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The Abominable Dr. Phibes(1971)
Doctors are being murdered in a bizarre manner: bats, bees, killer frog masks, etc., which represent the nine Biblical plagues. The crimes are orchestrated by a demented organ player with the help of his mute assistant. The detective is stumped until he finds that all of the doctors being killed assisted a Dr. Vesalius on an unsuccessful operation involving the wife of Dr. Phibes, but he couldn't be the culprit, could he? He was killed in a car crash upon learning of his wife's death...
For more about The Abominable Dr. Phibes and the The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray release, see the The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 20, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, Virginia North, Peter Jeffrey
Director: Robert Fuest
» See full cast & crew
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray Review
The doctor will kill you now. . .
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 20, 2013
Note: This film is currently available as part of The Vincent Price Collection.
Shout! Factory's Scream Factory imprint is giving horror fans a little early Halloween present this year, bringing six classic Vincent Price – American International films to high definition for the first time. Though horror tends to be a genre that, to paraphrase one Rodney Dangerfield, "gets no respect", and indeed probably all of these films were thought of as B- movie drive in fodder back in the day, most if not all of them hold up surprisingly well today, with several of them offering a quasi- hallucinatory quality which Roger Corman, the supposedly low rent auteur who is responsible for the majority of the offerings in this set, states was a deliberate choice (not one necessitated by relatively paltry budgets) in an attempt to viscerally recreate the inner life of the (perhaps troubled) mind. Though Price had made at least a couple of forays into horror in the fifties with such fare as House of Wax 3D and The Fly , it was really the American International pictures that established Price's "second act" in the film business, offering him more or less steady employment when many of his contemporaries had either resigned themselves to the ostensibly less glamorous world of television or who had outright retired from show business.
Pop quiz: what was Vincent Price's most distinctive characteristic? Chances are nine out of ten of you probably instantly answered "his voice", for Price certainly had one of the most mellifluously memorable speaking voices in the entire history of film. It's just one of many surprises The Abominable Dr. Phibes has in store that the actor never really "speaks" in the film—at least live, with his lips moving. Dr. Phibes is a sort of modern day Phantom of the Opera, a horribly disfigured man who communicates through artificial means, with Price's unforgettable voice therefore being "electronically processed" (kind of like on those old faux stereo records from days of yore). As director Robert Fuest jokes in his very enjoyable commentary included on this Blu-ray as a supplement, while Price may not have been thrilled to hear his voice altered in this manner it at least meant he didn't need to memorize any lines, since all of his "dialogue" was post-looped.
A lot of younger filmmakers have attempted to make "comedy horror" or "horror comedy" films in the wake of this 1971 romp, but few have managed to capture the very black humor that permeates much of The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Rather shockingly grotesque, even to jaded modern day eyes, the film is an extended revenge fantasy, as Phibes attempts to exact vengeance on a coterie of physicians whom he feels were responsible for the death of his lovely young wife. Just to let his potential victims (as well as the police) know that they're dealing with a criminal mastermind, he formulates each successive murder as a riff on one of the Biblical plagues from the book of Exodus.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is therefore a series of vignettes, with the audience wondering how the next victim is going to meet his or her fate, especially once it's clear that each murder is going to have a certain shall we say whimsical quality. Giving the film at least the semblance of a through line is the fact that Phibes' ultimate victim is Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotton), who slowly begins to understand Phibes is after him and who joins with a typically flat footed police inspector (Peter Jeffrey) to try to ferret out the mad doctor.
The film is notable for its plush art deco production design and its fun (and sometimes funny) use of source cues. Dr. Phibes isn't just a "retired" doctor himself, he's also a concert organist (of course), and the film has some fun with Price hamming it up at the keyboard. Just for good measure, Phibes also has an animatronic "band" the plays dance music in his lair. The Abominable Dr. Phibes does ultimately encounter some pacing issues, and aside from the gross out factor of several of the murders, there really aren't too many scares at hand. But the film is still deliriously enjoyable a lot of the time, propelled by a distinctive performance by Price where he really never speaks nor in fact is able to move his "face" (which due to Phibes' disfigurement is actually supposed to be a mask). That's acting.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.84:1. This is one of the stronger looking transfers in the new Vincent Price Collection set, one which perhaps benefits from the film's relatively more recent genesis. While there are certainly quite a few age related specks and flecks in attendance, that problem is more than offset by some lustrously beautiful color and an overall very sharp and clear looking image. Fine detail is exceptional, revealing the weird fissures in Price's "mask" as well as some of the intricate patterns in the deco lair of the good doctor and things like the tweedy material in Cotton's overcoat. Colors are nicely lush and extremely well saturated, with the reds and purples in Phibes' hideaway especially nice looking. Fine grain is natural looking and there doesn't appear to have been any aggressive digital tweaking done. I'd probably be prone to boot the video score here up to 4.25 if I were able to.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Abominable Dr. Phibes features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix delivered via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. This track is very clean and clear sounding, offering both dialogue (and Price's post-looped musings) with precision. (As mentioned above, Price's voice is intentionally distorted, which is faithfully recreated here). The best part of this track is Basil Kirchin's playful score, which utilizes a bunch of fun source cues to spice up the proceedings. Fidelity is excellent, though there's not much dynamic range to this film, despite some florid touches with the big Wurlitzer theater organ.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Abominable Dr. Phibes isn't a great film by any stretch, but it sure is a fun one. This nice dual riff on both The Phantom of the Opera as well as the perhaps more "respectable" Biblical plagues offers yet another chance for Price to prove how versatile he could be, consigned here to neither really speak nor offer any real expression in his face. Director Robert Fuest mounts the film with a keen sense of Art Deco stylization, and the result, while ultimately a bit repetitive, is hugely entertaining more often than not. This Blu-ray offers great video and audio and (as with all the other films in the Vincent Price Collection set) a nice array of supplements. Highly recommended.
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