*. 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.