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THE COMPLETE DR. PHIBES [1971/1972] [2 Discs Special Limited Edition] [Blu-ray]
on 14 October 2014
THE COMPLETE DR. PHIBES [1971/1972] [2 Discs Special Limited Edition] [Blu-ray] Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Ugly! Nine Killed Her; Nine Shall Die, Nine Eternities in Doom!”
Horror legend Vincent Price of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and ‘Theatre of Blood’ is Dr. Phibes, former musician, current murderer. Seeking revenge from the medical staff that left his wife for dead, he sets about knocking them off one-by-one in a series of elaborate murders based upon a Ten Plagues of Egypt. Death by bats, by boils, by blood and more await the nurse and surgeons who failed to save the life of the beloved Victoria Regina Phibes!
A camp classic, ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ sets itself apart from the seventies horror crowd with its knowing humour and art deco sets, and also prefigures the Saw movies with its increasingly fiendish set of murder devices.
Pairing the original film with sequel ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ and ‘The Complete Dr. Phibes’ provides viewers with a double diabolical dose of macabre thrills and black comedy.
FILM FACT: Dr. Phibes takes his inspiration for the murders from the Old Testament, the Ten plagues of Egypt. The plagues described in the movie differ slightly from the Biblical account: Boils; Bats; Frogs; Blood; Hail; Rats; Beasts; Locusts; Death of the first born and Darkness.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Cast: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, Virginia North, Peter Jeffrey, Derek Godfrey, Norman Jones, John Cater, Aubrey Woods, John Laurie, Maurice Kaufmann, Barbara Keogh, Sean Bury, Susan Travers, David Hutcheson, Edward Burnham, Alex Scott, Peter Gilmore, Alan Zipson, Dallas Adams, James Grout, Alister Williamson, Thomas Heathcote, Ian Marter, Charles Farrell, Julian Grant, John Franklyn, Walter Horsbrugh, Paul Frees (voice) (uncredited) and Caroline Munro (Victoria Regina Phibes) (uncredited)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again  Cast: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid, Valli Kemp, Peter Jeffrey, Fiona Lewis, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, John Cater, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander, John Thaw, Keith Buckley, Milton Reid, John Comer (uncredited), and Caroline Munro (Victoria Regina Phibes) (uncredited) and Gary Owens (Narrator voice) (uncredited)
Director: Robert Fuest
Producers: James H. Nicholson, Louis M. Heyward, Ronald Dunas and Samuel Z. Arkoff
Screenplay: James Whiton (characters), Robert Blees, Robert Fuest (uncredited) and William Goldstein (characters)
Composer: Basil Kirchin and John Gale
Cinematography: Alex Thomson and Norman Warwick
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Times: 94 minutes and 84 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 2
Studio: Arrow Academy
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: The world of show business can be fickle when it comes to age. Most actors find they have a limited shelf life when it comes to getting starring roles. Even the greatest names often find themselves side-lined in favour of shining new and young talent. However, one actor who went against the grain was Vincent Price who enjoyed a diverse career on the stage and in film thrillers, comedy, noir, and small horror roles and did not find his niche until he hit his 1940s. At the age of 42, Vincent Price starred in the 3D Stereoscopic ‘House of Wax’ , catapulting him into the arena within which he would later become a household name. There are not many people who deserve the title of an icon; however, Vincent Price is definitely one for that coveted title and of course, alongside actors such as Peter Cushing, who also had a very similar history finding his place in horror at a later age than many others. Vincent Price’s journey from ‘House of Wax’ 3D, would see him work almost exclusively in horror for many years. In 1971, at the age of 60, he made ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ a film that, alongside ‘Theatre of Blood’ , could be considered his swansong. The following year saw the revival of the Dr. Phibes character in ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ a flamboyant and camp extravaganza of a sequel that paid no attention to issues such as continuity which in this reviewer’s opinion, did not suffer one bit as a result, although, some may argue otherwise. But to sum up everything, this brilliant 2 Blu-ray Discs Special Limited Edition from Arrow Academy has brought together these two films in a newly restored stunning Blu-Ray edition double disc collector’s pack that is limited to just 3000 units and surely to be one of their most highly anticipated releases so far.
