Complete Dr. Phibes, The (UK - BD RB)
Marcus investigates some weird deaths involving bats, bugs and frog masks...
Vincent Price is Dr. Phibes, a former musician seeking revenge from the nine medical staff that left his wife for dead. Phibes sets about killing his victims 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.
Pairing camp, dark and odd all into a rather unique little package, the two Dr. Phibes films set a pretty clear path from the outset, essentially stringing together a series of bizarre and torturous murders that play a bit like everyone’s worse fears, even if they are a little silly. Locked in an ever tightening frog mask, attacked and killed by bats in your bed or simply trapped in a large glass bottle, these rather elaborate murders make for quite a bit of fun.
Of course leading the way is Vincent Price, portraying the immediately charismatic Dr. Phibes, Price eats up his largely silent screen time. His long stares and pretty creepy make up makes him a fantastically eerie horror character and adding his vox box recorded dialogue elements, that puts Price’s amazing voice through a series of speakers in the films while the actor doesn't even move his lips, really showcases just how good Price is even when his performance is purposely restricted.
The film is full of famous faces such as Terry Thomas in delightfully creepy murder and Joseph Cotten, who’s presence somehow brings the film into a more dramatic arena and levels off a lot of the campness of the larger Phibes moments.
The Dr. Phibes films are very much like a 70s TV show in its stylistic approach. It’s not unlike The Avengers, though that’s largely due to its connections behind the scenes to the classic 60s TV action thriller. Because of that there’s a certain charm to the larger than life goings on here. The bolder art deco designs all work for it, rather than against it, the dark tone somehow bounces against the loud indulgent sets when everything says they shouldn't and of course Vincent Price, once again manages to elevate what is largely a silly idea into something extremely memorable.
Price somehow manages to make this representation of Dr. Phibes a horror staple and a true blueprint to that now very much standard ‘sad man turned killer’ approach, even when time and modern sensibilities should make the Dr. Phibes movies seem quaint and silly. Yes, these films are indeed silly, light and never afraid to balance horror with comedy but somehow Price’s straight performance manages to underpin all of it with a sense of the odd and the creeps still manage to find their way into the films even when they are at their silliest.
The presentation across both films is clean and fresh and full of strong colour. There's a distinct comic book feel to some of the more lavish sets, especially in the first film and everything about Dr. Phibes lair looks almost tecnicolour in comparison to the world of his victims. Skin tones are warm but perfectly acceptable in the well coloured film. Detail is also strikingly good at times with elements like Phibes ‘mask’ looking craggy, uneven and powdered just as it ought to.
Of course some elements are softer than others but this beautifully shot film, with its weird angles and bold imagery doesn't usually stay soft for long before jumping to a striking visual of a flashy mask or a deathly face deformed by something Phibes has put into action. This is a film unashamed of its late 60s/early 70s looks. It’s very much of its time and plays as much as it can with odd visuals and lingering shots that play equally amusing as they do creepy most of the time. There’s the odd speck of dirt or damage but this is an otherwise fine looking HD presentation that really celebrates the film.
The image for the sequel is a little darker and slightly more modern feeling than the bright and colourful original. This makes the grain layer a touch more noticeable and the darker scenes a tad grubbier but still it’s another great looking presentation.
Given the mono tracks on both films, the presentations are small and central but when the films gets weird (and they really do) the audio manages to hold that weirdness together, with warped trippy plays on the score managing to sound layered and overbearing to add to the film's decent into more and more madness. Dialogue is crisp and consistently clear, the musical elements on both films always strong and placed correctly and even though there’s not a great deal going on layer wise, the film’s still manage to generate the desired mood.
Disc 1 The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The commentary with Robert Frost is the director answering questions about what we're seeing. It’s a good track though he sometimes struggles to get to the point at times. The second commentary is with William Goldstein and is more of fact track loaded with admiration for the film.
‘Dr Phibes and the Gentlemen’ (13:14 HD) is The League of Gentlemen remembering seeing the film in their youths. They cover both films and really provide a lot of information of film’s production and history in the relatively short featurette.
Rounding up the first disc is the Theatrical Trailer.
Disc 2 Dr. Phibes Rises Again
The commentary with Tim Lucas is another detail packed track full of information about both films.
‘Daughter of Phibes’ (13:11 HD) is Vincent Price's daughter discussing the film. She covers his feelings on the ever growing violent images in horror films around the timeof doing Phibes and much more regarding her father’s love of his work.
‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ (08:36 HD) is a discussion with David Del Valle. He covers the change in Price's career at the time of Dr. Phibes, the actor’s draw to the UK and his admiration for the horror genre.
Again the disc ends with the Theatrical Trailer.
Additionally this lavish set comes with a Deluxe Edition Collector's box featuring original artwork and a 100-page Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, archive content and more but sadly I didn’t get these with my review discs.
The Dr. Phibes movies are very much the perfect example of camp comedy horror. They are silly but never stupid, light but never un-effective and even with all that 70s, almost farcical set up the films still totally manage to be effective horrors as well. Not so much about scares but more the unexplainable oddness that creeps under your skin and manages to push out the silliness and make the story work despite it. This is a truly great Vincent Price performance and one he makes all his own, even with the minimum of dialogue. As for the discs, both films look great and celebrate bright 70s styles wonderfully in HD, the audio is okay given the mono source and the extras are pretty great, though I’ts more to do with the commentaries this time out than the featurettes/documentaries Arrow usually shine with. Even so, this is a great set and Dr. Phibes fans should be pretty happy with this.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 16th June 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Mono 1.0 English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Featurettes, Commentaries, Trailers, Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Fuest
Cast: Vincent Price, Terry Thomas, Joseph Cotten, Robert Quarry
Length: 174 minutes
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