Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (4 Stars)

The picture I've used above, the cover of the soundtrack album for "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", has nothing to do with the film, but I've used it because it looks cool. It was common for posters and album covers in the 1970's to have irrelevant or incorrect pictures on them. These silly pictures sometimes found their way onto the cases of VHS and even DVD releases of the films. In the case of the picture above it's Dr. Phibes and his assistant Vulnavia, but they aren't in love, she just works for him. At no point in the film do they kiss one another. But you have to admit, the picture looks good, and the text on it is profoundly true.

"Love means never having to say you're ugly".

Now let's get to the film itself. In the early 20th Century Dr. Anton Phibes was one of the world's most brilliant organ players. In 1921 he had a car accident while driving with his wife. Anton was burnt to death and his wife Victoria was severely injured. Surgery was needed to save Victoria's life, but she died on the operating table. Anton and Victoria were buried side by side in the family crypt, his ashes lying next to her body. But as we see, Anton survived the crash after all. The ashes are those of his chauffeur. Nevertheless, his face has been badly damaged, and he has to wear a mask to look like a normal person.

Dr. Phibes wearing a mask.

Dr. Phibes without a mask.

The story continues in 1925. Dr. Phibes blames the medical team that treated his wife for her death. He says that they murdered her, so he wants to take revenge on the nine members of the medical team. He kills them one by one, each murder based on the plagues that God wrought on Egypt before the Exodus. If you know the Bible you'll wonder why there are ten plagues if there are only nine victims. I shan't give that away, you need to watch the film for yourself.

Vincent Price is an incredible actor. His performances in horror films, including this one, are so exaggerated and campy that he can hardly be taken seriously, and yet everything is just perfect. If he did anything else it wouldn't be him.

The film was directed by Robert Fuest. He's not a well known director, since he made less than a dozen films in his career, but he still made an impact on the film world with his distinctive style. His films always used bold colours with sharp edges, and his sets were characterised by straight lines with a minimum of curves. The characters in his films were just as bold and well-defined as the sets, easy to distinguish in their moral values. He directed several episodes of the final season of "The Avengers", which also show his typical style.

This film is considered to be a cult classic. I agree, even though I've never been able to find an accurate definition of that expression.

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