It’s hard to believe Vincent Price was really from St. Louis. Heck, who even knew he was from this PLANET? An actor of unequaled screen presence, he was the sinister sophisticate of scores of B-pictures during the ’50s and ’60s. But he began the ’70s with a duo of wry horror comedies called The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, 95 minutes) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again!. Both were directed by Robert Fuest who later made the even weirder, Devil’s Rain, with Captain Kirk locking horns with a gaggle of satanists led by — gulp — Ernest Borgine!
The movie: Dr. Phibes (Price) is a maniacal organist who, with his band of clock-work musicians, hold exhaustive jam sessions that undoubtedly keep the neighbors up at all hours. But when he isn’t at the keyboard, Phibes is skulking around town murdering the dozen-or-so folks he thinks are responsible for the death of his beloved wife.
He’s not content to just kill them, instead he directs them to their maker through elaborate — often witty — schemes. Like a gilded cage stuffed with bats that’s lowered through the skylight of the first unfortunate, who is chewed and clawed to death after the creatures are released in his bedroom. Curiously, Phibes cannot speak without the aid of a Frankenstein-like plug in his neck which is connected by a wire to a phonograph. He even sips champagne from the side of his neck. Clearly the guy’s a complete mess, but somehow manages to earn the favor of a gorgeous babe named Vulnavia (Virginia North) who chauffeurs him to murder scenes, never wears the same outfit for more than 30 seconds and is keen on interpretative dance. As the death toll mounts, bumbling Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) attempts to capture the not-so-good doctor, whose diabolical plot is almost too elaborate to decipher, and even when Trout does, it just might be too late.
Eagle-eyed CineSchlockers will spot Aubrey Woods as the wise-cracking goldsmith with which Trout has an all-to-brief encounter. Woods is, of course, the crooning candy pimp in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Notables: No breasts. 10 corpses. Bat attack. Hypodermic insertion footage. High-altitude rat attack. Embalming-fluid suicide. Telephone to the brainpan.
Quotables: Dr. Phibes demands vengeance, "Nine killed you! Nine shall die! Nine eternities in doom!" Cops attempt to remove the screw-like horn from a victim’s chest, "Easy does it. I think its a left-handed thread."
Time codes: Stuffed vampire bat on a string hurtles toward the camera (10:20). Hand-cranked stag film featuring a dancer in a loving tango with a snake (18:38). Victim is impaled on a unicorn’s horn (36:35). Dr. Phibes holds a funny life-size caricature of a nekkid lady (1:06:38).
Final thought: A magnificently macabre and intentionally corny tale that’s weirdly engaging.