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Dr. Phibes 1: Abominable Dr. Phibes

1971       Vincent Price

What are screen horror epics made of? How about bats, frogs, boils, toads, beasts, locusts and things like that?

Those are some of the ingredients in American International's new shocker, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes," which opened In 1971, as it so happens they are also present in the Old Testament as some of the curses visited upon Pharoah to induce him to release the Israelites. Vincent Price stars in the tile role as the evil genius, Dr. Phibes, who borrows a page of the Bible to send each of his victims to his grave in a different manner than the other ... each afflicted with one of the aforesaid curses. Before the picture ends, eight hapless humans are dispatched by his devilish designs. Needless to say, achieving this assortment of visitations upon his victims called for a good deal of inventiveness and Machiavellian scheming. Thus, the film shows Vincent Price at his best, busily setting his prey up with diabolical traps and gadgetry, some of almost Rube Goldbergish elaboration. Symbolic of the curse

of the beasts, Phibes rigs a catapult with a heavy brass head of a unicorn which, when triggered, zips across a London street to impale his victim on a door. Aiming the curse of the frogs at another gentleman, he attends a masked ball where he fits a seemingly harmless head of a frog on his unsuspecting prey. But machinery in the grotesque helmet shrinks its sides until the wearer's skull is crushed. Thus, each rides to his own Valhalla in grand style with full attention to biblical symbolism and scientific know-how. As Price puts it: "When they go they go first class!" As to Phibes himself, he is the most carefully manufactured aspect of all in the entire story . . . and literally so. Supposedly the victim of an automobile accident, his nose, ears and face are plastic replicas applied at a makeup table for decency's sake and his voice is created electronically via a plugged in electric socket in his neck and an amplifier. Vincent's voice is therefore never heard in its natural sound during the picture. Directed by Robert Fuest, who also directed American International's recent release, "Wuthering Heights," "Dr. Phibes" also stars Joseph Gotten, Hugh Griffith and Terry-Thomas. It was produced by Louis M. Heyward and Ronald S. Dunns from a story by James Whiten and William Goldstein. Executive producers for the film are Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson.

The film has the added appeal of being set emphatically in the 1930's. It was an elaborate production in which particular attention was given to designing sets that emphasize the period - tubular steel furniture, first attempts to streamline, frosted lighting, etc. a period that seemed to wish to obliterate itself of all save that which was functional. Director Robert Fuest, who directed "Wuthering Heights" for AlP, says the 1930's decor heightens the tensions "because it was so similar to our own, a tense age attempting to wipe away the past." Against such a background is set a story of a grandiose genius dedicating himself to killing the nine people he believes caused his wife to die, inventing for each of them a death of demoniac ingenuity. Dr. Phibes (pronounced Fibes) is Vincent Price's 100th film portrayal and is a character larger than life - and death - a monstrous sadsack playing out his gargantuan grief in grand guignol. Click here for more

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