Monthly Archives: April 2022

Old (2021)

*. I wonder if M. Night Shyamalan likes making these kinds of gimmick films, or if it’s just something he fell into and now is stuck with. I actually think he likes making them. Otherwise he would have probably moved on.
*. The main idea here, of a beach where the visitors begin to age at a supernatural pace (two years an hour), came from a French graphic novel, but Shyamalan added his own twist. I think it’s a good premise, and the twist at least has its own sort of logic. Indeed, it’s not really a surprise at all. But the basic problem with all such twists is that they breed an impatience in the audience. You just want to find out what’s going on, and you don’t care so much about what’s happening at the moment, which all feels contrived anyway.
*. A film like this also not only dares you but begs you to question how well its bizarre premise holds together. I’m afraid it doesn’t. I was bothered by a lot of what was going on. Why do the kids seems to grow old so much faster than the adults, and how do they develop such intelligence and emotional maturity to go along with their physical growth? How do the people end up back out on the beach after suffering some kind of pressure sickness when they try to leave? Why do the dead bodies decompose so quickly? None of this made sense to me, along with much else I won’t get into.
*. Is it watchable? Yes. Shyamalan seems to have really been taken with panning the camera in this film, and he works the beach well as a location. We go through all the fairly predictable, and one not-so-predictable, crises and failed escapes. But the characters are nothing but the usual stereotypes (the accountant who won’t let up talking about the odds, the trophy wife who turns into a monster) and the story just sort of limps along. I wrote in my notes that it felt like a Twilight Zone episode put on the rack, and found out later that Shyamalan himself called it a “two-hour Twilight Zone episode.” So that’s exactly where you are.
*. Any thought of deeper connections is just wishful thinking. Shyamalan says he wanted to invoke the spirit of movies that developed a sense of natural supernaturalism like Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock, but there’s none of that. Nor is there any of the moral or political edge of The Exterminating Angel, which is another comparison that’s been made.
*. Instead, what with the (very) young lovers getting at it the movie that strangely crept to mind was The Blue Lagoon (1980). This made me wonder how many people today even remember The Blue Lagoon, which was quite the succès de scandale at the time. It seems to be one of those movies that has pretty much dropped off everyone’s radar today. It’s interesting how that happens.
*. Will Old fare any better, or will it disappear into the sands of time like the bodies on its beach? I suspect it will be remembered as a minor novelty, which is all that I think it tries to be. A bit disappointing given the potential it had to go in different and more interesting directions, but from this particular genre of beach movie there really is no exit.

The Trap (1946)

*. An ending. Not the end of Charlie Chan on screen, but the last turn taken by Sidney Toler as the great Asian-American detective, and indeed Toler’s last screen appearance. He’d been diagnosed with intestinal cancer and was effectively dying on his feet through the last several Chan movies, apparently in such ill health he could sometimes barely walk or deliver his lines. So in addition to The Trap being a lousy movie, it’s sad too.
*. Efforts had been made to have Jimmy Chan (Victor Sen Yung) and Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland) carry more of the load. This they do (Toler doesn’t even appear until 16 minutes in), but they do so in only the usual ways. Birmingham walks around scared to death at everything, including his own reflection in a mirror. while Jimmy hits on a pretty Chinese girl. But neither of them accomplish much.
*. This is one of the more disappointing things about the Chan movies in general. It’s not like they present a bunch of suspects and then build them up with distinct motivations while throwing in some red herrings along the way. Instead, none of the players are clearly distinguished and at the end Charlie usually just plays a hunch or sets a trap to catch the killer. You’re left with no clear idea of what was going on. The Trap (and I’m not sure what the title refers to) is better than most in this regard, as the killer does have a motive that at least makes sense, but it’s reveal also just feels dropped in at the end.
*. The story has a female troupe of . . . entertainers (singers? dancers? I wasn’t sure what they were) renting an oceanside property in Malibu, where a couple of them end up being garroted. One of the girls knows Jimmy Chan and this inadvertently gets Charlie on the case.
*. Just a sad conclusion to a series of films that were never very good to begin with. The mystery isn’t worth paying any attention to and the moments of comic relief all fall flat. They weren’t putting any effort into these at this point and it shows. But just because Toler was gone didn’t mean there they were going to stop. At least not quite yet.