To appreciate both films you have to ignore the connection between the two to some extent; just accept both take place in the Dr. Phibes universe, paying little relation to one another in terms of continuity. The Dr. Phibes universe is a weird and wonderful place, an avant garde celebration of camp, over the top horror/comedy that is unique to anything that came before or after for that matter. Even though the films supposedly take place sometime in 20s/30s, they seem to have no grounding in anything other than pure imagination. On this basis, the Dr. Phibes universe can encompass ludicrous ideas and concepts, making them appear perfectly acceptable to the audience. Such is the skill of director Robert Fuest, who directed both instalments, and the enigmatic performance by Price. In the case of both films, you can immerse yourself in the pure fantasy they deliver, something rare in today’s climate of ultra-realism in genre flicks.
‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ sees Vincent Price portray the ominous Dr. Anton Phibes. Heavily disfigured in an accident and an idea that harks back to his previous role in the ‘House of Wax’ 3D. Dr. Phibes is a tragic character who, grieving for his late wife Victoria [Caroline Munro], sets out to punish the medical staff he believes failed her. So it is that the doctor sets about constructing an elaborate, and quite honestly mind-bending, series of revenge murders based on the plagues of Egypt. Aided by his assistant, the hypnotic Vulnavia [Virginia North] with her outstanding array of fantastical seventies retro-chic costumes, Dr. Phibes sets to task punishing the team who worked on his wife, as she lay dying on the operating table. The deaths flow at a furious pace: death by bats, rats, and an elaborate frog mask at a masquerade, locusts, and other hideous concepts like bloodletting, all served up with panache and an extra dose of wickedly black comedy.
The performance Vincent Price puts in has to be one of the greatest and most memorable of his career. Inhabiting many of the elements the actor had become well known for in his previous genre roles as a tormented lunatic, grief stricken widower, genius villain, and tragic figure and it could almost be considered a pastiche of Vincent Price’s career in horror. The humour is fiercely dark and dry; yet, the horrific elements manage to ground the film, preventing it from becoming a complete parody. Vincent Price’s performance is mesmerising and his on-screen presence dominates the picture. When you consider Dr. Phibe’s vocal chords have been damaged, and he therefore can only speak with the aid of an impromptu gramophone device, resulting in very little dialogue for Vincent Price, his portrayal becomes even more of a marvel. Vincent Price manages to convey the most subtle of emotions simply through a series of facial expressions: a raise of an eyebrow here and there, a steely glare.
For the supporting cast, Robert Fuest enlists the help of some strong British talent, all of whom play their parts fantastically. Stand out mentions go to Terry Thomas, as the creepy Dr. Longstreet with his penchant for watching nudie films on a 1920’s home projector. Peter Jeffrey, as Inspector Trout, provides some of the funniest dialogue and welcome comedy relief. While Joseph Cotten puts in a convincing turn as Dr. Vesalius, grounding the piece with his dramatic acting style.
While the performances are a marvel, and the effects a joy to watch, the sets are the icing on the cake: no expensive is spared on pure art deco decadence and glamour. The Abominable Dr. Phibes is nothing short of a stylish masterpiece that exudes originality and elegance. The Phibes lair is a piste de resistance for the feature when you consider the ostentatious set design: marble floors, a giant ominous organ decorated with a slide show of a glamorous looking Caroline Munro as Victoria, gaudy colours, and Dr. Phibe’s clockwork band, The Clockwork Wizards, give the setting an extremely offbeat vibe unrivalled in anything else that was being made around this period.
‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ sees the return of Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes. In order to accept anything that happens in the unfolding plot you have to, as previously mentioned, ignore some of the key factors that occur in the first film. This time Dr. Phibes is set for Egypt to resurrect his dead wife in a fountain of youth. His plans have been in the pipeline for some time, although there is no mention of this in the first Phibes venture! Phibes has an enemy, however, who may just thwart his plans, Darrus Biederbeck [Robert Quarry], who is also intent on getting his hands on immortality. Dr. Phibes is joined by his ever devoted assistant Vulnavia (this time played by Valli Kemp), traveling by ship to Egypt with Victoria’s embalmed corpse cleverly disguised as part of a sideshow exhibit, alongside his Clockwork Wizards. On arrival, Dr. Phibes sets up home in a grandiose pyramid that has been given an art deco interior makeover. The revenge-fuelled doctor waits for the right time to resurrect his dead lover, leaving plenty of time for killing his emissaries using some of his best tricks yet to stop them hindering his plan.
