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July 9, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #27 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Y'know, if I was married to a young Caroline Munro and she was killed, I'd want revenge too.I strongly considered ending my review after that sentence, because a) Caroline Munro is amazing and b) there's not a lot I can say about The Abominable Dr. Phibes without getting gaga eyed. (No, I'm not going to make a joke about me having a bad "poker face".) But, just for the sake of anyone who might not know the joys of Phibesdom or the science of Phibesology yet, I shall proceed.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is Anton Phibes, played by that guy called Vincent Price. He's actually an organist who has doctorates in Music and Theology. He's also presumed to be dead, but we learn early on that that's not quite true. Dr. Phibes, despite being disfigured and losing the ability to speak, survived the car crash that occurred while he was rushing to save his sick wife. (Again, the wife = Caroline Munro. I'd rush too.)

Try as he might, Dr. Phibes wasn't able to save his wife, who died on an operating table. The not-so-good doctor, enraged by this fate, decides that the doctors - medical ones, in this case - who were operating on his dear Victoria must have been incompetent and thus were responsible for her death. His solution: take revenge by killing each of the 9 doctors and nurses using the biblical plagues. Naturally, it's Caroline Munro. (OK, I'm done fondling Munro mentally for a few paragraphs. Let's move on.)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes was the 100th film in Vincent Price's acting career. I think it's safe to say there are few actors that can boast that their 100th film is one of their best pieces of work, but that's exactly what happens in Phibes. A large percentage of that is due to the presence of Price, who manages to shine as the disfigured antagonist despite being restricted to only physically express himself with his eyes and his dance moves. The dubbed voice work - because his character can't speak through normal means - adds to the intrigue of the character, as each of his words (spoken via a gramophone connected to his throat) resonate like his cackling at the end of Thriller.

But unlike other flicks that entirely rely on Price to carry the film, there's a lot of help around him in Dr. Phibes. There's also a surprising bit of humor, led by a goofy police subplot, featuring lead Inspector Trout (played by Peter Jeffrey), that keeps the film feeling fun while not allowing the macabre plot to pull the film down. A lot of popular films would borrow the Phibes formula later, but the mixture of comedy and horror here really helps the film stay charming. For the most part, director Robert Fuest balances the cheesy and serious aspects of the film well, and the film maintains horror credibility by letting Price unleash some nasty (if not silly) actions in the name of revenge.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes also holds the distinction of being one of the earliest films to focus on using inventive kills, which became a staple of the horror genre with the rise of the slasher film. Though I'm shamed to admit that it's a little difficult to keep up with the use of the 10 plagues (in my defense, it's easier for me to follow than the Shakespeare references in one of Price's later Theatre of Blood), the kills are all unique and even a bit disturbing. The use of locusts is my personal favorite, and is another great example of how Fuest's film takes ridiculous ideas and makes them work within his film.
There aren't many horror films that are more fun to watch than The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It might not be a horror film that will spread chills down your spine consistently, but it never ceases to work as a campy revenge tale. Mr. Price made a career out of headlining this kind of audience pleasing macabre, and Dr. Phibes might just be the best example of his appeal out there. Dr. Phibes' tagline preaches that "Love means never having to say you're ugly". They must be right, because I can't find anything about this flick ugly.

Especially not Caroline Munro.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

(Normally I put a trailer for the film here, but the only trailer I can find on YouTube spoils like 90% of the awesome things about the movie. So you can go there and watch it if you like, but I'm not linking it for the sake of anyone who hasn't gotten Phibesed yet.)


Anonymous said...

I heart this film so much.

That is all.

Strange Kid said...

One of my favorite Vincent Price films, aside from The Monster Club of course.

Phibes had vengeance killing down pat way before Saw ever came long. Here's to a horror legend!

Jose Cruz said...

Yes! A great film for sure. The cinematography and scenery in this one are to die for. Not to mention Price. He has so much delicious glee while playing Phibes that sometimes I catch myself rubbing my hands together diabolically while watching this.

venoms5 said...

I love both of these as well as the PHIBES-ish THEATER OF BLOOD. A shame the third proposed PHIBES flick was never given life.

Spain said...

Caroline Munro was pretty like hell.