The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Article 2700 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2008
Posting Date: 1-3-2009
Directed by Robert Fuest
Featuring Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Virginia North
Country: UK/USA

When doctors begin dying in mysterious and bizarre ways, Scotland Yard detectives try to track down the murderer. They discover that the murderer is basing his methods on the plagues of the pharaohs in the Old Testament, all of the victims worked together on a specific medical case, and the murderer may be a man who was long thought dead.

I have to admit that I have a vast affection for three horror movies Vincent Price made in the early seventies; this one, its sequel, and THEATER OF BLOOD. Though the latter one is generally considered the best of them, I think all three somehow work together in defining a certain type of stylistic horror. The idea of a vengeance-driven madman picking off his victims one by one is as old as the hills, as is the concept of the murderer being pursued by incompetent policeman, but rarely have these ideas been used with this much style and wit. The art design is simply stunning, myriad bizarre touches abound (just who or what is Vulnavia?), and I couldn’t help but notice little details such as the fact the Phibes has his wife’s face embedded in the dial of the telephone he keeps attached to his pipe organ. The scenes with the detectives are always amusing, and the movie is loaded with great little character roles. The unmasking scene is a classic, though I do think it would have been more shocking had Price’s makeup not been already prominently used in the ads (“Love means never having to say you’re ugly!”). The movie also has a great ending, and I noticed this time the position of the planets on Phibes’s final resting place. That’s Caroline Munro as Victoria Phibes, and Paul Frees sings the lyrics on “The Darktown Strutters Ball”.



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