Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Doctors around London are being picked off one by one, the modes of death bizarre (rabid bats, grisly exsanguinations, a deadly head-crushing vice disguised as a frog mask, hungry locusts -- to name but four). Inspector Trout, assigned to the case, cannot help but think the same psychopath is behind them all. He's ridiculed for it throughout his department, but his hunch is correct -- all the expired doctors had a single case in common: they operated on the victim of a long-ago car crash, Victoria Phibes (B-queen Caroline Munro) who died during surgery. Trout's theory that her husband, Anton Phibes, is seeking revenge on the attending surgeons is marred by one simple fact: Phibes died in the accident, long before his wife got to the operating table.

Or did he? Vincent Price turns in one of his more outlandish performances (and all without moving his lips) as a demented cross between a mad scientist and a serial killer. In the years since his disfiguring accident, Phibes has been plotting his revenge, which follows (for no good reason, other than it provides for interesting murders) the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Trout gets hip to this after Phibes drops one of his pendant glyphs, used in the ritualistic killings, and has it interpreted by a Jewish scholar. Between strikes, Phibes hides in his creepy mansion, belting out show tunes on his pipe organ while his lovely but silent assistant Vulnavia looks on. Kind of a precursor to Seven (1995) when you think about it. Stunning psychedelic set dressing as well as a healthy dose of intentional humor (mainly involving the bumbling detectives) on the part of director Robert Fuest have made this a deserved camp classic.

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