"Beauty is what the untrained eyes consider abominable."
Vincent Price is the man. How can you not love Vincent Price? A classically trained actor who despite critical success on stage and screen was not even the slightest bit bothered by playing campy, hammy over-the-top silly roles as well. For Vinnie, it was all part of being an actor. He never took himself too seriously. He always seemed to be having fun. Wish all actors had that kind of attitude.
Yeah, he participated on a Michael Jackson record, but I can forgive him that. And it was his fame as a great horror actor that got him that gig in the first place.
Today’s review is of one of Mr. Price’s most enjoyable movies: The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
Dr. Anton Phibes lost his beloved wife on the operating table years ago. He died soon after in a firery car crash. Now someone seems to be killing off members of the surgical team who treated Mrs. Phibes. The police try to not only catch the fiend, but also protect the potential victims.
We know from the start that the mysterious killer is Dr. Phibes. Dr. Phibes (who has PhD’s in music and theology) is a brilliant inventor – and a hate filled maniac! But the question is: is Phibes a revenant returned from the grave, or did he survive the crash? Either way it is obvious that he has planned out his revenge in meticulous detail.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes proves that talented people can make a very entertaining film with a small budget. Filmed in England and released in 1971 by EMI-MGM via AIP, this flick is a treat!
The period is never really specified, but judging by the cars, technology and clothing, I would say the film takes place in the early 1930’s. Now, there are two places that seem anachronistic to this time period. One is the home of Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten), the lead surgeon on the team who worked on Mrs. Phibes and therefore Dr. Phibes most hated target. Dr. Vesalius’ home almost screams 1970. Mod patterned paneling and mirrors on the walls and chrome and glass furniture jump out at you. The other odd set is the home of Dr. Phibes. Like I said, he is brilliant and a full blown bull-moose loony and his digs reflect this. He has a red plastic pipe organ on an elevator platform that lets him ride up to the main floor or down to the basement while he plays. He has a fully functional clockwork band, “Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards”, that play in the main floor ballroom – which has a partial glass floor! He also has at least one laboratory – you knew he had to have a laboratory didn’ t you! Come on! He’s a evil genius in a horror movie! Of course he has a laboratory!
He also has a minion. A beautiful young woman named Vulnavia who, we learn, just happens to look very much like the late Victoria Regina Phibes. Vulnavia (Virginia North) is a loyal and silent assistant to Phibes as well as a companion. There are several scenes where they dance together to music played by the clockwork band. These are rather surreal scenes with Phibes and Vulnavia dressed in eccentric formal attire. These scenes give the impression that Phibes is recreating the memories of a happy life. One could interpret Vulnavia as another one of Phibes’ creations, though a scene near the end of the film implies that she is human.
Phibes puts his knowledge of the bible to work and schemes to kill all of the surgical team using the curses rained down upon Egypt just prior to Exodus as a theme. Thoses curses are: 1. boils, 2. bats, 3. frogs, 4. blood, 5. rats, 6. hail, 7. beasts, 8. locusts, 9. death of the first born and 10. darkness. Although the film makes the point that the killings will follow this list, one of the murders is out of order.
The scenes where Phibes kills those he considers guilty of killing his wife are the heart of the movie. They are great evil genius extravagant murders that Phibes takes great pleasure in committing and witnessing. Phibes is there to observe all the deaths. When he has completed a kill, he burns the face off wax busts of the victims. As Phibes says to a picture of his wife, “Nine killed you. Nine shall die!” Hmmm. Ten curses, nine victims. Who will be the victim of the curse of darkness?
We know that Phibes must be mutilated from the car crash in some way because we see him apply false ears and a wig early in the film. Additionally, it is plain that his face is a mask. He has created an electronic device to allow himself to talk. It requires plugging a cord to an amplifier into a socket on the back of his neck. When he speaks it is halting and slightly mechanical sounding. Mostly he speaks to pictures of his dead wife; played by Caroline Munro a gorgeous model/actress who was in many b-movies from the late 60’s to the mid 80’s. We only see her in pictures and a crypt. There are two funny scenes in which Phibes drinks champagne and tastes a concoction he is making via his neck socket. These scenes are made much more enjoyable by the entirely serious look on Price’s face!
While Phibes is getting his dirty work done, Scotland Yard is desperately trying to stop him. The investigation is headed by Inspector Trout, played by British actor Peter Jeffrey. Jeffrey’s portrayal of Insp. Trout is wonderful! He presents the aspect of an intelligent man who is world and politically weary, insightful, compassionate and nervous. His sergeant gives him some information about the case and asks what he thinks. Trout sighs, “Oh I don’t think anymore Tom.” Others seem to always get his name wrong, referring to the wrong fish, especially the Superintendent who calls him “Pike”, “Breem” and “Perch”! The super is not pleased with Trout’s progress:
Superintendent: “Where are you off to now Trout?”
Insp. Trout: “The lavatory Sir.”
Superintendent: “Highly appropriate!”
The murder scenes I liked best were the ones based on the curses of frogs and locusts. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that the woman who is the victim of the locust murder took a sleeping pill prior to Phibes killing her. When you watch the film I think you will agree that the sleeping pill would not have made her sleep though her death.
Well, there is a final showdown between Phibes and Vesalius. Who wins? Which curse is out of order? What happens to Vesalius’ son? What happens to Vulnavia? What happens to Phibes? Is Phibes really a Vulcan? I guess you will have to watch the movie now won’t you? Bwahhahahahahaha!
The Abominable Dr. Phibes treads a fine line between full blown camp, gruesome horror and comedy. It is to the actor’s and film makers’ credit that it never strays too far in any one direction but remains an exciting and entertainingly fun movie from beginning to end. Check this one out. I think you will like it!
I kind of wish Vincent Price would return from the dead.
Dutch Treat: Christoffel Robertus Double Malted Dutch Lager
Beerbrewery St. Christoffel was founded in 1986 in Roermond, Dutch Limburg, Holland.
Christoffel Robertus is 6% ABV and I would estimate about 20 to 30 IBU.
The color is a lovely deep amber, almost red. Because the beer is made according to the 1516 Beer Purity Law, it is unfiltered and unpasteurized. This results in the beer being slightly cloudy. It forms a nice white head with rather large bubbles that is somewhat persistent. This is a double malt lager and the aroma lets you know it! You get a smooth odor of sweet malt and hops.
The flavor is all about the malt. There is a slight sweetness at first that slowly and smoothly turns to malty, hoppy dryness. The finish is nicely bitter, never harsh. These flavors change gently and make this a very drinkable beer.
A good lager from a relatively young European brewery. If you like American lager, but would like to try something a bit more robust, but not too radically different, give Christoffel Robertus a try. Recommended.
Christoffel also makes Christoffel Blond Double Hopped Dutch Lager. There is a sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes called Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Hmmm…