Monday, June 6, 2016

Matinee Monday - Phibian Frolics

     I had to great pleasure (or torture to some) of some cheesy horror awesomeness starring the amazing Vincent Price.  From the cheesetastic minds of American International, I viewed the epic Dr. Phibes pictures - The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972).  I'm usually not a post-1960's horror fan unless it's so bad it's funny, so I was nervous about the serious looking films.  Most are just too gruesome and gross for me, focusing mostly on gore and not so much on an interesting or intelligent reason for the fear.  While these films may not have had a very intelligent reason for the fear, the story was interesting.  And frankly, I have yet to see a Vincent Price film where I don't at least enjoy his performance.

Dr. Phibes and his creepy band
     The best part of these films is of course, Vincent Price.  He plays Dr. Phibes, a musician who was horribly burned at the same time his wife Victoria died.  Wearing fake skin and speaking through a strange microphone Victrola set-up, Dr. Phibes is hellbent on bringing his wife back to life.  He creates a similar lair in both films with massive stairs with a giant pipe organ at the top, astrological references, life-size creepy robotic orchestra, and many evil, but clever ways to kill people.  Even though it was clearly made on the cheap, I liked the set and art direction.  

Valli Kemp as Vulnavia with Dr Phibes
     Aided by Vulnavia, his voiceless henchwoman, Phibes is able to create mass fear and a large body count.  Vulnavia is supposed to be an elegant helper.  Love the name by the way, and hope no poor children had the misfortune to be named it after watching these films.  She changes costumes every few minutes and assists in the murders.  Played by a different woman in each film, the portrayal of Vulnavia in Dr. Phibes Rises Again almost completely took me out of the film.
Virginia North as Vulnavia
     Virginia North was completely elegant in Abominable.  She played it perfectly.  An elegant ice queen and the picture of a 1960's model, the Vulnavia costumes looked regal.  North played Vulnavia to sterile perfection, graceful and cold.  On a different actress, the costumes can look cheesy - which was the case in the sequel.  Valli Kemp could not play Vulnavia.  Yes, she helped, but it seemed more like she was a snail than a queen.  It was too obvious she was trying to act.  Frankly, it's no wonder she made only 1 film after this one.  In films that are so outside logic, the actors have to be good or it's almost unwatchable (Unless you are watching only to laugh at bad acting).  Valli Kemp was the only one who couldn't act in the sequel.  It just seemed like she was plopping along in pajamas.  Sad.  Part of the problem may be because Vulnavia in both films is made up as the ideal beauty for the time the film was made, the early 1970's, as opposed to when the film was supposed to take place, the 1920's.  The Charlie's Angels looks of Kemp were more jarring than the Vogue 1960's looks of North.
Dr. Vesalius, Vulnavia, and Dr. Phibes
     The plot in both films was unbelievable, but the plot of Abominable made more sense.  Dr. Phibes was damaged in a car crash fire that killed his wife.  He decided to take revenge on the doctors who couldn't save his wife's life - biblical plague style, but in a clever way.  For example for the 'plague of frogs', one of the doctors was killed when the frog mask he wore to a party squished his head.  I was shocked by the deaths and the vivid art direction.  It was creepy and cheesy, but in a cool 1960's way.  His adversaries were played by Dr. Vesalius by Joseph Cotton and Inspector Trout by Peter Jeffrey.  Inspector Trout provided a bit of needed comic relief.  I was shocked most by the last plague, 'death of the firstborn son', where Phibes imprisoned Dr. Vesalius's son and he had to cut the key to release him out of his body before the son was burned with acid in the climax of the film.
The beloved Victoria
     Now on to the worse of the two films, the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again.  Frankly, I thought at the end of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes died.  So imagine my surprise to learn that he Rises?  Apparently Dr. Phibes had been searching all along for some Egyptian river of life which would make him and his beautiful Victoria immortal.  For some reason there is some other guy, Darrus Biederbeck, played by Robert Quarry, is some kind of immortal who had an elixir of life which he is running out of and needs to find the river himself to gain immortality.  The film did not seem smooth and I was confused about several things.  They did not explain so much that the film's continuity really suffered.  The plot evolved into Phibes (with Vulnavia's help) versus Biederbeck and his archaeological group  (with Inspector Trout's group tagging along) both trying to find the river.  Of course Inspector Trout think's he's only there because people in Biederbeck's group keep dying in imaginative ways suspiciously like those of Dr. Phibes.  I could never really tell id Biederbeck was supposed to be good or bad.  He seemed like a jerk, but a film usually needs a 'hero'.  Inspector Trout was it I suppose, but he was rarely on screen and was more like a bumbling Inspector Clouseau than a real detective like in the first film.  Unless this was one of the first horror films where two bad guys were adversaries.
Dr. Phibes on his organ
    On a side note, there was supposed to be a third film.  Various plots and ideas were floated.  Unfortunately allegedly Vincent Price was not to be involved.  He didn't fit the mold of what types of pictures American International wanted to produce in the future.  Sad, because Vincent Price and horror films are a winning combination.  While the Dr. Phibes films are not in my top Vincent Price films, they are an interesting insight into how a great actor can elevate a low budget film.  An interesting possibility also has come up.  According to IMDB, there is a new version on The Abominable Dr. Phibes in development.  

1 comment:

Mim said...

Aaaah, got to love a bit of Vincent Price. When I was watching The Abominable... my husband groaned all the way through. He just doesn't get it.


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