Caesar Must Die (2012)

*. Over the years there have been programs in a number of different countries involving prison inmates putting on Shakespeare. I don’t know how many of these have been filmed, but there was a version of Macbeth done in a Belfast prison called Mickey B that came out in 2004. And then there’s this film, Caesar Must Die.
*. I can see the attraction of Macbeth and Julius Caesar for prison theatre programs. Both are stories about the price of ambition and rising to the top in an age of violent tribal politics. There are several scenes in Caesar Must Die where the cast (who were actual inmates) reflect on how real it all seems. Does it help that they also look like a pretty rough bunch? One suspects the real Brutus was a tough guy, as much as he was the noblest Roman of them all. You can play Shakespeare different ways, emphasizing different aspects of the same character.
*. This parallel between modern crime gangs and Shakespeare’s vision of power politics is not, however, the film’s major conceit. Instead, I would say what drives Caesar Must Die is the liberating power of the dramatic imagination.
*. I don’t mean anything fancy by that. Just the common observation that we feel free to act/behave differently when we wear a mask. Inhabiting the roles in the play does, at least for a little while, set the cast free. Hence the bitter irony as the one-time Cassius says to us at the end “Since I have known art, this cell has turned into a prison.” Because knowing art is liberating, to have known it is to recognize the limits and constraints of our daily existence. I mean, we could say the same thing as Cassius as we leave the theatre.

*. That transforming power of the imagination works on the setting as well. This is a staple of Shakespeare productions, going back to the days of the Bard himself. Most famously, the Chorus in Henry V asks us in the Prologue “Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?” In both the Olivier and Branagh versions of Henry V we are introduced to the play in a way that draws attention to the stage, before dissolving the real world as we are absorbed into the world of the play.

*. I was surprised at how well this works in Caesar Must Die. We begin on stage, and in colour, before switching to rehearsals in prison that nevertheless achieve moments of the same kind of absorption that we get in those Henry V movies. The walls of the prison are still there, but they are transformed. We are in Shakespeare’s drama. There’s a brilliant part when Caesar gets killed and the prisoners all scatter, just like you’d see on a prison show like Oz. Some prison officials, observing from on high, muse over how all this will work out. It’s hard to tell if we’re still in the play or not. The blending of Shakespeare’s story and the setting is perfect.
*. Another good example is the set piece of the funeral orations. Even with the audience watching from behind bars this doesn’t feel at all like we’re in a prison, but rather in a public square. But, and this is important for how the film works, even when we do think of the bars and are aware of the setting we still think it works because what we’re seeing is prison politics in action. Either way, we don’t think we’re watching a play.

*. The directing team of the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been at it a long time. I believe their first film was in 1960. It’s natural at such a point in one’s career to become reflective, to want to examine a little more closely the very nature of drama and film. I think this is what Caesar Must Die is really about, more than it is a political film along the lines of Marat/Sade, for example. I began by thinking of Marat/Sade but by the end the movie I had more in mind was Waiting for Guffman, with the amateur cast of the city theatrical enjoying a kind of dramatic day-parole.
*. Is that depressing? I don’t think so. Whether it’s with the citizens of Blaine, Missouri or the inmates here I think such movies affirm one of our better human traits: the ability to see ourselves as potentially being something more or someone different, and imagine ourselves past present circumstances of despair.

