Friday, October 1, 2010

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

To make up for the severe lack of posting last month, October is going to be a month of regular horror movie reviews. I am more into classic horror films, so expect to see a lot of Universal and Hammer films among those reviewed, as well as some selected dead teenager flicks that have stuck with me over the years.

I am canning the motif of the movies I review being connected to one another in some capacity. That was harder to deal with than I thought. Aside from some sequels probably being reviewed back to back, the movies selected from here on out will be chosen on a whim.

We start horror movie month with the unsung Vincent price classic, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I remember watching the 1971 classic on some Saturday matinee many, many years ago. It scared the bejebus out of me when Dr. Phibes finally removed his mask to reveal his horribly disfigured face. The Abominable Dr. Phibes definitely had to go first in my list of reviews.

Dr. Arthur Phibes is a noted organist and theologian (!)) who is believed to have died in a car accident while rushing to the hospital to be by his sick wife, Victoria’s side. He survived the crash, but is horribly disfigured. He fashions a mask for himself to hide his deformities and uses a tube connected to his windpipe in order to speak through a gramophone.. That was another aspect that creeped me out back in the day. In seclusion, he learns that his wife died on the operating table. Instead of hiring a lawyer and suing for millions, Phibes utilizes his theology expertise to enact revenge on resurgent based loosely on the ten plagues of Egypt.

These are not Cecil B. DeMille’s plagues from The ten Commandments. They are imaginative and gruesome often made even moreso by the low budget special effects. I am into old fashioned filmmaking anyway, not so much on the CGI business. Your mileage may vary. Phobes and his mute assistant, Vulnavia (!?) kill eighth doctors and one nurse by means of a bee swarm, bats swarm, crushing by mechanical frog mask, bleeding to death, freezing to death, crashing a plane because of ravenous rats, eaten by locusts, and attempting to murder one surgeon’s oldest son.

In the climax, Phibes rains a the blood from is own body in order to join his wife in death. I assume that represents the darkness plague. I do not now. Maybe Phibes blew it with that plague. His theological training did not seem to stick as well as his musical acumen.

Regardless of the ambiguity there, I love this film. It isa guilty pleasure that still cannot be viewed too often. I am afraid I still get the heebie jeebies over some of the make up jobs, even if they are rather cheap by today’s standards. I you do work up the courage to watch--and I hope you do--keep an eye out for a few things. The lovely Caroline Munroe plays Phibes doomed wife, although she goes unaccredited. Joseph Cotton plays the head surgeon. He appears to have fallen quite far rom . Watch out for a weird organ playing sing-a-long, if you did not think the film is strange enough.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes should solidly be considered a Vincent Price vehicle. He steal every scene in his own indomitable way. The other characters, particularly the doomed medical staff, are caricatures of real people with their evil and/or perversity serving as their only character aspect. That is not to say the film is a cheapo, one trick pony. Price alone is well worth the price (pardon the pun) of admission. Fans of gory, modern days revenge trash like Saw need to watch The Abominable Dr. Phibes to see how its done right..

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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