The Abominable Dr. Phibes

      Comments Off on The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Is there any better prelude to hitting the pumpkin patch than seeing The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) on 35mm at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville? I don’t think so. That’s how I spent my Sunday. Halloween is on the horizon and in cinemas even as I write this. The Abominable Dr. Phibes has been a favorite of mine for many years. I think that it’s one of the most unique and enjoyable films to come out of American International Pictures.

The highlight of the film isn’t the plagues of the Pharaohs or the violence that couples them. The best portions of The Abominable Dr. Phibes are the scenes with almost no dialogue where Vincent Price and Virginia North enact the madman’s fantasies to the music of his clockwork band. The production design is gorgeous and lends these sequences a macabre other-worldliness. In a film that is otherwise a patchwork of genre tropes these scenes function as a breath of fresh air.

Price is as good as ever. He’s creepy, campy, and totally committed to his part. The entire film feels like a mega budget episode of The Avangers (1961-69). Price’s villain is counterbalanced with Joseph Cotten’s self-righteous hero and a police force that must have studied law enforcement under Mack Sennet. It sounds like an outlandish concoction but it works extremely well.

Director Robert Fuest is largely responsible for the tonal variations in The Abominable Dr. Phibes feeling fluid rather than jarring. He’d been a veteran of horror films for more than a decade when he helmed this film and its sequel. Those experiences give the direction of the film a measured and assured quality.

One of the fun things about American International productions like The Abominable Dr. Phibes is that they never expect to be taken too seriously. They have an ironic sense of humor about themselves that invites audience laughter. Then, in the next moment, these films become totally eerie and frightening. That’s why they are considered classics in the horror genre.