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Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) rises from his self-imposed embalming and travels to Egypt to find the River of Life to resurrect his bride (Caroline Munro) from her eternal slumber. Phibes is in a race against time, as his rival Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) also seeks eternal life and is headed there himself with his team. Phibes, not to be undone, finds gruesome ways to eliminate his competition, as he closes in on his goal.
Sequel is again directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he and Robert Blees. The 60s art deco look also returns, as does the twisted sense of humor. This installment seems to be a bit quicker paced and has more of a sense of fun, as Phibes’ death traps are even more elaborate and he has a hidden lair in one of the tombs that would make a Bond villain envious. How did he get all this stuff into Egypt and built without notice? Who cares? It’s a delightfully devious and fun romp as Phibes now has a rival who may be, at heart, even more sinister than he is. This dynamic makes Phibes more of an anti-hero this time as he slaughters his way through Biederbeck’s team with one death more inventive than the other. Watching him outwit his nemesis and decimate his accomplices, one by one, is a lot of ghoulish fun.
Price is again in top form, as usual, as Anton Phibes. The legendary actor is a delight to watch as the diabolical madman, and this time we don’t have to hide the fact that we are rooting for him. Robert Quarry is a suitable foil for the skull faced Phibes. His Biederbeck is a smug megalomaniac and we delight in watching his scheme slowly unravel at the hands of the devious doctor. Fiona Lewis is a sexy femme fatale as Biederbeck’s accomplice and romantic interest, Diana and Phibes’ loyal assistant Vulnavia returns (somehow) as well, though is this time played by Valli Kamp. Flick also features a brief cameo by the legendary Peter Cushing as a ship’s captain and a returning Terry-Thomas in a new role.
Like the first film, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a horror legend. It’s a bit more outlandish and thus twisted fun, than the first film, though the original was a bit more gruesome. There were many plans to bring the doctor back for a third film, one project was to be directed by George Romero and another would see Quarry return and add William (Blacula) Marshall to the mix. Sadly, none ever happened. There is talk of a remake with Malcolm McDowell, but this is such a classic Price role, it’s hard to see anyone else playing the organ and wearing the skull face.
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Four years earlier Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) lost his beautiful wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro) during a medical procedure. Racing home upon hearing the news, Phibes himself got into a car accident and was presumed burned to death. But the doctor is not dead and though horribly scarred, he plans to exact revenge on the nine medical personnel he feels responsible for Victoria’s death. Now the police are baffled as Phibes begins to exact his revenge in the form of biblical plagues and begins a bloody path leading to the chief surgeon (Joseph Cotton) for whom he plans the worse fate yet!
Price classic is stylishly directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he, along with William Goldstein and James Whiton. The flick may take place in 1925, but Fuest gives it a 60s art deco look and a very twisted sense of humor. While Phibes’ plans for those he seeks revenge on are quite ghastly, there is a sense of fun as Phibes unleashes his plagues with an assortment of bizarre gadgets and a disguise or two. The results can be gruesome, but nothing too extreme as the film was rated PG…or “GP” as it was called during this era. There is some fun to be had in watching Phibes make a fool of Scotland Yard Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and evade any attempts by the law to protect those still yet to meet a horrible fate. It is a bit methodically paced and feels somewhat longer than it’s 94 minute run time, but watching Phibes play the organ while plotting horrible deeds is campy, ghoulish fun with Price doing what he does best. On a technical level it is well made though some of the FX are delightfully cheesy by today’s standards.
As for the horror legend, Price is at the top of his game here as the sinister Phibes. Even having to play the role mute and add his voice later (Phibes lost the ability to speak in the accident and uses a device to emit his voice) he still chills with the look in his eyes and his mannerisms and his dialogue is still recited with that Vincent Price flair. He never goes overboard, but just over-the-top enough to give a diabolical horror movie style Bond villain vibe to the gadget making/organ playing Phibes. Joseph Cotton is another movie veteran who knows to take the campy/creepy material seriously as the main target on Phibes’ list, Dr. Vesalius. Peter Jeffrey seems to be having a good time as the constantly baffled and outwitted Inspector Trout. Another role that is meant to be campy with the actor showing just enough restraint to not become outright silly. Virginia North is a sexy femme fatale as Phibes’ silent assistant Vulnavia and an un-credited role playing Phibes’ Victoria in photos and corpse form is British film vixen and future Bond girl, Caroline Munro. A classy cast that all approach the material with proper amounts of camp or seriousness.
Overall, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a legend. As a film itself, it is a little too slow paced for it’s own good and the mix of gruesome and giddy may not always work completely, but it is still a lot of twisted fun. The diabolical doctor would return for a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the following year.
“Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”- Sidney Prescott
Halloween Favorites is back and this horror classic is certainly a worthy return for this holiday centric column!
