While The Abominable Dr. Phibes certainly has its flaws and inconsistencies it is, for the most part, a highly enjoyable and thrilling horror with a reasonable dose of silly comedy. It’s 1972 sequel, Dr Phibes Rises Again, while using many of the same motifs, is less successful and feels like it entirely missed the point of what made the first so much fun.
While the first is a fairly straightforward revenge tale with an evil, deformed boogeyman killing his way through those who he believed caused the death of his wife, Dr. Phibes Rises Again takes the not-so-good doctor on the road, once we’ve had a fairly lengthy recap of the first movie.
Retconning things a bit, Phibes revives and reveals that all along he was planning on heading to Egypt to resurrect his wife and gain immortality in an unknown buried temple. It turns out he’s not the only one heading to the mysterious temple as a team of archaeologists are also on the way and, for good measure, a couple of the policemen from the first movie are back on the case and go along for the jaunt too.
Once again the setting is a bit all over the place as the early 70s collides with the late 1920s and Phibes seems to have found the only ancient Egyptian tomb with working electricity and a fully functioning pipe organ. In the first film this all comes across as some kind of desperately kitsch fever dream, here it just feels strange and unbalanced.
Where the film loses any real sense of menace or threat is that, despite continuing his series of gruesome and (even more) convoluted murders, Phibes is no longer painted as a real villain but almost as a hero – at least as much as anyone in the movie is.
This leads to the story feeling very imbalanced as we can’t really get behind this potentially undead creature as he traps a mans arms on spikes and covers him in scorpions, but at the same time we can’t get behind the archaeologist or the police either as there is no real reason to as they are respectively too obnoxious and merely ineffectual comic relief.
The film ends with yet another repeated motif in the form of another of Phibes diabolical final challenges, but again staged less effectively than that of the first movie, and the ending essentially has the feeling of Phibes being triumphant.
The only thing that really carried the film through was Vincent Price who is endlessly charismatic, despite the make up and vocal issues presented by the character, but he is still was a diabolical presence it was weirdly nice to spend 90 minutes with.
That though wasn’t quite enough and without the sense of odd humour of the first film and a much less disciplined and consistent plot, Dr. Phibes Rises Again is at best an interesting novelty, and at worst entirely pointless entry in the canon of horror cinema.