Robert Fuest’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
GB, 1971. Dir: Robert Fuest
Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton, Peter Jeffrey, Terry-Thomas, Virginia North
“Love means never having to say you’re ugly”. And so the poster tagline sets the tone for this hilarious little British horror from the early seventies. Vincent Price stalks around his art-deco jazz club, dragging with him a gramophone wired to his vocal chords and harbouring a peculiar grudge against nine people who tried to save his wife from dying. It’s that kind of film.
From an era when horror films were designed to be tremendous fun as well as being gruesome and frightening, Dr Phibes features one revoltingly elaborate death after another, but is done with such enjoyable panache you may well find yourself laughing at the bits that are meant to be funny. Yes, there’s no ‘so bad it’s funny’ awfulness here – Dr Phibes is a rollicking slab of comedy horror that knows exactly when to play it for laughs (which is actually for 90% of the film!). In one scene, Terry-Thomas is desperately trying to get rid of his old maid in order to watch some twenties-style porn (which, if you’re interested, involves a woman trying to swallow a snake!) before being interrupted by a girl who drains him of all his blood.
Price’s performance oozes delicious melodrama, remarkable considering he never speaks once in the film, all his lines are instead pre-recorded and played through the gramophone. And any film which has the line “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen.” has to be worth your consideration.