Thursday, August 11, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Abominable Dr Phibes / Dr Phibes Rises Again

The Abominable Dr. Phibes and it's sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again are two of the coolest horror movies from the 70's. Starring the horror master Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes, a famous organist with doctorates in music and theology, who seeks revenge for his wife's death. With the assistance of the glamorous Vulnavia, he goes after the many involved in the operation that his sick beloved Victoria didn't survive, believing it was their incompetence that killed her.

But instead of going for an easy, swift kill, Phibes devises unique ways of murdering each of the doctors based on the Ten Plagues of Egypt, from the Old Testament. Some of the most memorable methods he uses include a mechanical frog mask that crushes the psychiatrist wearing it to death (frogs), an ice machine that freezes one of the doctors to death in his car (hail) and the second to last, Death of the first born. I won't spoil it, for those who haven't seen it yet, but his original and bizarre punishments undoubtedly have inspired many movie serial killers since.

I love this movie, Dr. Phibes is one of the best villains ever. Driven by love and revenge, he commits some of most creative crimes I've ever seen in a horror movie, he's mysterious, creepy, flamboyant and so different from the usual bad guys. Because he crashed his car on his way to the hospital, he wears a complete face mask, and has to talk through a device plugged into a gramophone. Unlike for example Jason or Michael Myers, who also wear a mask, his mask is a human face, making him look normal at first, but it never shows any sort of emotion, like his voice never changes tone much. It makes it harder to relate to him as a person, but Vincent Price is excellent, acting mostly with his eyes to convey any sort of feeling and humanity.

There is just so much to like about this first movie. First of all, Dr. Phibes house looks amazing. The Art Deco interior is beautiful, eccentric and really adds to the strange atmosphere. The mysterious Vulnavias relationship to Dr. Phibes is never revealed, his Clockwork band, the organ music and the unexpected ending...

In the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again we see Phibes trying to resurrect his wife. His house has been demolished and his papyrus scrolls are stolen. He takes Vulnavia and goes in search for the scrolls and the thieves in Egypt, in a Pharaoh's tomb where the River of Life flows. All the murders this time are Egyptian themed and just as peculiar. While not as satisfying, the sequel is more adventurous and still great and leaves you wanting more.
The two police officers, who investigate the case in both movies are hilarious and deserve a special mention. They have a real cabaret double-act feel about them. Their banter and silliness are often cause for some of the best moments in these films and offer great comic relief. The mix of gothic horror and comedy place it right in between the scary movies of the 60's to later horror franchises such as Nightmare on Elm Street which serve a heavy dose of dark humor with their frights.

Sadly, there were supposed to be quite a lot more Dr. Phibes movies, but they never got made. But some good news has come about recently, William Goldstein, the original creator and writer, has written a short prequel novel entitled "In the Beginning" which is out now on Kindle.
So, if you're into horror movies, Vincent Price and an imaginative modus operandi without gratuitous guts and gore give these movies a try. They're some of the most original you will find in the genre.

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