Dune (2021)

*. In my notes on David Lynch’s Dune I remarked that there were certain problems that had to be overcome before Frank Herbert’s novel could be successfully adapted for the big screen. Or, put another way, movies had to evolve (not progress, but evolve) in a certain way for it to happen. In particular, I think there were two main challenges.
*. In the first place, the effects had to be much better. This was the easiest challenge to be overcome, and indeed was pretty much inevitable. With CGI a whole new cinematic experience became standard for most SF/action/superhero movies. I loved the art design in Lynch’s movie, but will confess that the effects, especially the blue screen, were dismal. Though I did think the sandworms looked pretty good.
*. The second challenge was tougher. How to translate such an epic novel (and indeed an original trilogy of novels that was later spun into a franchise) into something digestible? Lynch’s first draft ran around 4 hours, but the studio insisted on cuts, which ended up making it feel rushed at the end.
*. In the 2020s this was no longer a problem. The question or run time was essentially answered by franchise film making and the creation of various filmic universes (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc.). Audiences had been trained to watch films this way, to the point where this movie could “end” with what I thought was a really lame “This is only the beginning . . .” line. I can still remember how angry audiences were at The Empire Strikes Back when they tried this, but they got away with it. By 2021 serial filmmaking was de rigueure, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being made into two feature films, Stephen King’s It coming in two chapters, and The Hobbit dragged through three (!) instalments. What’s more, even the individual movies in these “universe” franchises would happily run 2 1/2 or three hours, blowing past the usual 90 minute shuffle.
*. In short: Denis Villeneuve had a free hand to work at whatever pace he wanted to bring Frank Herbert to screen. Not to mention all the money in the world as well. He indulged. And overindulged.
*. Part of the problem with adapting any work with a built-in fan base, from superhero comics to splatter-film remakes, is that fans expect a lot of deference to be paid to the originals. Over time, a sort of sclerosis has set in. One can understand Batman having to be pulled back from the camp excesses of Adam West and George Clooney, but as the years have gone by he’s only become gloomier, darker, and more made of stone.
*. In the case of the Dune novels one imagines the fan base being even less inclined to cut any slack. As intellectual property, Dune is holy ground, SF&F scripture, but Lynch’s film was a joke almost on the order of Flash Gordon (1980). What was needed was someone who was going to take the whole Dune mythology seriously. On this score, Villeneuve delivered and fans approved. My response, however, was less enthusiastic.
*. I have to first register a caveat made by Villeneuve himself, who claimed nobody was seeing this movie the way it was meant to be seen. Not only were cinemas closed for the pandemic, but this was a movie that was shot in IMAX format. I watched the DVD (not BluRay) at home on a not-very-large TV. So not ideal for the kind of experience that Villeneuve was aiming for. That said . . .
*. It’s a movie designed to look big rather than interesting. Personally, I thought the art of Lynch’s version superior. Everything here was supersized, but dull. Take all those phalanxes of soldiers, a staple since Star Wars (which took them from Triumph of the Will). These are boring, but they’re an essential element in the visual grammar here. Note how they’re repeated in the spice silos, for example.

*. And just why is everything so big? What’s the point of that ginormous door in the palace? Or all the rooms that are the size of airplane hangars? OK, sure, it probably looks good on an IMAX screen, but it just felt silly, and the look became repetitive.

*. Hans Zimmer’s score sounded ponderous to me. I can’t recall any of it. I don’t even know if it was music or just background sound. The point only seemed to bludgeon. But then, given what Zimmer was looking at I don’t know what else he was feeling. I imagine him being told to “make it big.”
*. Given how much more time they had, the script doesn’t have to work so hard at exposition. But the dialogue is just as heavy as Zimmer’s score. Except for the odd moment when Paul and his mom put on their stillsuits and he asks her “Are you good?” That line gave rise to my only smile. Well, that and the bagpipes. And maybe looking at Timothée Chalamet’s curls hanging down over his eyes and wondering how he could see anything.
*. With the script and the production being what they are, the cast mainly just have to look their parts. Stern. Strong. Resilient. Josh Brolin. Jason Momoa. Dave Bautista. These guys are just muscle, and none of them has the presence of Sting. Oscar Isaac actually made me miss Jürgen Prochnow, who I think he was trying to imitate. Rebecca Ferguson was a lone bright spot. As for Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, what word best encapsulates his performance? Moody? Trenchcoat emo? Stoned?

