USA / UK, 1971
Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 05 October 2005
Source MGM DVD
Features: 31 Days of Horror
Despite all advice warning us against it, we often return to things we loved in our childhood, hoping perhaps to recapture some of that innocence, some of that security, some of that naiveté. I revisited a childhood favorite a few months ago—Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat—and found new reasons to love it as an adult. I then watched a double feature of The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, for the first time in probably close to thirty years. I should not have done it.
When I was a kid, I used to watch the creature double feature hosted by Marty “Superhost” Sullivan every Saturday starting at noon on Cleveland’s WUAB-TV, channel 43 (the station that started out of a bowling alley in Parma). The first movie was always a classic Universal monster flick from the ‘30s or ‘40s or some other gothic treat from AIP or Hammer. The second feature (which always started at “tooth-hurty”) was usually more sci-fi in nature, if you can call every permutation of Godzilla movie sci-fi. I saw a lot of great movies at a very early age thanks to Superhost and could have seen many more had I not been born too late for Ghoulardi and had I not been too young to stay up for Hoolihan and Big Chuck. Two of the movies I saw back in those halcyon days were the Phibes films. These were two favorites of my single-digit years what with Phibes having to talk out of a tube in his neck and with all the bizarrely contrived murders with a tasteful minimum of gore. Back then, I didn’t care about or even know about such essentials as plot or narrative coherence—I was merely along for the gruesome ride.
I always looked back fondly on the Phibes pictures, and I bought them the day they came out on DVD. And then they sat on my shelves, unwatched, for four-and-a-half years. When it came time this year to select films to review for our annual October horror feature, I used it as an excuse to watch a few discs I had not got around to yet. I planned to write separate reviews for each of the Phibes films. If it is not painfully apparent by now, I don’t have much to say about the films themselves, hence the double review.
It’s not that these films are bad. They are competently made and star an actor who never gave anything than his best possible performance at any given time. They are inventive and original, and they have equal (albeit small) amounts of pitch-black humor and chilling twists. But for me they would have best been left on the shelf or as vague memories from a TV-addled childhood.