Tuesday 10 June 2014

"The Complete Dr Phibes" - BD Box Set - A Review

“The Abominable Dr Phibes” and it’s sequel “Dr Phibes Rides Again” are, quite probably, Vincent Price’s most outrageous films. And they’re being released together on UK Blu-Ray for the first time by Arrow films this month in their “Complete Dr Phibes” Blu-Ray box set. 

"The Abominable Dr Phibes".

Set in the 1920s, the police are investigating a series of murders, involving various medical staff, who have been killed in the most bizarre of fashions. One doctor has been killed by vampire bats, another by a swarm of killer bees, whilst another is found tied to a chair with his blood drained.

The investigating officers, Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey – “Countess Dracula”) and Sgt Schenley (Norman Jones – “You Only Live Twice”) (a couple of bungling cops who appear to have been included for comic relief), discover that the manner of their deaths seem to be connected to the Ten Plagues of Egypt mentioned in the bible (boils, frogs, bats etc).

They also discover that each one of these doctors had been involved in trying to save a certain Victoria Phibes (played by future Bond girl and Hammer starlet Caroline Munro in an uncredited role), who died whilst in their care. Her Husband, Dr Anton Phibes (Vincent Price), was believed to have died in a car crash on his way to visit her. But it seems all those involved in trying to save her are now meeting a decidedly grisly fate.

The police suspect that Dr Phibes might not actually be dead and is somehow behind these killings. But despite their best efforts, he seems to be one step ahead of them at every turn, as the demented Doctor, who is indeed alive and lives in a crypt beneath his old mansion with the preserved body of his dead wife, continues to wreak his revenge on all those he holds accountable for her death, with the help of his mute assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North)

Noted American horror actor Joseph Cotton also stars, playing Dr Vesalius and, in one of his few rare non-comedy roles, British actor Terry Thomas also appears as a Brandy swilling surgeon with a penchant for vintage “erotic”  films, which provides the film with one of its more amusing death scenes. Perhaps more of a black comedy than a horror, in any case this is a definite must see for Vincent Price fans.
"Dr Phibes Rises Again".

The original Dr Phibes had been quite a success for its US distributors, so a sequel was quick to follow. Set shortly after the events of the first film, Phibes rises out of his tomb once more, only to find someone has demolished his mansion and stolen some Egyptian scrolls he had, that show the location of some mythical “River of Life”.

Summoning his assistant Vulnavia (now played by Valli Kemp… Hey, didn’t she die at the end of the last film?), they discover the scrolls were stolen by some wealthy adventurer named Biederbeck (Robert Quarry – “Count Yorga”), who wants the secrets of the River of Life for his own nefarious ends.
And so Phibes and company head off to Egypt in pursuit of Beiderbeck and proceed to bump off the people in his party in a suitably gory fashion as before (one chap being killed by Scorpions, another crushed in a sarcophagus and another, sand blasted to death etc) . One of the victims being none other than a young-ish John Thaw of “The Sweeney” and “Inspector Morse” fame.
Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffries) returns, this time assisted by his superior, Superintendent Waverly (John Cater of “Captain Kronos : Vampire Hunter” fame, reprising his earlier role), who attempt to stop Dr Phibes before he kills any more, but they fail to do much apart from provide more comic relief.
The film basically serves up more of the same as before, which should please fans of the original. There’s also some interesting guest roles in this, including Beryl Reid, Peter Cushing and Terry Thomas, who sharper eyed viewers will note is one of several cast members from the original film returning in a different roles.
Now, being an Arrow release, these discs come chocked full of extras.

On disc 1, accompanying “The Abominable Dr Phibes” you have
2x audio commentary tracks, the first with Director Robert Feust, moderated by film journalist Marcus Hearn, in which they discuss the making of the film. and the second with scriptwriter William Goldstein, which is moderated by his son Damon J Goldstein, which is really more of a running trivia track, as they discuss various anecdotes surrounding the production and release of the film.

Next up is a “Dr Phibes and the Gentlemen” feature. Which is a round table discussion with “League of Gentleman” stars Steve Pemberton, Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss and Reece Sheersmith, exchanging stories about their love of the film
And lastly there's the original theatrical trailer.

On disc 2, accompanying “Dr Phibes Rises Again” you get

Audio commentary track with Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog magazine, who provides a running critique of the story, interspersed with the odd amusing anecdote.

Then there’s a “Daughter of Phibes” feature, in which Vincent’s Price’s daughter, Victoria shares her memories about the time her father was on set and discusses some of his other films.

“The Doctor will See You Now”, interview feature with cult film historian David del Valle who shares some of the more amusing stories about the making of the films.

And lastly, there’s the original theatrical trailer.

The case also comes packages with a 100 page collectors book featuring linear notes on the film, illustrated with behind the scenes stills and promotional artwork.
Definitely a must for Vincent Price fans, this box set is strictly limited  to 3000 copies and, at present, is the only BD release of this anywhere in the world. So if you are looking at adding these films to your collection, this release is an essential purchase.
Buy the UK BD box set from Amazon.co.uk

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