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of the great classics of the slasher era and so who better to re-invent the sub-genre, when it burned itself out in the late 80s with endless sequels and knock-offs. Armed with a very clever script by Kevin Williamson, Craven reignited the sagging horror genre with a film that works both as homage to the traditions of slasher flicks…while playfully poking fun at them…and as an effective slasher on it’s own.
Scream takes place in the fictional town of Woodsboro where we open with pretty blonde Casey (Drew Barrymore) about to settle in for the night with popcorn and a horror movie. But Casey begins to get phone calls from a strange person who, at first seems to be playful, but then gets more and more aggressive and threatening as it continues. Soon it is revealed that she and her bound on the back porch boyfriend’s lives are in mortal danger and all she has to do is answer some horror movie trivia questions to save their lives…but there is a horrible price if she is wrong. Needless to say , she and her beau are ruthlessly slaughtered by a killer wearing a ghost face mask and the high school is all a-buzz about it the next day. Enter Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother was murdered a year earlier and the suspected killer (Liev Schreiber) is now in jail… or is he? But Sydney has become a target of this masked serial killer and everyone around her may be a suspect…or a fatality. Who is this mysterious butcher and why has he targeted Sydney and her friends as his/her next victims?
Scream, first off starts with that great sequence with Drew Barrymore that really sets the tone for the film. It is scary and violent and establishes that this is a horror film that openly acknowledges it’s predecessors. It then openly references a lot of the classic horrors of the previous decades as it’s pop culture savvy teens are well aware of these films and use them as a guide to deal with their current situation…just as our killer is using them as a template for their own heinous deeds. All this self-awareness makes this flick a lot of fun and Craven is one of the best horror directors out there in using pop culture reference to fuel his tales. The script by Kevin Williamson not only references these horrors, but is the first flick to outright state the slasher horror ‘rules’ as per film geek Randy (Jaime Kennedy) that determine who lives and who dies…Don’t have sex, never say “I’ll be right back!”. The best part is that this flick also works as a slasher in itself. Craven and Williamson set up a situation that is a classic slasher with a victim with a painful past being stalked by a killer with a possible grudge and everyone is a suspect. There are some very suspenseful and scary scenes along with some very brutal kills as Ghost Face works his/her way through Sydney’s friends and various other characters. The film’s hip movie savvy humor never gets in the way of the scares or carnage, either. Craven and Williamson even get to make a statement about the desensitizing of violence in the current generation and the media’s insensitive and sensationalistic coverage of horrific events in the person of Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), a selfish, pit bull of a reporter who is determined to prove Sydney sent the wrong man to prison with her testimony and that the real killer is the one stalking Woodsboro. Is she right?… has one of these kids seen one too many horror flicks? Craven and Williamson have a blast letting us in on the answer and so does the audience as the big reveal is both surprising and a perfect example of how cleverly this film openly acknowledges that it is a horror film inspired by other horror films, just like it’s characters. If the film has any faults it’s that there are a few slow spots and one make-up effect involving a garage door and a character’s head is far too rubbery to work and ruins one of the more inventive kills. Other than that, this is a horror classic and one of Craven’s best films in a classic studded career.
As for the cast. It’s ensemble gives us a generous amount of suspects and victims. Campbell’s Sydney is one of modern horror’s most memorable final girls. She’s sweet but strong and has her own inner pain to fuel her survival instincts. Courtney Cox is perfect as the mega-bitch reporter who is using the killings in Woodsboro to further her career, but she also surprises us in the last act. As Sydney’s friend’s…Skeet Ulrich as boyfriend Billy has a nice air of danger about him and as a suspect, it works perfectly. Matthew Lillard as his bud Stu, is fun as a bit of an oblivious goofball …or is he? Rose McGowan as her best friend Tatum, turns the buxom blonde cliché on it’s ear with a young woman who is smart and sarcastic to go along with her Playboy model looks. Jaime Kennedy as Randy is the film’s movie geek and does well in creating that film obsessed nerd who provides the characters and audience with the exposition needed by way of horror film references. David Arquette as Tatum’s deputy brother Dewey, gives us a sweet natured do-gooder who is a little too anxious to please and not as smart as he thinks. Add in a fun cameo by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler as an eccentric school principal and you have a great cast who all do a good job selling Williamson’s clever characters from his script. They are an endearing bunch and all give their characters the proper tone for the material and sound like the media savvy teens that they are…though none look young enough to be teens, but that is also a horror movie tradition.
So, except for a few slow spots and one botched make-up effect, Scream is a horror classic that not only works as a horror, but as a homage to all the slashers that came before it. It’s teens grew up on the 80s horror flicks and openly reference them and compare them to the real-life situation that they are in. While it’s not the first horror film to include a horror movie fan character, it is the first to present it’s characters as a generation weened on the horror films that populated the previous decades and are part of their culture…and the film has a blast doing it while genuinely scaring and thrilling us. A true horror classic from a legendary horror filmmaker.