This sequel takes everything weird and wonderful about the original film and injects it with a huge dose of extra camp and this is camp on steroids. Some may lament the lack of cohesion with the first feature, however given how the film ends there is very little that could have been done without taking a huge back step and trying to rewrite history. In order to get the full enjoyment you just have to roll with the punches and not ask yourself too many questions; it is after all another opportunity to see Vincent Price giving a delectable performance as the grief stricken mass murderer. The pacing for this second film is slightly more low-key; this is due to the way the plot is delivered, as the murders are not pre-planned. However, there are some deliciously complicated deaths that showcase the gothic elegance Robert Fuest manages to, once again, envision on screen.
Performances across the board are mainly strong. Dr. Phibes this time is slightly less sinister, but this works with the developing plot. There seems to be more emphasis on the tongue-in-cheek one-liners for Price and, now, apparently able to talk, he has more dialogue in this film. Terry Thomas has a small role resurrected as an entirely different character, which may be a little confusing for some. Robert Quarry, who at the time was being prepared as a A.I.P’s rising star, gives a convincing performance as Darrus, an unlikable character that supports the notion of Dr. Phibes as the anti-hero. Peter Jeffrey returns as Trout, reviving his earlier position and injecting some dry wit into his scenes. Watch out for a very small, but nevertheless noteworthy, cameo from Peter Cushing as the Ship Captain. Vincent Price and Peter Cushing would team up in ‘Madhouse’  just two years later, however, here the two do not share screen time.
Perhaps the weakest link in the casting is the replacement of Virginia North as Vulnavia with actress Valli Kemp. The original incarnation of Dr. Phibes assistant had an eerie robotic presence and something that lead fans to speculate for years over whether Vulnavia was one of Dr. Phibe’s clever creations. However, Kemp gives the role a slightly more human performance, hinting emotion that conflicts with the original role. Although Valli Kemp adds glamour, it could be argued that North provided the most enigmatic and mysterious carnation of the character.
Blu-ray Video Quality – Fans of these 2 films will be pleased to see that this newly re-mastered edition from Arrow Academy represents a vast improvement, in terms of quality, from the previous inferior DVD releases. Most prominent, the splendid use of rich colours now emanates from the screen; the restoration showcasing just how stylish and luscious the production values were for both films. The bold colour palette of rich purples and yellows in particular, gives the films their personality and to see them restored so beautifully is bound to please fans. M-G-M provided the original film elements for the transfer, and it is presented here in a limited edition encoded 1080p image on these 2 Blu-ray discs. The restoration is crisp and clean, allowing the minute details in the setting and costumes to be seen. The original film grain is retained, and the print does not look overly tampered with, showing a cinematic depth that is faithful to its original release format. If you fancy an evening of gorgeous looking Vincent Price-related tomfoolery then watching these two films back-to-back will provide you with exactly that and an enjoyable rollercoaster camp romp, that will have you smiling by the end credits with the 2nd Blu-ray disc. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Both features come with their original mono tracks and again remaining faithful to the original format and the sound levels are very clear, free of distortion, and well mixed. No signs of age-related issues are present, leaving a dynamic track to be aurally enjoyed. Both Blu-ray discs are accompanied with subtitles in English for the hard of hearing.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
High Definition Blu-ray 1080p presentation transferred from original film elements by M-G-M.
Original uncompressed 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio.
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Audio Commentary: Commentary on The Abominable Dr. Phibes by director Robert Fuest: Hammer historian Marcus Hearn prompts the late Robert Fuest, who proves sharp-witted and full of recollections, despite being in his 1980s at the time. Director Robert Fuest gives an insightful and very in depth commentary about his time making Dr. Phibes. This commentary make discerning listening for fans of the film and definitely not to be missed.
Audio Commentary: Commentary by the Creator of Dr. Phibes, William Goldstein: This features co-writer William Goldstein has a chat with critic Tim Lucas. Director Robert Fuest gives an insightful and very in depth commentary about his time making Dr. Phibes. Additionally, Dr. Phibes creator, William Goldstein, gives his views on the second commentary track. Both commentaries make discerning listening for fans of the film. This commentary also make discerning listening for fans of the film and definitely not to be missed.
