The year after the release of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" came it's sequel. Helmed once more by Robert Fuest, who also co-penned the screenplay, and reuniting all the main cast members (even some who were supposed to have died in the first film!), "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" continues in the same vein as it's predecessor with campy, ironic humour and outrageous death sequences; but this time most of the action takes place in Egypt, as Phibes goes in search of the lost "River of Life" with the intention of bringing eternal life to himself and his beloved deceased wife. This time out, Phibes has even gained a rival in the form of Robert Quarry as the eccentric millionaire Darius Biederbeck!
Beginning with a brief recap of the first film, the story picks up again three years later. Phibes is revived from his suspended animation (apparently you can reverse the embalming process!) by an alignment of stars; but unfortunately, the mansion that housed his resting place in an underground cavern has been reduced to rubble in the intervening three years, although his faithful female servant Vulnavia (this time played by Valli Kemp replacing Virginia North in the role) immediately reappears among the ruins to reassume her role, looking none the worse -- even though she was supposed to have been killed and disfigured by acid at the end of the last film!
Phibes' latest plan is to take the preserved body of his dead wife off to Egypt where, many years before, he had marked the location of the rejuvenating River of Life on a papyrus scroll that he kept hidden in his safe. The only trouble is, the safe has been lying exposed in the rubble of his mansion for the last few years, and the scroll has disappeared! But it doesn't take Phibes long to track it to the abode of rich antiquarian Darius Biederbeck. He is also on the trail of the so-called mythical River of Life because the special elixir he has been using to enable him to live to his current age of one-hundred without ageing, is now on the verge of running out! Phibes steals back the scroll with the aid of a mechanical snake and a booby-trapped phone, and both he and Biederbeck set out on a race to reach their destination before the other. Meanwhile, Phibes' old adversary Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and his insufferable boss Sir Wayne Waverley (John Cater) realise that Phibes is back after a man is washed up in Portsmouth Bay ... entombed in a giant bottle! The man was an associate of Biederbeck who, while travelling by ship to Egypt with his employer, had stumbled upon the body of Phibes' wife, stashed away in the ship's hold, along with the diabolical doctor's troupe of mechanical jazz players! Naturally, Phibes disposes of him in a typically eccentric manner, and Trout and Waverley soon find themselves also bound for Egypt, determined to bring their foe to justice once and for all.
This film tends to get a bit of stick, and is often viewed as an inferior cash-in on the original with little thought behind it. How, for instance, does Phibes manage to smuggle a giant wind machine into the Egyptian desert? And, come to think of it, how does he power it? The film is full of absurdities such as this, which seem to drive some commentators wild, but they all seem to be missing the point to me! It is deliberately, and deliciously, daft -- and is even more of a gentle spoof on the "mad doctor" genre of horror movie than the first film. Fuest evidently doesn't care a jot about logic or coherence and simply ignores anything that might get in the way of a well honed set-piece or a clever visual gag! Vincent Price and the rest of the cast seem more than happy to play along.
The colourful art-deco set designs aren't quite so colourful this time round, but they are still quite impressive. Phibes' Egyptian hide-out is modelled on the dance-hall in his London mansion -- only with tasteful Egyptian hieroglyphic designs on the walls instead of the 1920's decor. Once the race to be the first to find the River of Life is established as the focus of the story, and all of the characters have been safely transported to the Egyptian desert, the film resolves it's self into a series of set-piece killings orchestrated by Phibes, as a number of scouts from Biederbeck's party stumble upon Phibes' lair hidden in some caves, and so have to be disposed of. One of these is a young John Thaw, who gets his face pecked to a pulp by an eagle (something that would have made some of those interminable episodes of Inspector Morse a darn sight more entertaining). Other highlights include someone being crushed to death in a giant vice and a particularly nasty scene where someone gets stung to death by scorpions.
Robert Quarry's character, Darius Biederbeck is set up as a foil for Price -- and for most of the film he comes across as completely amoral and self-centred: utterly unmoved by the deaths of those around him and concerned only with finding the secret of eternal life. All this sets up what should be a brilliant showdown between Phibes and Biederbeck but unfortunately it doesn't quite come off, since Phibes manages to threaten the life of Biederbeck's wife and divert his foe from the prize at the crucial moment. The trouble is, Biederbeck doesn't ever seem to give a toss about his wife throughout the rest of the film and it is only at the end that he suddenly, inexplicably, becomes more human. It makes the character seem somehow unconvincing, and the ending, a bit of an anti-climax; although the final image of the film, with Price singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, is still quite poignant.
The MGM disc presents the film in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. Unfortunately, the condition of the print that has been used leaves a lot to be desired, especially in comparison with the wonderfully vivid hues of the first Phibes film. There is quite a considerable amount of print damage throughout and the colour is rather faded. Once again, there are no extras on the disc besides a spoilers-filled trailer."Dr. Phibes Rises Again" is a great companion to Fuest's first film but in view of the poor quality of the print and lack of extras it would have been better to have both films presented together on a double-sided disc like the Price's Poe films.
Incidentally, don't be fooled by the star billing Peter Cushing, Beryl Reid, and Terry Thomas receive on the theatrical poster displayed on the back of the cover: all of them only get small cameo roles in the film that probably represent only a morning's work! Nevertheless, Reid and Thomas give entertaining comic turns and the presence of all three adds favourably to the film's roll-call of British theatrical and screen talent.