Though he is remembered for many great film roles throughout his long career, perhaps the one which Vincent Price 'owns' the most is that of Dr. Anton Phibes. He only played Phibes twice (first, in AIP's THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES in 1971 and again in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN in 1972), but there were plans to keep him rising again and again over the following years by a variety of producers, actors and writers.
A while back, I received an email from Earl Roesel (a regular contributor to both Scarlet Street and Van Helsing's Journal. Mr. Roesel was kind enough to send me a Phibes chronology, which I would like to use as the core for this special tribute to what was promoted as Price's 100th film.
Phibes woodcut by Jason Krekel
And so, without further ado...
A Chronological History of Phibes by Earl Roesel [with comments by your blog host]
1971: THE BRIDE OF DR. PHIBES. William Goldstein and James Whiton propose THE BRIDE OF DR. PHIBES to AIP as a sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. This is readily available, so I won't belabor the plot details. For one reason or another, Louis Heyward tapped his old friend Robert Blees to script something entirely different.
His first idea (the stuff of one-page conjecture; never scripted) was tentatively titled PHIBES II and would've had Phibes pitting wits against Count Yorga. Blees ousted this in favor of the Egyptian scenario soon to become DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, with Robert Fuest stepping in to do a rewrite.
From your blog host: Ad for a personal appearance for Robert Quarry, making mention that he was to have appeared as Yorga in the second Phibes film [Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1972]
197?: DR. PHIBES IN THE HOLY LAND. This is the only complete script I'm missing, though a copy may exist in the Library of Congress' Vincent Price Collection. It was kicked around at AIP, Vincent liked it and tried to ignite interest, but ultimately nada. What was it about? Who wrote it? You know as much as I do.
197?: THE SON OF DR. PHIBES from Robert Fuest. Unknown how far along this got in scripting. Phibes would've been joined by his son (to be played by a young Vincent Price look-alike) to wage war on environmental polluters. The modus operandi would involve natural-geologic phenomenon...tidal waves, earthquakes, etc.
1977: PHIBES RESURRECTUS. This is more or less the same thing as THE BRIDE OF DR. PHIBES, though with minor alterations. Goldstein and Whiton sold it to Roger Corman's New World Pictures; Corman in turn planned to cast my dear pal Forrest J Ackerman ("The Poor Man's Vincent Price") as the mechanical Phibes doppelganger that fools Inspector Trout during the stadium sequence (Wembley in the BRIDE version; simply "soccer stadium" here).
It differs from its predecessor mainly in the opening sequence; instead of reawakening in his coffin, Phibes is first seen in a hot air balloon (bearing the motto: "NON OMNIS MORIAR") over "the white cliffs of Dover". This he lands in a cemetery, thence proceeding into the tomb of dear Victoria Regina.
Most interesting of all, however, is the "list of proposed players". To wit, Vincent Price was not going to be Phibes!!!
Lady Peune.....Coral Browne
Correlate those to the BRIDE draft, if you have it. Why Price would be forsaken is beyond me...economics couldn't have been the reason if the budget was open to Orson Welles. More likely the notion that Vincent could no longer carry a picture. One should also remember that David Carradine was a then-familiar face at New World (DEATH RACE 2000, CANNONBALL).
Blog host's Note: This is SO ill advised on so any levels! First off, many in this 'proposed' cast are friends and colleagues of VP. Coral Browne was married to him, for God's sake! Why would you go to the trouble to produce this film without involving the man who made the originals work so well to begin with?! I am stunned!
1981: DR. PHIBES (tentative title, it appears). Goldstein and Whiton again. This would've been great!!! I have the 13-page treatment/sales pitch; unknown whether it got beyond this point. Phibes is revived in 1981 and sets sail for New York aboard his 98-foot yacht. The city's diseased squalor is contrasted with Phibes' seafaring Art Deco idyll, replete with Clockwork Wizards, Vulnavia and of course the dearly departed Victoria.
Ensconced in a resplendent penthouse apartment, Phibes plans to resurrect his bride and build a new life in America. His activities rouse the interest of the Wormwood Institute, an elite "think tank of glorious eggheads" led by the 80 year old Hector Seneca Cicero Wormwood. Each of the six Institute members, we learn, leads a "strange private life".
Astrophysicist Bulwark Stanton, the most devious of the group, is obsessed with little girls and keeps a mechanical effigy of one at home. Lester is threatening to disprove Einstein's theory of general relativity at the tender age of 12; he's champing at the bit to match wits with Phibes. The Smith Brothers, experts in economics and nuclear weaponry, are identical twin transvestites. Wormwood himself wet nurses directly from the tap, laboring under the illusion that such is the key to eternal life.
When the old man smashes Victoria's glass coffin, she dries out and decomposes. Phibes is enraged and vows revenge. He kills off each of the Institute members according to their greatest love; the germ warfare expert Mr. Nim enjoys chocolate, and is summarily transformed into a chocolate statue, etc. Phibes concurrently conducts an urgent search for the essential salts to restore Victoria's vitality.
1984: PHIBES RESURRECTED (not RESURRECTUS) from Goldstein and Whiton again. This time under the supervision of producer Richard Rubenstein and director George Romero at Laurel. Identical to the 1977 draft in every respect but the title. No cast list is attached.
July 14, 1984, Shreveport [LA] Times
198?: THE SEVEN FATES OF DR. PHIBES. A treatment by Paul Clemens and Ron Magid; quite excellent. I'm almost tempted to say the best Phibes scenario of all, filmed or not. Vincent Price read and heartily approved it, but it appears not to have moved to actual scripting stages. Again, it's readily available from the source named above, so I won't go into plot minutiae. A few years earlier, Clemens co-wrote a treatment titled HOUSEBOUND, which he then sent to Steven Spielberg for consideration. After the release of POLTERGEIST Clemens filed a lawsuit claiming various points of similarity between his treatment and Spielberg's blockbuster (a carnivorous tree was one). In the wake of this, Clemens' potential as a screenwriter was all but nipped in the bud.
From the Blog host: Forrest J. Ackerman in makeup by young Paul Clemens. There was a point in the proposed sequel when the police close in on Phibes, only to find out it's actually a look-alike. Ackerman campaigned to be the look-alike.
Blog host's Note: I might also add that Spielberg 'appropriated' large measures of Richard Matheson's 'Twilight Zone' episode "Little Girl Lost" when devising POLTERGEIST.
Also the attempt by Louis Heyward to interest NBC in a Phibes TV series. It would've recast the doctor as a benevolent crimefighter who uses his makeup and technological wizardry to ensnare perps. Goldstein wrote the pilot.
Blog host's Note: Phibes as a benevolent crimefighter? Glad this one fizzled!
Further Blog host's Note: Also, according to Ed Sikov in his book Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers (Hyperion, 2002), "[Sellers] soon agreed to another round of Clouseau. One early idea for the fourth Pink Panther was that Peter would take four roles: in addition to Clouseau he'd play (or replay) James Bond, as well as playing Dr. Phibes and the fiendish Fu Manchu." Sellers did eventually make THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU, which turned out to be his final completed film . There are definitely similarities to PHIBES throughout.