The Complete Dr Phibes. Film Review

DIRECTOR: Robert Fuest
SCREENPLAY: James Whiton, William Goldstein, Robert Blees, Robert Fuest
STARRING: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Peter Jeffrey, Virginia North, Robert Quarry
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins / 89 mins
FORMAT: Limited Edition Boxed Set
Reviewed by Guy Adams

I’m never more at home than sat in front of a British horror movie from the late sixties/early seventies. A wonderful, delicious, absurd, grotesque period of filmmaking where our finest character actors battled the unspeakable in adventures filled with wit, flair and landscapes composed of beige and concrete. The finest example for me will always be THEATRE OF BLOOD (also recently released by Arrow on Blu-ray) but it would be wrong not to point out the debt that cinematic perfection owes to the Dr Phibes movies released a couple of years earlier.

In THEATRE OF BLOOD, Vincent Price plays a Shakespearian actor bumping off critics in ways that reflect the most grisly deaths the bard has to offer. As the deformed Phibes, he’s killing the doctors that he believes allowed his wife to die with the Old Testament’s Ten Plagues as inspiration. In essence the stories are identical.

The Phibes movies (this set includes the 1972 sequel DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN), for all they may not quite own the top spot in my affections, are giddy confections in their own right. Stylised, dreamy, and hypnotic, the cinematic equivalent of a lava lamp that occasionally slaughters people in gushingly inventive ways. The late sixties saw filmmakers throwing everything into the pot, producing movies that could turn in an instant, from high camp to seedy violence, comedy to horror and these are perfect examples. Vincent Price overacts in that way he does so charmingly (if any other actor turned in a performance like this it would be unwatchable but Price always knew how to pitch his loud turns, rarely missing his mark). They are an absolute joy, both of their time and, such is their bravery and enthusiasm, powerful enough to stand proud decades later as perfect examples of entertaining horror cinema.

Naturally, Arrow have done a splendid job with their presentation. I know I bang on about them but so does everyone else with eyes and a blu-ray player because they’re consistently earning their reputation as the best label in business. The movies look and sound glorious and they come in a handsome box with a 100 page book and a sprinkling of special features. There are three commentary tracks, two for THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES (director Robert Fuest and screenwriter William Goldstein) and one for DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (from Tim Lucas). There are also interviews with Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria; his biographer, David Del Valle and, especially lovely, The League of Gentlemen.

The boxed set is limited to 3,000 copies and stocks are already running low so I would heartily suggest you get your order in quickly.