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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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Featuring comics by
E.C. McMullen Jr.
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JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
"NINE KILLED YOU!
Grand Guignol comes from the France of the 1700s and the name represents a type of play that is simple in plot, revolving around a series of the most gruesome murders done in the most creative and fun loving way.
Samuel Z. Arkoff was a man who loved horror and the idea of a good scare so much, that nearly all we know today of the exploitation monster movie comes from him. Sure, there were other directors and producers scattered about who contributed to exploitative horror, but who was as prolific as Sam? He made 138 exploitation movies! What's even more incredible, he did it with actors who still had a career at the time they starred in his flicks!
Plus, through it all, Sam pulled it off with a demand for visual style.
At the time of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES release, Vincent Price had long thrown away his leading man career in exchange for leading roles in some of the best remembered Horror trash cinema and as a result, worked with the likes of William Castle, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Roger Corman.
Vincent Price (THE FLY, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) had the dashing good looks of any leading man today, but those handsome features were more inclined toward brooding darkness as his eyes had a natural cast that made them look out at the world with some kind of inner sadness, only to light up with surprising fire when he smiled. It was a devilish combination and it touched the soul of a small but significant number of women through the years and over 136 pictures, most of which cast him in a lead or pivotal role.
Pivotal is the keyword here as well for when Alice Cooper wanted to create his horror stage production of WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE, he had Vincent do the narration. When Michael Jackson wanted to do Monsters for his video THRILLER, he had Vincent Price do the narration.
In his lifetime, Vincent Price was the man. Low budget "Poverty Row" studios eroded Bela Lugosi's stature*, but when Vincent went cheap he did it with producers and directors who were hungry for their low budget movies to look as polished and visually appealing as expensive major studio productions.
For the nerdish boys who loved horror, Vincent Price was their Hugh Hefner, and every kid wanted to grow up to be like him. I too, went through that phase.
The film weighs heavily on Vincent's shoulders as he is the man of mystery upon whom the entire movie turns. His Dr. Phibes is the tragic villain who is killing people, all doctors, each one in a different and creative way. It is up to Scotland yard to find out who is doing the murders and why.
As the audience, we know who the murderer is, and the ugly secret hidden behind his mask of an undamaged face. It is on the posters and in the trailers (briefly). The crowning moment of horror is supposed to come when Phibes pulls his mask off and we are treated to his hideously scarred features up close and personal on a giant movie screen.
This effect is squashed because both the movie posters of the time, the home video today, and even the opening credits clearly let us know what we are in for. Also, the TV screen doesn't lend itself to the terror so much, but the intricately twisted world of Dr. Phibes does.
As we follow him through his hidden house, doing his odd things (staring intently at the photo of his wife while cursing, dancing in a distant and insular way with his lovely mute assistant, yet never going farther than the dance) - we realize that his heart still belongs to his lovely dead wife, taken away from him by what he believes is the criminal incompetence of 9 doctors who failed to save her life after a car accident.
The music he listens to is provided by a clockwork robot band and are they ever creepy looking. The movie in its entirety is an homage, albeit a tongue in cheek one, to Gaston Leroux's magnificent novel PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Dr. Phibes is sensitive, sophisticated, and has created a mad world for himself that reflects his precise and clockwork inner mind. Nothing will stop him from his goal: to kill all nine doctors before joining his wife (Photos of Caroline Munro: DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, CAPTAIN KRONOS) in death.
Joseph Cotten (HUSH . . . HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, BARON BLOOD, SOYLENT GREEN) plays Dr. Vesalius, the one man who may be innocent in the death of Phibes wife. He, more than the other surgeons, tries to assist Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey: THE ODESSA FILE, DEADLY STRANGERS) of Scotland Yard in finding Phibes before he kills again.
Meanwhile Scotland Yard can only sit by and watch helplessly. Despite the fact that they continue to unravel the mystery of Dr. Phibes, it doesn't bring them any closer to where he is hiding.
Director Robert Fuest (DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, THE DEVIL'S RAIN) had a good eye for this classy bit of drollery. He honed it while directing Arkoff's early 60's TV show, The Avengers: A British show made by Americans. Go figure. Unfortunately, this was his last hurrah as movies he directed after sunk into a lost abyss.
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES is fascinating to watch, stylish, and with plenty of eye candy, bizarre plot turns, and murders that, in true Grand Guignol style are both gruesome and witty.
I give it an easy 4 Shriek Girls