*. I guess Chalamet looks the part of a moody princeling. He’d just played Prince Hal, after all. But would some sign of emotion have been too much to ask? What is wrong with this young man? As an actor his eyes are simply dead. Dead! No matter what the situation you look at his face and he seems totally zonked. One wonders how he’s going to handle the sequel(s), when Paul really does spend most of his time high on spice. How is he going to look even more spaced out than he already does here?
*. You have to roll with the idea that in the distant future we’ll have all this neat tech but still be living in stone palaces, fighting with swords, and ruled over by various royal houses. What actually bothered me most though was that they’re still using the Fahrenheit scale for temperature. Now that really is imperial.
*. Given how big sandworms are, why would they even bother chasing after and eating humans? That would be like me eating the legs of an ant. And how exactly does a sandworm digest a spice harvester, and excrete the metal parts?
*. In the Lynch film Harkonnen is pronounced Har-KOH-nen. Here it’s HAR-kuh-nen. I wonder if Herbert had a preference.

*. The racial angle was probably always going to be awkward, but what they had to work with is still poorly handled. Let’s face it, the forces of empire are British colonialists sucking oil out of the desert and Paul as the messiah is the Great White Hope of the universe since the natives can’t do it for themselves. Those natives, the Fremen, are an assortment of off-whites. Dr. Yueh is Chinese, naturally, and even speaks Mandarin. His character is given short shrift, to the point where his motivation in betraying the House of Atreides all but disappears.
*. Villeneuve didn’t have to embrace the wild lunacy of Lynch, with the cows being carved up and the cat being milked, but I really wish there’d been more weirdness here. Even the stuffed bull head struck me as boring symbolism. Though I did like Duke Leto being nude for his death scene. I can’t remember if that was in the book, but it’s a fanciful touch that I thought worked. Meanwhile, I honestly thought the personal shields in Lynch’s movie looked cooler. The nostril plugs, however, are improved to the point where they aren’t quite as disconcerting.
*. So fans, at least most of them, got what they wanted. I thought it was well produced, reverent, and dull. I think I’ve seen most of Denis Villeneuve’s movies now. His best, and the only one I thought was great, was Enemy. Sicario was pretty good. But Arrival was overrated and Blade Runner 2049 poor. I really hope he isn’t becoming typecast for these kinds of productions, as I don’t think it’s where his heart is. Lynch went his own way after his bad experience with Dune and it would be nice if Villeneuve followed that lead in creating work he found more creatively inspired by. It sometimes seems to me that films like this can by done by just about any competent engineer these days. And before long we might even have software that can do the job.

Dune (1984)

*. David Lynch’s Dune is widely regarded, correctly I believe, as an epic failure. Lynch doesn’t like to talk about it now, aside from considering it a film he never should have gotten involved with in the first place, describing the process of making it as “a slow dying-the-death, and a terrible, terrible experience.” And yet it was Lynch’s most successful movie, at least in terms of the box office on its initial theatrical run.
*. It’s not credited as Frank Herbert’s Dune, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Stephen King’s It. It’s been years since I’ve read Dune, so I’m not sure how faithful an adaptation it is. I reckon a lot of it came out of Lynch’s imagination. When he was first contacted by Raffaella De Laurentiis to direct he hadn’t even heard of the book. But these freestyling elements may be the best parts. The pug? The Holstein cow they’re cutting up? Paul’s weird little sister, who seems to have wandered into things from the red room? The really unhappy looking cat, taped to a rat, that Thufir Hawat is supposed to milk?

*. As for Sting’s Art Deco Speedo, that was serendipity. He was supposed to be nude but at the last minute they had to give him something to cover up. I’d say they did pretty well. It goes with his troll-doll look and the way the whole House of Harkonnen are played way, way over the top.

