Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unicorns & Hats & Masquerades, Oh My!

The Abomindable Dr. Phibes is one of those cult classics that seems to inspire a whole lot of passion from the not necessarily huge component of film lovers who have seen it.

I am now proud to be one of them.

Quick Plot: A Phantom-esque mystery man conducts his own personal house band made up of man-sized wind-up instrumentalists in kooky zip-up masks.

Within the opening two minutes, I have already dubbed this to be The Greatest Movie of All Time.

Some might say I like to leap to big sweeping superlatives when it comes to cinema, but ladies and gentlemen, some are often wrong.

Very. Wrong.

Meet Dr. Anton Phibes, a concert organist/super genius doctor (of something or another) played with magnificence by a fully in-the-moment Vincent Price. Dr. Phibes, we learn, is working on an elaborate (and awesome) plan of vengeance using the fabled ten plagues of the Old Testament as inspiration to murder the team of surgeons and nurses responsible for the death of his beloved wife some years earlier. 

Here's what this means for us:

-We watch a kickass masquerade where a dude dons a giant frog head mask and gets masked to death

-We witness an adorable horde of bats bat a man to death

-A man is stabbed, Cabin In the Woods style, by the unicorn horn of a brass statue catapulted into action

I haven't even mentioned the locust face-eating, outstandingly elaborate hat-wearing, or old timey snake porn-watching. 

Directed by Robert Fuest (he of the wonderfully restrained And Soon the Darkness and amazingly awful The Devil's Rain), 1971's The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of those fantastically 'alive' films that seems compelled to be something unlike anything you've ever quite seen. From the colorful visual style to the fact that Vincent Price is romantically speaking through a hole in his throat, this is a special movie.

We've got recurring word jokes, bumbling detectives...

creepy dolls that do nothing but appear creepy, 

Vincent Price drinking champagne through a hole in the back of this throat, and a credit sequence set to Somewhere Over the Rainbow that lists its cast in terms of "The Protagonists" and so on. There's both absurdity and heart, and the combination makes for a truly unique cinematic experience.

High Points
Did I mention HATS?



Did I mention that the band, Dr. Phibes' Clockwork Wizards, is the greatest assembly of musicians ever put on a bizarro art deco soundstage dream theater?


Lessons Learned
Even when they're eating someone's face off, bats in closeup are pretty darn adorable

Never put down the brandy

No one holds a grude with quite the same dedication as a super genius concert pianist doctor

I was lucky enough to find a double disc of this and its sequel through the Midnight Movies release at the famed Kim's Video in downtown Manhattan. Now on Instant Watch, this is a truly wonderful watch, the kind of strange genre treat that somehow manages to be funny, scary, sweet, gorgeous, and ridiculous all at the same time. See it.


  1. Finally I can put to rest were that cover image came from, as it's been bugging me since I saw it on the "Calvacade of Perversions" banner. For one reason of another I keep failing to watch this one, but will now after your endorsement make an effort to watch this now ASAP as I just love those masks!

  2. Well your viewing week for your blog has definitely been better than mine! I watched a mediocre British horror film, and you watched an awesome one!

    I haven't seen either of the Phibes flms in a while. I'll definitely need to get around to that soon!

  3. I recently came across the double-DVD set as well, and I was thrilled to have. The Phibes films have been favorites of mine since I was about ten years old. You're right about it having absurdity and heart and it being a unique piece of cinema. It's gold, in my opinion, distinctly British and totally universal at the same time. It's genius. :)

  4. Phibes was the first Vincent Price movie I ever saw.
    As a kid the bizarro stylings and camp goofiness just made it all the more ghoulish and frightening. The ending in particular sent my little head reeling, full of unanswered questions.
    There's a whole lot of weirdness going on beyond the colorful murders... and when Phibes seals himself into that box I pictured him off to some very strange version of OZ (where Vulnavia, whoever/whatever she is, came from).

  5. SERIOUSLY Elwood, it took me a while to finally watch, but it's WELL WORTH IT!

    Chris (and btw, I always typo your name "Christ", for what THAT'S worth: Sorry to hear the bad Brits found you. Those buggahs!

    Matthew: Couldn't agree more.

    Knobgob: I could totally see this being disturbing to a child, especially because it's so visually interesting that it'd be hard to look away from it. And I really hope he lands in a very happy version of Oz! The land, not the prison...

  6. Wow, it's on streaming? I'm watching this tonight! Sounds fantastic. I kind of wish I didn't read all of that because froggy masking and bat/locust munching, and unicorn impaling sound like some awesome surprises.

  7. It WAS streaming, but now I don't see it when I search on my ap. Boo! Check it though, maybe I misspelled "abominable" for the 999th time.

    And while I hope I didn't spoil anything, please trust that it's all awesome, and if nothing else, there's a sequel I haven't seen yet, so maybe you'll beat me to those details!

    1. Watched 2 consecutive nights of Phibes. Loved them! The sequel is basically more of the same, for the most part, but more of Phibes is a good thing. I don't think I've seen any Vincent Price films before this and it makes me want to check some more out.

    2. Oooooh I can take more of the same!

      Dave, I think you'll have a GLORIOUS time 'discovering' Vincent Price. Truthfully, I've probably missed some of his more famous eras (primarily the Hammer period) but I have never not been happy to see him onscreen. Pearce recommended Theater of Blood as a good Phibes followup, so I'm taking his word! Enjoy!

  8. Oh this is beautiful. The Dr. Phibes movies were formative influences on me. The images you've chosed fill me with joy. I feel the urge to dig out my Vincent Price colection.

    As well as the wonderful sequel I'd recommend that you check out Theatre of Blood, another marvel of murderous mayhem from Uncle Vinnie. I shall say no more.

  9. I have NOT seen Theatre of Blood, although I always think I have because I associate its box art with Madhouse (which is also quite good). I'll have to check it out, especially now that Diana Rigg is all Game of Throned!

  10. Only watched this film recently and absolutely adored it. Didn't know there was a sequel, shall have to give that a go!

  11. I'm really excited to watch the sequel! I've heard good things!

  12. Curses Burgundy! You left a wonderful comment that my fat fingers accidentally deleted. Here it was:

    Dr. Freaking-Fracking Phibes! LOVE this movie. The colors, the hats, the music, the deaths, Vulnavia! Still haven't watched the sequel but if it rocks half as much as the original, it's gotta be good. Vincent "MF" Price FTW!

    *closes box to the afterworld*