Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Starring the irrepressible Vincent Price, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of my favorite horror films from the 1970's (and of all time for that matter). Price plays a whacked out doctor who's a jack of all trades: organist, theologist, inventor, as well as daft applicator of ingenious killing methods. You see, a few years back, a few of his colleagues were tasked with saving his wife from a horrific disease and when they were unable to do so, he swore revenge. And how you might ask does he plan on carrying out his oath? By killing all the doctors involved according to the 10 Plagues of Egypt of course!
The tone is set from the word go with a cloaked man banging away on his organ a la Phantom of the Opera. After he plays his little number, a ceremonial loading of his car takes place involving him and his sexy female assistant (who chauffeurs him to and from the crime scenes throughout the film). There are multiple drawn out scenes like this during the flick which gives it a very stylistic feel while at the same time, adding to the overall sense of Phibes being one seriously deranged doc.
As the body count mounts, the police are left with nothing but one, initially unbelievable conclusion: that the series of murders are being orchestrated by single individual, one that has intimate knowledge of his victims. When the last doctor on the kill list reviews his history of cases with the investigating police officers, they talk about Dr. Phibes and the tragic case of his wife. They deem him as the prime suspect and along with another investigator, piece together the biblically tinged killings. With one of the last plague killings needing to be completed (an offing of the first born), a mad dash to Phibe's house ensues in order to save the son of the last remaining doctor.
This movie has everything: great atmospherics with equal parts tension and camp, some pretty inventive means of killing victims (including a masquerade ball scene which could quite easily have been ripped off by the first Saw film) and of course, Vincent Price. I think the most remarkable thing about this film is that not a single word of dialogue is uttered from (arguably) the most recognizable voice in horror within the first 30 minutes. Its at this mark that we hear him speak for the first time through an electric chord and voice box (wratching up the creepy factor). Just his mere presence on screen was enough to create an extremely sinister vibe.
Hands down, one of the most perfect horror films ever made. And the tagline on the theatrical poster is pretty darn funny too.
Cortez the Killer