*. Given that this movie is, as I say, an epic fail, let’s start off with highlights like these, and the fact that this movie has such a wonderful look. The art design here is terrific: we wouldn’t see anything approaching this kind of originality in a big-budget SF movie again until The Fifth Element. They could have gone with a more traditional swords-and-lasers look, as Denis Villeneuve would nearly forty years later, but instead mixed in a bunch of 1920s and ’30s costumes and décor. Ridley Scott was originally tabbed to direct and I think he would have done a great job but I like a lot of what Lynch brought to the table.
*. Alas, when I say I love the look of the film what I mean are the sets (of which there were eighty, built on sixteen soundstages), costumes, and props. The effects have dated badly. Overall, I think the personal combat shields still look cool and the sandworms hold up pretty well, though the business of the Fremen riding them at the end is laughable, especially with their shouting out the ki-yahs! and pew-pews! as they imbue their weapons with words of power. Furthermore, all of the space scenes are awful and the blue screen work very much of its time. The scenes where the giant slug opens the portals for interstellar travel are just garbage. I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. Though the slug in the tank at the beginning was great.
*. And there are many other problems. Instead of breaking the movie into two parts, as Scott intended and Villeneuve would do, Lynch had to bring it all in at just over a couple of hours (which was an hour shaved from his director’s cut). Good luck with that. Given the amount of information that has to be introduced it seems like almost every other scene is given over to expository dialogue (“explain the stillsuit, please”). That still more of this is added by way of irritating voiceovers only makes a bad situation worse. Then there is the fact that Lynch isn’t a great action director, and none of the big action scenes feels connected to the rest of the plot. They just feel dropped in as a way of maybe waking people up.
*. The credits had great promise. Lynch is a genius. Freddie Francis shot the movie. Music by Toto and Brian Eno (well, it was 1984). A cast filled with scene-stealers. But none of it works because all of these people feel like they’re in the wrong place (except maybe for Sting, and Siân Phillips as the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam). I mean, Patrick Stewart (apparently not the Patrick Stewart they wanted), Max von Sydow, José Ferrer, Brad Dourif (here comes the crazy!), Dean Stockwell, Sean Young . . . they just don’t work. Perhaps no one could have pulled their characters off given how overwhelmed they were by the script and the production, but they all feel totally out of place. And Kyle MacLachlan just isn’t Paul. Even Timothée Chalamet did better in the part, and I was not impressed by Chalamet’s performance one bit.
*. In sum, this Dune is something terrible, but it’s not the total disaster it might have been. Lynch makes something of it, especially in the early going. But the difficulties they were having with the material are glaringly obvious, the ending is way too rushed, and the sandworm assault is a colossal joke.
*. Such a debacle, combined with the failure of Jodorowsky’s project to get off the ground, branded Dune as unfilmable for decades. In fact, there were only a couple of developments necessary to make it happen. Once they got them figured out, blockbusterdom would be automatic. Though the results would not be as inspired. I don’t really see this as a cult film so much as a very silly one, but all the same I wonder if it might end up being the Dune that lasts.

Quiz the one hundred-and-seventy-fifth: Got a light? (Parts three and four)

You can take this week’s quiz as a PSA. Smoking is bad for your health. Just look at this poor guy. And he’s still a young fellow! Would you give him a light?

Another double-your-fun special this week, including several entries from a certain famous film detective series. And that’s all the help you’re going to get.

See also: Quiz the fifty-seventh: Got a light? (Part one), Quiz the one hundred-and-seventh: Got a light? (Part two).

