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!
Stung was actually a bonus tossed in the box without warning. At first I wasn’t super interested because it sounded like a bit of Syfy or Asylum craziness with a plot revolving around giant wasps attacking an upscale garden party. But this Benni Diez-directed, Adam Aresty-written film is actually pretty damn delightful.
Our heroes are the owner of a catering company and her slacker employee who can barely handle himself when she switches from one shirt into another on the way to the event. He’s a bit too much of a goofball for my personal tastes (haven’t we seen enough of this character?) but he gets tangled up in the craziness of the events around him and starts adapting in the process.
Anyway, they wind up working some local bigwig’s party when these insane wasps start attacking. The stings are bad enough, but they also make their targets transform into gigantic wasps. Our heroes are joined in their drive to survive by Clifton Collins Jr. (who starred in Capote) and friggin’ Lance Henriksen, both of whom play against type a bit and also last much longer than you might expect.
I give Stung a lot of credit for not only featuring some impressive special effects (yes, there’s a lot of CGI, plus a fair amount of practical grossness) but also playing with expectations with what many would assume is stunt casting. I also thought it worked quite well as a nature-run-amok movie along the lines of Frogs. My own personal scare factor was boosted because I’ve been dealing with wasps under our siding all summer and hate those damn things. Whether you have wasps diving bombing your table or not, I highly recommend checking out Stung. It just went up on Netflix Instant, so it’s even easier!
I also gave The Return Of Count Yorga a watch. I feel like I’ve always known about these movies (or at least the original one from 1970), but just never got around to watching either of them. I think I saw part of the first on Netflix a while back, but who can remember?
Anyway, in this film, Yorga (Robert Quarry) makes his come back because of the Santa Anna winds (sure, why not) and he soon gets to work turning the gorgeous Cynthia — played by Mariette Hartley — into a fellow undead minion. Along the way his vampire brides also turn an orphan boy who then leads them to Cynthia’s family. Soon enough everyone in the family is turned aside from a deaf woman. She goes to the police about the attack, but no one believes her because the vamps cleaned up the mess and the kid is on their side.
As I mentioned, Hartley is just captivating, but so is Quarry. When he’s just hanging out in slick guy mode — at a costume party no less — he’s mesmerizing. But when he’s in vamp mode? It’s a bit laughable. Instead of sneaking up on his victims, he puts both arms straight out and just charges at them (complete with white pancake makeup). Even with that, though, there are some pretty scary moments, though they mostly revolve around people telling the truth and not being believed or voices coming from nowhere potentially driving folks crazy.
So, yeah, it’s a little goofy at times, but there’s also enough cool in this movie for me to recommend it if you dig on early 70s movies with some psychological scares and great actors.
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!