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Abominable Dr. Phibes, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Absolutely not abominable."
4 stars

Confession, of sorts: Without having seen more than a few minutes of any of them, I used to get Vincent Price's Dr. Phibes and Dr. Goldfoot movies mixed up. That's a mistake I'm unlikely to make again; while the makers of "The Abonimable Dr. Phibes" to tend to move their tongue cheekward on occasion, they tend to play it just straight enough and fancy enough to make for a nifty little horror movie.

Who is Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price)? A musician, an engineer, and a scholar who, with the help of his lovely assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North), is committing a series of bizarre murders in 1920s London. Even with all of them being physicians, it seems as though he may get away with it, except that Scotland Yard Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) begins to piece together a pattern, and with the help of potential target Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotton), begins to track Phibes down. The only trouble with this theory and course of action is that Phibes has been dead for four years.

At its heart, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a simple revenge story; Anton Phibes believes that these nine men are responsible for killing his wife, and will thus pay them back in kind, the sort that one would often see in a grindhouse movie with little to make it noteworthy but its level of gore and viciousness. This one certainly does well on those counts, but stands out because everything about it is knowingly grandiose: We first see Phibes maniacally playing an organ in a mansion filled withthings that have little practical purpose beyond looking fantastic, and even if the rationale for his murders to be based upon the nine Biblical plagues of Egypt is thin, but it makes nasty little murders a little bigger. On top of that, the world created by art director Bernard Reeves is equal parts 1920s art deco and 1970s garishness, the sort of situations where all of the insanity feels almost reasonable.

In the center, naturally, is Vincent Price, looking even more like he's been through the wringer that usual, and not just because Phibes has been disfigured and spends much of the movie in a sort of self-disguise. There's an anger and a desperation alongside his sophistication and intellect, and Price gets it across with glances and sharp movements, since one of the best tools he has - his sinister voice - is absent, dubbed over in distorted fashion. There's a bit of sympathy to be had for the character, but that doesn't get in the way of him being a thorough terror.

Phibes is so capable and driven that the film could only have its - and his - style going for it, so it's impressive just how well director Robert Fuest and actor Peter Jeffrey make Trout and the rest of The Law strike a balance between being capable and being more or less destined to arrive too late so that the audience can pull for them without feeling like it's a futile endeavor. Jeffrey gets to work some fine self-deprecating humor into the film without undercutting the horror, and he does the uneasy alliance with Joseph Cotton quite well, too.

At heart, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" is still a nasty little piece of grindhouse violence, but the folks involved are talented enough to pull it a little higher with sheer panache.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3242&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/05/15 22:53:42
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User Comments

2/28/14 The Big D. Outdoes Rocky Horror Picture show!!! 4 stars
7/16/06 mark dr lector be aware-dr. phibes kicks your ass! 5 stars
12/05/03 Charles Tatum Overdone camp, which is okay when Price is involved 4 stars
8/13/03 Jeannie Karlsen Camp beyond belief! Price is always watchable! 4 stars
9/29/01 Mohammad J. I wish all movies were this good. 5 stars
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  18-May-1971 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-Sep-2007

  N/A (15)

  18-May-1971 (M)

Directed by
  Robert Fuest

Written by
  James Whiton
  William Goldstein

  Vincent Price
  Joseph Cotten
  Virginia North

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