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Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

*. It’s a weird thing to start off by saying, but let’s pump the brakes. The tag-line for this documentary on the not-making-of an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky has it that it was “the greatest science fiction movie never made.” Within the documentary itself we see it canonized as a lost classic, with Jodorowsky working so far ahead of his time that we may never catch up.
*. Nonsense. I think the best they might have come up with was a camp hit, and at worst a piece of epic trash. Jodorowsky assembled an impressive stable of talent — his “spiritual warriors” — but how they were all going to work together and their contributions be made to cohere into something that made any sense is more than I can imagine. Nor do I think Jodorowsky was ahead of his time, or his work on Dune all that influential. A number of the people he got together went on to work on Alien, but that was a very different picture. Aside from that . . . Flash Gordon (1980)? Masters of the Universe (1987)?
*. No, I think Jodorowsky was actually looking backward. What he wanted was to make an SF head picture (Dr. J: “I wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD at the time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating. I did not want LSD to be taken, I wanted to fabricate the drug’s effects”). In other words, if he’d been given a green light he’d have ended up with something like Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968). As it turned out, he did follow that route in reverse, taking elements from the art and script he prepared and turning them into a comic book.
*. Also no: the studios weren’t philistines for turning down the whole project. They were asking for $15 million, and everyone must have been sure they’d go over that. And Jodorowsky was not a proven commodity. Nor were the suits and bean-counters “scared” by Jodorowsky’s genius (Nicolas Winding Refn: “they were afraid of his imagination, they were afraid of his mind”). If I’d been offered the cinder-block Dune book that was making the rounds I don’t think I would have bit either. Even Star Wars was a movie the studio didn’t really believe in that much, and it was pure popcorn compared to this.
*. Of course it was never going to be Frank Herbert’s Dune. It (meaning the film, not this doc) was always Jodorowsky’s Dune. He felt free to adapt and revisualize the novel any which way, which I guess was made easier by the fact that he hadn’t read it when he first suggested making it into a movie.
*. An eminently quotable figure, I’ll let Jodorowsky explain in his own words: “It’s different. It was my Dune. When you make a picture, you must not respect the novel. It’s like you get married, no? You go with the wife, white, the woman is white [he is referring to a bridal dress, nor race here]. You take the woman, if you respect the woman, you will never have child. You need to open the costume and to rape the bride. And then you will have your picture. I was raping Frank Herbert, raping, like this. But with love, with love.”
*. Many of his fellow spiritual warriors were no better equipped to deal with a book that producer Michel Seydoux describes here as “the Bible of science fiction for all big devotees . . . a worldwide publishing success that you could find in every country.” SF artist Chris Foss hadn’t read it. Nor had musician Christian Vander. Salvador Dalí hadn’t even heard of it. These guys were all free to go their own way, and they did.
*. So I don’t see this as a lost treasure or missed opportunity. It is, however, an interesting bit of film history to take a closer look at, and this is a fun movie. Even at the age of 84 Jodorowsky projects the magnetism and charisma that seduced so many of the people he got to sign on to this project. He was filled with an authentic sense of mission and his enthusiasm was clearly contagious.
*. Whatever happened to that sense of the art of film being a higher calling? When Jodorowsky pulls a fat wad of bills out of his pocket and refers to it as filth he might even mean it. You have to respect that. You don’t, however, have to assume that just by rejecting the system and pursuing other goals you’re going to come up with something good, or even have an original failure. As I’ve said, if Jodorowsky had made his Dune I think it would have been a fantastic train wreck, not great art. There still may be something useful in such train wrecks though, and something noble in the attempt . . . as David Lynch would go on to prove.

Julius Caesar (1908)

*. You’d think that when trying to do Shakespeare in one reel (10-12 minutes) you’d have to spend a lot of time figuring out which scenes you were going to keep, because you’d know that most of the play would have to be cut.
*. This makes it all the more interesting that one of the big scenes in this film isn’t strictly in the play at all: Caesar’s rejection of the crown offered him by Antony, which is a part of the play that is only relayed to us indirectly by Casca. But for a movie it makes sense, as it gives us Caesar’s one big scene in front of a crowd.
*. After that we get the greatest hits. The assassination of Caesar. Antony giving his rousing speech over Caesar’s corpse. Brutus being visited by Caesar’s ghost at Philippi.

