The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten and Caroline Munro
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 15
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A surgeon dies when several bats (a batch?) are released into his bedroom through a skylight and rip his face to pieces. At a masked ball another doctor, this time a psychiatrist, is given a frog-head, the clasp of which gradually tightens until the man is dead. These incidents come after an unseen previous attack on a surgeon by bees. Detective Inspector Trout (I kid you not!) is investigating an obvious connection, bullied by his bad-tempered superior. He discovers that nine doctors failed to save the life of Victoria Regina Phibes, wife of the great musician, Dr. Phibes. He would be the prime suspect, but for the fact the celebrated organist was burned to death in a car accident whilst journeying to his wife's side. However, the casket of Phibes contains only ashes which could have been those of his chauffeur, and Victoria's body is missing. At the scene of a further death, where the relevant doctor is drained of blood, Trout discovers a medallion depicting a Hebrew symbol. Ten different symbols relate to the ten curses of the Pharaohs, which Phibes is using as tools for his retribution. Bees, bats, frogs, rats, hail, locusts... The list goes on, and so do the deaths...

Although very much a product of its time (1971), the opening scene of The Abominable Dr. Phibes would fail to hook a generically impatient modern day audience. A theatre organ rising from beneath the floor, music being mimed over-exuberantly by Vincent Price in glittering-black robes, only made me consider giving up and going down the pub. But that would have been a shame, because this is not a bad film. It's an inventive horror fantasy murder-mystery, plainly inspired by The Phantom of the Opera. On the whole, its fast-paced with some witty dialogue.

There's only a couple of points which let it down: the prolonged and somewhat overzealous organ playing and dancing sequences, and the disappointing bat on a wire shot early on in the film. Oh, and not forgetting the misleading publicity pictures on the cover packaging. The true face of Phibes is never green, and there's no ghoulish kiss. But these are minor quibbles which don't spoil a fun viewing.

In case you're wondering, Anton Phibes is not a practitioner of any of the medical fields; his doctorate is in music, with an additional PhD in theology, which probably explains his interest in Hebrew symbols and Egyptian curses. Clearly he is an intelligent man, which beggars the question, why invite a victim to your hideout when you must know the police are likely to turn-up and scupper your plans? Before this point Trout didn't have the first clue where to find the fiend.

At the conclusion, Phibes secretes himself away and lays his body to rest next to that of his beloved wife, to be reawakened when the time is right. I feel a sequel coming on.

Ty Power

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