Blu-ray and 4K Movie Reviews: ‘Dr. Phibes Double Feature’ and ‘Scream’
Here’s a pair of reviews covering some classic horror movies and the resurrection of a popular slasher franchise.
Dual functionality of Dr. Phibes (Kino Lorber, PG and PG-13 rated, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 183 minutes, $29.95) – One of my favorite horror icons growing up in the 1970s returns to Blu-ray to bring a new generation of fans an extended evening of clever murders and a dose of dark British humor featured in his two adventures cinematographic.
Viewers first met former concert organist turned evil serial killer Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) in the campy 1971 classic “The Abominable Dr. Phibes.”
Phibes wanted revenge on a group of doctors he blamed for the death of his beloved wife Victoria (Caroline Munroe) in events that take on biblical proportions.
To compound his rage, the musician was horribly disfigured in a car accident while on his way to the hospital to check on his wife.
He now uses the flails of Moses to wipe out the Nine Doctors using bats, bees, rats, locusts, and even a frog mask to suffocate a victim.
With the help of minion Vulnavia (Valli Kemp), he escapes bumbling police including Detective Trout (Peter Jeffrey), embalms himself in a sarcophagus with his wife (in suspended animation) and then returns in the sequel to 1972 “Dr. Phibes gets back up.
This time on a quest to resurrect his wife and achieve immortality, his journey takes him to Egypt and another murderous rampage as the same incompetent detectives are in pursuit of him along with Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), a type character. Dorian Gray on a mission. for his own eternal life.
Interestingly, Price, an actor known for his distinctive voice, never speaks outright as his face is a reconstructive mask of prosthetic parts in both films. However, he still has a lot of evil expressions and offers words when hooked up to a voice synthesizer.
Kino Lorber would have done well to offer restored versions of films, especially as displayed in on-screen presentations.
Although the first film has plenty of sharp, color-saturated moments, especially when examining Dr. Phibes’ balmy makeup job (and grotesque real face); or even its art deco lairs with purple and red hangings and pipe organ enhanced with fluorescent red.
Unfortunately, the visuals suffer from numerous scratches and dirt spots appearing on the screen, and the second film has too much defocus and a much duller color palette.
Regardless, the legacy of Dr. Phibes now continues into the realms of home theater to be enjoyed by a new generation who can now enjoy a legendary killer who would influence horror filmmakers to this day.
Best extras: Viewers get two previously released commentary tracks for the first film, one with very old and slightly rambling director Robert Fuest (essentially interviewed by film historian Marcus Hearn) and a much more informative preview focused on production design. from the author of “The Dr. Phibes Companion,” Justin Humphreys.
Both are worth watching the movie multiple times just for the trivia and the nostalgic trip.
For “Dr. Phibes Rises Again,” viewers also get two optional commentary tracks; a previously released track (from Arrow’s 2014 release) with critic and author Tim Lucas and a new track with Mr. Humphreys.
Mr. Lucas offers intermittent introspection not only talking about the “troubled” sequel, in his own words, but about Fuest’s loss of control over the production (particularly during editing) while covering Price’s career and referring to his declining popularity with studios due to age and the beginning of a breakup with Quarry.
Mr. Humphreys manages not to overlap Mr. Lucas too much and offers a much more positive take on the film, appreciating the lush musical score, offering Price plenty of kudos, countering the degree of tension between Quarry and Price, letting viewers know ” it’s an art director’s movie” and pointing out the glaring cuts in the film.
Again, both leads are worth watching the movie twice more.
Scream (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, R-rated, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 115 minutes, $34.95) – The fifth film in the horror franchise, now available on ultra-high definition disc format, has brought back familiar friends as well as a new cast of high school victims for the latest iteration of serial killer Ghostface.
Acting as both a sequel and a reboot, the slasher whodunit takes viewers back to the small town of Woodsboro, 25 years after the first shooting, to reveal Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), daughter of original killer Billy Loomis, stuck amid a new homicide outbreak with his sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) and friends in imminent danger.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett capture the vibe of the late Wes Craven series perfectly and continue the slick, twisted clichés of the slasher genre with splashes of comedic elements and plenty of gruesome kills.
They also inject a welcome level of nostalgia with original Scream characters Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) making crucial appearances.
When comparing the nearly sweltering sequel to franchises like “Halloween” and “Saw,” “Scream” is a breath of fresh, albeit repackaged, air for its celebration of the horror genre.
The UHD presentation retains expected clarity but never has much reason to take advantage of the high dynamic range enhancements due to the production design’s understated color choices.
Best extras: Start with the ever-crucial optional commentary track featuring Mr. Bettinelli-Olpin, Mr. Gillett, writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, and producer Chad Villella.
The enthusiastic band members have fun, talk nonstop while providing an entertaining exploration of the film and its origins. They touch on almost every facet, including getting the chance to continue the franchise, writing the script, the three scripts, filming sequences, casting, the challenges of coping with COVID-19 on set, staying in the mythology and bringing the older characters back.
Viewers also get three promotional featurettes and kisses (averaging eight minutes each) covering the franchise’s legacy, comparing the originals to the current film, and a tribute to Craven’s work on “Scream.”