THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES
The Abominable Dr Phibes is a camp masterpiece of sublime elegance what other film could offer up a scene where a mans blood is drained to the accompaniment of a woman in furs standing outside playing a melancholic violin solo. There is such a droll sense of humour at work here like the moment Vincent Prices deformed title doctor pours a glass of champagne and then tips it up to his neck to drink, or puts a finger dipped in the vegetable juice to his neck to taste the flavour. There is the joyously droll moment where Maurice Kaufman is impaled against the wall on the horn of a unicorn head fired from a cannon, with the bumbling police then having to unscrew the body from the wall, while arguing over which way the horns screw-thread runs.
Vincent Price gives the best performance of his life as a madman, seemingly trapped inside his own face, all the time delivering hilariously flowery eulogies to his dead wife via speaker-phone. There is that marvellously wicked little chuckle he gives, sitting sniffing a daisy as he watches one victim go down in a plane. Hes perfect. The scenes in the house as Price and the lovely never-speaking Virginia North sweep across the ballroom floor, amid painted art-deco cycloramas and a clockwork orchestra have a beautiful, elegant sophistication. There is also a superb score.
Director Robert Fuest came to The Abominable Dr Phibes via the camp antics of tvs The Avengers (1962-9) in fact Dr Phibes would have made a perfect foil for Steed and Mrs Peel. Fuest had previously made the tourist psycho-thriller And Soon the Darkness (1970) and an adaptation of Wuthering Heights (1970) starring a young Timothy Dalton. Subsequent to The Abominable Dr Phibes, Fuest was briefly seen as horrors leading light. He and Vincent Price made a sequel Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972), which is okay but misses much of this films elegance. Fuest subsequently petered out with the dull adaption of Michael Moorcocks psychedelic spy novel The Final Programme/The Last Days of Man on Earth (1974), sank with the terrible Satanist drama The Devils Rain (1975), made an episode of the obscure horror anthology Three Dangerous Ladies (1977), before eventually being relegated to such dreadful tv movie fare as Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980). Sadly, The Abominable Dr Phibes was a single peak that Fuest would never regain.
The success of The Abominable Dr Phibes briefly resulted in Vincent Price being cast in a series of horror films as a camp super-villain as a mad Shakespearean actor in Theater of Blood (1973) and a demented horror actor in Madhouse/The Revenge of Dr Death (1974).