*. The violence doesn’t hold up that well. I think the way the murder of Caesar and the suicides of Brutus and Cassius are done would work on stage but they don’t translate as well to the screen. Though brief, they’re oversold and unconvincing, with swords seeming to pass straight through bodies. In fact, in each case they’re just doing the old (and never very persuasive) trick of “stabbing” the sword into the side of the body turned away from the audience/camera. I doubt that fooled anybody even in 1908.
*. It’s interesting how they maintain the horizontal levels established at Rome when the action moves to Philippi, with the scenes taking place half in a lower foreground and half on a raised berm in the background. Without the ability to move the camera this layering effect was one of the easiest ways to pack more movement and depth into the frame.
*. I’m fond of a lot of these early, silent Shakespeare shorts, but while this one looks really good (and it’s a well-preserved print) there was nothing about it that stood out as special. It’s a play that lends itself to this kind of production because it has a lot of large, political gestures. Beyond that, however, there’s not much going on.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

*. Was a sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes always planned? I’ve read different stories. On the one hand, the first film left off with the doctor tucking himself away in his sarcophagus, awaiting an eclipse to effect his resurrection. And some sources say a trilogy had been in the works. But this film was rushed into production to capitalize on the success of The Abominable Dr. Phibes and they didn’t have much to go on, even recycling the same basic set of Dr. Phibes’s dancehall and relocating it to Egypt. This makes me think they weren’t planning on another movie, or at least didn’t think one was likely.
*. Ah, the mysterious Vulnavia. She was killed at the end of the first film after being showered with acid but she’s back here, though played by a different actress (Virginia North was pregnant so Valli Kemp got the nod). Apparently she was originally going to be a new character but the studio wanted Vulnavia back because they liked the name. But is she even a person? Or just another one of Phibes’s automatons? And if she can’t speak, how does she arrange all of her master’s business and travel affairs for him? Ah, the mysterious Vulnavia.
*. Sticking with this, why doesn’t Phibes just give up on the long-dead Victoria and take Vulnavia as his eternal dance partner? They seem happy together.
*. Peter Cushing was going to play Dr. Vesalius in the previous film but had to back out. He has a walk-on cameo here, but why? It’s a scene that doesn’t have any purpose at all. Perhaps they just thought he needed the work.

*. You may notice (I did) that Phibes seems to be a narrator at times, giving voiceover even when it’s clear he’s not jacked into a speaker. This was because scenes were cut and they had to add dialogue explaining some plot points. Which gives you some further idea of how slapdash an effort this was.
*. Peter Jeffrey is back as Inspector Trout, and Terry-Thomas plays an entirely different character. Also returning, and even more endearing, are the Clockwork Musicians, here renamed The Alexandrian Quartet (a joke that I imagine few people will get today) and pressed into service as the Royal Scottish Fusiliers at one point. If the series had continued to a third instalment one wonders if they’d’ve gotten into the killing as well.
*. Robert Quarry plays Darius Biederbeck. Rumours were that Quarry was being groomed to replace Price at AIP and that the two didn’t get along while filming. Whatever truth there is to that story, I have to say I found Biederbeck’s character a puzzle. He starts off being a villain but at the end becomes the hero, even sacrificing himself to save his lady love. Something about that arc just didn’t work for me. Especially when, as Phibes himself points out, they’re similar characters and thus one of them is redundant.
*. For some reason this movie is regarded by many as being almost on a par with the first. I find it a big step down. There’s less sense of fun, the murders cross the line from the bizarre to the preposterous, and most of the good stuff is just carryover from what worked in The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
*. Still, it remains on brand and the character might have been kept going with other actors but for the fact that I suspect Phibes had become too closely associated with Price. In any event, other franchises have carried the same concept with even greater success into the twenty-first century. Though I wouldn’t bet against the good doctor rising again.