The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

So now we’ve entered the world of camp with the 101 Horror Movies, and if you’re going to watch anyone gleefully chew the scenery wouldn’t you want it to be Vincent Price?

Price stars as the titular Phibes, and from the opening scene, you know this isn’t going to be your ordinary horror film, but it’s a lot of fun!

Phibes is murdering doctors, in fact, he has designs on nine of them, bringing the mythical biblical plagues to bear on them with his own unique twists.

Phibes is wreaking hell on these doctors because he holds them responsible for the death of his wife on their operating table.

The police, nor the victims believe it can be Phibes, because he supposedly died in a car crash upon learning of his wife’s death.

Price’s Phibes has been horrifically scarred in his car accident, and being a scientist and doctor himself, he has worked to keep himself alive long enough to wreak his vengeance. His face is so disfigured he has to hide his face under layers of prosthetics, so many, that his lips don’t move when he speaks, which he also needs to use an automated voice box to help him with.

He lives out his days, with an animatronic band, his giant pipe organ and his lovely mute assistant as he plots death after death.

There were three moments that made me realize how much I was enjoying this film…

The first involved one of the death scenes. The victim wakes up in his room, and starts looking about anxiously, knowing something is wrong. The camera shows various shots from his POV of the room, and then again, and then… you think you see the movement of a shadow. Then he tenses, and looks down on the sheets covering him, and there’s this massive bat crawling up the sheets covering his chest towards him. I just said, “Awesome!” And then as he freaks and tries to push himself away from the bat, he realizes there’s another one on the pillow crawling towards him as well.

Loved it!!

There were of course more than the two bats, and they make quick work of him, leaving him to be discovered by an unflappable (pun intended?) butler in the morning.

The next thing I loved was the character of DI Trout. Poor guy. He’s just a simple cop trying to solve a case bigger than him, and I use the word simple in every sense. He’s also mistakenly referred to as Pike a number of times, though he tries to correct them. There’s a slapdash sense of British, Python-esque humour that this character brings to the film, no more noticeably, than in my next favorite thing about the movie.

One of the doctors is killed and impaled by the bust of unicorn cast in bronze, shot from a catapult (yup you read that right), which skewers the victim to a wall. Trout and his assistant tries to figure the best way to remove the horn, and not that the horn appears to be a left thread. There’s a wide shot into from the club where he’s been killed, and I laughed out loud when a pair of legs swing by the camera towards the ceiling, and then again, and again… Funny.

The murder sequence at the masquerade was brilliant as well. The film was quite engaging, and seeing how Phibes would bring the plagues into play, and their results was a lot of fun, and not at all morbid!

The movie was definitely more laugh than scare, though the makeup on Phibe’s face when he reveals his scarred self is top-notch. I loved the blinds he has on his car, there were just so many things that just made this a wonderfully over-the-top romp.

The film apparently has a huge cult following, and watching it, it didn’t surprise me. I may in fact be signing up on that band wagon as well.


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