If you appreciate the joy of life, do not piss off Vincent Price! In this film, a three-time Doctor seeks revenge on the doctors he blames for the death of his wife. When a guy has enough follow-through to get three degrees- in Music, Medicine and Theology- you do not want to see what he will do when he has two years and a mind full of evil thoughts. As with any police force, they took far too long to figure out the pattern, since they were too busy chasing a young black man. Actually, their ironic racism is not prevalent, since the movie is inexplicably set in the 1920s. The key to this movie is the bizarre set design and prop creation. People are killed in ways that would make Itchy and Scratchy go 'Why didn't I think of that?' The movie is truly made by Price though, who delivers the best performance of his career without actually speaking a line in person. It's hard to explain in words...so I am in trouble, aren't I? If you have not heard of this movie, you will now and I hope this drives you to rent the movie. I think you will fall in love with this movie like I did. Of course, if you do not, I will just send a brass unicorn your way. Do not turn around!
Fruit bats are nature's adorable killing machines. The first doctor shown is killed in his bed by a group of fruit bats lowered into his room by Phibes. How? That's a very good question...so the police show up to find the body covered in lots of tiny, adorable bite marks. Plus a lot of them are laying strewn about dead, apparently. The Inspector, named after everyone's favorite dish Trout, mentions how another killing was committed involving animals, but does not think that they are related. The next night, another doctor is attending a costume party and given a mask of batrachian appearance. Sorry, I learned a big word and wanted to use it. Anyhow, this toad mask has a winding dial, which slowly but surely, crushes his head like a juicy grape. This scene is intriguingly shot, done from a first-person perspective of the man as his view slowly turns red. One should also note that no blood is actually seen due to rating standards of the time. At this point, Trout starts to suspect something, though it will not start to click until around the time a man is flash-frozen in the forest.
A man cannot live by blood alone, especially when it is in a jar across the room. Legendary British comedian Terry-Thomas stars as another victim of Phibes, whose late-night 'cranking' session is interrupted by the bad doctor. To clarify, he was watching an old film- this being the 1920s- of a snake-dancing woman on hand-cranked projector. He is tricked into letting Phibes' shapely and silent assistant tie his arms down so that his blood can be drawn; all of his blood. Our hero/villain leaves a necklace behind, allowing Trout and company...okay, one guy to begin to piece it all together. We learn that his wife died on the operating table and he blames all the people involved for it. Plus, he was severely injured in a flaming car crash and had his face burned off. Why he chose a middle-aged Price with mutton chops for his face, I do not know. He shows great discretion in his killings though, doing in a man with a flying brass figurine's head, a combination of sugar substance and bugs & what is basically a snow-blower. This man is like a Houdini of killing middle-aged, British doctors. Plus, he has some serious style. Deadly serious style.
Doctor Phibes has an unofficial fourth degree: fashion. The movie is full of bizarre set design and very stylish action. For example, he has a clockwork band that plays in his mansion every time he comes home. They serve no real purpose, other than to amuse him in his free time. In addition, he has a set of necklaces made to wear at each murder, if only out of some strange sort of obsession. It is also notable how he manages to kill someone in a manner of all ten plagues of Egypt. Some of them- like boils, etc- are simple to do, but, who else do you know of who could make a murder fit into the motif of 'livestock?' Even the actual manner in which said killings are done are quite stylish, from the slow-winding mechanism on the mask to removing all of the man's blood and placing it in eight different jars. One of my favorite bits in the movie is when you get to see all of Phibes' car decorations. In the back seat windows, he has silhouetted images of himself in profile, adjusting each one to the proper side. On top of that, he has a back window cover which is, you guessed it, is the back of his head. It is little touches like that which make the movie into the cult classic that it is. The best part of the whole film is its wicked sense of humor.
All great comedies need to have scenes of people being eaten alive by locusts. "Doctor Phibes" is both a horror film and a comedy, which, despite how often people try, is a really hard balance to achieve. The key to the comedy in this film is how they cast a good bunch of British comedians to make every line somehow seem classier. Bits like people always getting Inspector Trout's name right or the man killed by the mask referring to himself moments earlier as a "head-shrinker" are not the greatest comedic bits ever written, but they come off really strong in this film somehow. Of course, any film with Terry-Thomas in it is going to be loads funnier than any film without it. The best parts of the movie involve people saying completely strange and silly lines with a straight face and classy accent. The movie is full of classic lines like: "A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled on an imminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen." How can you not love a movie like this? The slow-to-figure-it-out detective and his boss are a great comedic duo, being simultaneously straight-laced and flippant. A lot of this movie is just too weird to explain properly and the comedy aspect of it is no exception. It is wicked, but it works.
Dr. Phibes' tenth victim was my free-time. This movie is just so damned weird, freaky and funny that I watch it a lot more than I should. The absurd plot of revenge by a triple-major widower with a penchant for elaborate and thematic murder just enthralls me. I cannot explain what is so great about watching Vincent Price's sort of wordless mime performance as an evil villain. I also cannot explain why it is great how the film jumps from scenes of murder/investigation to strange, dialogue-free sections of Phibes dancing to the tunes of his Clockwork band. The murders are so freakishly inventive- including a rat-inspired plane crash- that you must at least admire the ingenuity of those involved. The bizarre comedy also bears mentioning, given that it has numerous classy actors playing strange characters who deliver oddball lines with a straight face. This odd formula proved successful enough to warrant a second, somewhat-less-good sequel. More could have been done had the director- Robert Fuest- done a terrible film called "Devil's Rain" and killed his career. Yet another reason to hate that film.