Audio Commentary: Commentary on ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ by critic and author Tim Lucas: ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ is delivered with one audio commentary, from Tim Lucas, who is a writer, journalist, and editor of Video Watchdog. Tim Lucas goes into explicit detail about the film’s production, the main players, and also covers the technical angle, making this yet again another highly educational commentary from Tim Lucas and definitely not to be missed.
Special Feature: Dr. Phibes and the Gentlemen [1080p] [13:00] The League of Gentlemen Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, and Jeremy Dyson who fondly recall a British horror classic and talk about their love for the films and their first experience with the sinister Dr. Phibes at the cinema. This is really hilarious and not to be missed.
Special Feature: Daughter of Phibes [1080p] [13:00] Here we see Victoria Price talk about her father’s role in the films, giving insight on his work in the genre and her personal thoughts on his career in a touching and candid interview.
Special Feature: The Doctor Will See You Now [1080p] [8:00] With this special feature, it includes an intimate interview with David Del Valle, who is Vincent Price Biographer, who gives a valuable second hand account on Price as Dr. Phibes, and also insight into Vincent Price the actor based on his extensive interviews with Vincent Price.
Theatrical Trailer [1971/1972] Both Blu-ray discs come with the Original Theatrical Trailer for each feature film.
BONUS: Reversible sleeves featuring alternate beautiful original artworks.
BONUS: Stunning Beautiful Collector’s Booklet that is mammoth undertaking, which could be considered a book rather than a booklet, includes exclusive writing from: Featuring a new writing on the film ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ by Julian Upton entitled “PHIBES RESURRECTUS.” We also get a new writing by Martin Jones entitled “THAT PRIVILEGE MOMENT: THE FILMS OF ROBERT FUETS.” We also have a really nice new interview writing by Constantine Nasr entitled “REMEMBERING VINCENT PRICE: A CONVERSATION WITH TIM BURTON.” Another interesting new writing is by Caroline Munro [From Cinema Retro #2 on May 2005] who gives an in-depth interview about her time and working on-set reminiscences of the Dr. Phibes films and entitled “LOOKING BACK WITH CAROLINE…” Another fascinating and interesting new writing is by Justin Humphreys [From Little Shoppe of Horrors #29] entitled “ABANDONING THE OBVIOUS: THE BRIILIANT LIFE AND ART OF BRIAN EATWELL.” Another fascinating and interesting new writing is by Jonny Trunk entitled “BASIL KIRCHIN REMEMBERED.” Next up is also another fascinating and interesting new writing and this time by Julian Upton entitled “DEALINGS IN DREAD: AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES IN BRITAIN.” The final fascinating and interesting new writing and this time is by Calum Waddell and is entitled “SHOCK PEDDLER: AN INTERVIEW WITH MILTON MORITZ [A.I.P publicist]. On page 98, we get the following headings “ABOUT THE TRANSFER;” PRODUCTION CREDITS” AND SPECIAL THANKS.” Additionally, the 100 page booklet is beautifully presented with rare stills, archive publicity stills, and promotional material, as well as illustrated with original archive posters and other rare stills.
Finally, Dr. Phibes features it can be said are very offbeat, dark horror comedy films that does not come as gaudily wrapped. The films stand as a testament to the statement ‘they just don’t make them like this anymore;’ both films revealing in eccentricity, artful direction, set design, and gothic panache. A highpoint of Vincent Price’s lengthy career in the genre, the films also carry the sad resonance that Price would soon bow out from his place as reigning lead villain in horror, as he pursued other avenues, especially the stage. While the actor remained with his toe dipped in the waters of horror film for the rest of his active career, these last starring roles gave some of his most interesting and memorable characters. Now faithfully restored by Arrow Films, the films beautifully rendered in high definition, this limited edition collector’s set is a must buy for all fans of the horror icon Vincent Price. Dedicated fans of Vincent Price will love the Dr. Phibes films and revel in their camp absurdity. The set is well worth a purchase if you are already a fan as it contains some great special features. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom