bowls overflowing with blood (and presumably shit).
*Marty’s a very theatrical killer, like Michael Myers. He must have gotten pretty strong to be able to pose those corpses.
*Well, guess not because three hits with a bat did it.
*Hey, now the lights are going out down the hall My Bloody Valentine (1981) style.
*Oh, snap, she just killed Skip!!!
*This is one weirdly designed school. Lots of windows and weird hallways.
*Why would she throw the spear Marty’s been using to try and kill her down at him? He only feel one story.
*Uh oh, looks like Marty doesn’t care what time April Fool’s Day ends.
*It is kind of cool to see Marty trip and not do the slasher teleport, though I’m sure there are elements of that somewhere.
*Did she just go back to the scene of the crime or is this a different bathroom than the bloody toilet?
*Adult Marty looks pretty damn creepy.
*Woah, he’s being haunted by his victims, that’s pretty cool. I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen like that.
*Was it a god damned dream?!
*Woah! Syringe to the eye! Doesn’t make up for the lame “it’s all a dream” ending though. I call bullshit.