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134. LISZTOMANIA (1975)

“A veritable insanity, one unheard of in the annals of furore!”-Heinrich Heine on “Lisztomania” (1844)



FEATURING: , Paul Nicholas, Veronica Quilligan, Sara Kestelman, ,

PLOT: Composer/pianist Franz Liszt hosts concerts before screaming throngs of 19th century women, and enjoys as many groupies and mistresses as he can fit in on the side. Young composer Richard Wagner gives Liszt a piece to perform, thinking it will make his career, but is outraged when the star transforms the composition into his hit “Chopsticks” on stage. Wagner takes it upon himself to wreck Liszt’s life and career, eventually seducing the older musician’s illegitimate daughter into joining his fascist cult while simultaneously building an Aryan monster with which he hopes to conquer the world.

Still from Lisztomania (1975)


  • There really was a phenomenon known as Lisztomania (the term was coined by the poet Heinrich Heine). Hungarian Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a virtuoso concert pianist as well as a composer, and as a young man his concerts would induce fits of hysteria in (especially female) concertgoers; fans would fight over the performer’s discarded gloves or broken piano strings. This condition of ecstatic fandom, now familiar to anyone who has ever attended an arena rock concert, was unheard of at the time, and authorities were seriously concerned about it, considering it a psychological disorder.
  • Portions of the movie were adapted from the book “Nélida” by Countess Marie d’Agoult (played in the film by Fiona Lewis). The novel was a thinly-disguised description of her love affair with Liszt (with whom she had three illegitimate children).
  • Lisztomania was made by Russell back-to-back and released in the same year as the hit rock opera Tommy, which also starred Daltrey.
  • Lisztomania was the first movie recorded in Dolby sound.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The musical number at the Russian palace where Liszt pulls out his giant inflatable, um, instrument, and the scantily clad female dancers treat it as an, um, maypole.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: At times, it’s the biography of Franz Liszt if it were directed by Benny Hill working from a script by . With Nazi golems, Richard Wagner as a vampire, a climax aboard a heavenly spaceship, and a giant phallic musical number, this phantasmagorical biopic is Ken Russell at his ebullient silliest.

Clip from Lisztomania

COMMENTS: In his melodramatically excessive movies like The Devils or Altered States, it’s sometimes hard to tell when Ken Russell is being Continue reading 134. LISZTOMANIA (1975)


DIRECTED BY: Robert Fuest

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Jeffrey, , Valli Kemp, Hugh Griffith

PLOT: Dr. Phibes rises from suspended animation and travels to Egypt seeking waters of immortality to resurrect his beloved wife; but another man seeks the waters as well, and Scotland Yard is once again on Phibes’ trail.

Still from Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The original was just weird enough to make it a candidate for the List, but this nearly redundant sequel adds nothing new that would justify considering giving it its own separate spot.

COMMENTS: If you liked the original The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Rises Again tries hard to give you more of the same—campy black comedy mixed with bizarre characters, sets and (now gorier) murders—except this time there’s no logic or sense in the script whatsoever.  All the beloved characters are back, including all the ones that died in the first movie.  Mysterious silent assistant Vulnavia (played by a new actress, Australian beauty queen Valli Kemp) returns from the original, as do the clockwork musicians (Phibes packs them up in a steamer and ships them to Egypt with him). The sets and art design echo the original, with an Egyptian slant replacing the Art Deco look; there are some fun new sights like Price dressed as a sheik and an octagonal mirrored hallway. The half-serious campy tone from the first effort carries over, as does the black humor (watch as Phibes drinks champagne and eats fish through a hole in the back of his neck at a picnic with Vulnavia). A very few things have changed.  Whereas Phibes was nearly silent in the first film, speaking rarely and painfully through audio cables that ran from his neck to a gramophone horn, once he Rises Again you can’t shut him up.  For this outing he brought along an extra-long audio cable so he can wander about the sets, cursing all who would dare oppose them and plotting their fiendish demise without being limited to a five-foot radius around the phonograph.  (He often speaks without a hookup at all; maybe we’re just privy to his inner monologues).  And three years in suspended animation has sharpened his supervillain abilities: whereas in the first film, the Abominable doctor spent years plotting elaborate fetishistic schemes to kill his enemies based around Biblical plagues, now whenever he needs to he can simply whip up a spiked scorpion chair filled with creepy crawlies out of spit, bailing wire and whatever odds and ends he has lying around his pyramid.  In the sequel, Phibes is pitted against another villain (a megalomaniac Robert Quarry, who makes it clear he doesn’t appreciate the inconvenience when the doctor keeps killing off his henchmen) rather than against the forces of law and order: Inspector Trout and his Scotland Yard superintendent are relegated to comic relief (they hesitate searching Phibes’ pyramid because they don’t have a warrant). So this time out we’re explicitly encouraged to root for Vincent Price (not that we wouldn’t anyway, but the lack of noble opponent makes it easier to get on his side).  As mentioned before, the deaths are more gruesome in this sequel; the scene where Phibes’ pet falcon eats an interloper, pulling wads of flesh off his bloody corpse and swallowing them, pushes the limits of the movie’s PG rating.  Lack of a sensible script aside, Fuest does a good job of giving Phibes fans more of what they loved about Abominable, but the one thing he can’t reproduce is the original’s originality.

Due to bungled rights issues, TV broadcasts and the original home video releases of Dr. Phibes Rises Again did not include Price’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” replacing the sound in that key scene with generic instrumental film cues. MGM’s latest DVD releases (sold in a single disc edition, as a double feature with Abominable, and as part of a seven-movie Vincent Price box set) restore the soundtrack of the original.


“Vincent Price usually came across as barking mad at the best of times, but add a daft wig, the inability to talk and some truly weird costumes, and you are taken into Salvador Dali territory by this performance…  If you saw it a while ago and tend to think of it as a gaudy example of psychedelic kitsch, it’s time for a major re-evaluation.”–Chris Wood, BritishHorrorFilms.com (DVD)