This week will be a contemplation of revenge. You see, after considerable thought, I've decided to blame all of you movie night attendees for my... uh.... nebulously terrible fate. Walking the land as I do, an undead, disfigured, insatiable consumer of the very worst films the world of horror has to offer can only be a result of my constant efforts to supply some meager fare, some entertaining pittance, for movie night every week. Naturally, this realization has condemned you all to a series of ironic, elaborately designed, and highly imaginative death-traps. As I have only the small apartment, I think you'll find that most of the death-traps center around a bear-trap in the popcorn bucket, but I make do with what I have. Nonetheless, I think you'll all find your fates suitably Abominable...
The Clockwork Musicians: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (94 minutes, 1971) With just short of 200 credits to his name, the fact that the virtuoso Vincent Price never developed a particular figure as "his" ("Lon Cheny's Wolfman" or "Bela Lugosi's Dracula") seems strange. His only real attempt (excepting Dr. Goldfoot which we would rather you forgot) would be in these, the profoundly odd pair of "Dr. Phibes" films. It essentially proposes a world in which there is a larger-than-life, high-vaudevillian evil mastermind bent on nasty, ironic, mechanical revenge against those who had wronged him, and there exists no competent good to oppose him. To describe Phibes as a "proto-Jigsaw" has some parallel, but is mostly just insulting. To compare the cartoonish kills and nasty comeuppance received by Phibes' targets to the straightforward moralizing of EC comics may coincidentally include a parallel to the arch gallows humor of a Crypt Keeper, but ignores the overwhelming Britishness of if all. The Phantom of the Opera would imply a manic insanity that isn't present, a Phantomas comparison would neglect the motive behind Phibes' evil. Moreover, any comparison would leave out the essential fun of the film: it's peppered with inside jokes and Price is hamming it up in one of the most essential camp performances of his life, having a riotous good time with it. Legend says that he kept ruining his makeup by bursting into laughter during takes. Which is all the more insane considering that Price had no lines, and doesn't speak until over 30 minutes into the film. (Figure that one out...) How camp is it? Price plays the titular character, a surgeon/concert organist, and is introduced while feverishly playing on a rising platform to the accompaniment of mechanical musicians. Price has to display an enormous range of emotion without ever moving his face. Acting the true moustache-twirling, Simon Bar-sinister menace that he is, Phibes sets about avenging himself against a series of surgeons in mid 1920's London. While I won't reveal the nature or motivation of his needlessly elaborate revenge (which would make Blofeld green with envy), let's just say it requires a fairly liberal reading of scripture and a series of cumbersome props. Pursued by only a righteous (but rather dull) do-gooder and a couple of bumbling police officers, the ending of the film still manages to surprise.
The Sexy Assistant: Dr. Phibes Rises Again (89 minutes, 1972) The second, and unfortunately final Dr. Phibes film unfortunately feels a bit of a shadow of the original. We have more ridiculous death-traps and Price again easily handling all the unique difficulties of this character, but significant budget cuts, late re-writes, and on-set clashes with his costar Robert Quarry all hamper the essential fun of the piece. We do, however, get a lot more of Vulnavia, Phibes' strange, sexy assistant. (Her return being almost as inexplicable as Phibes' own.) Taking advantage of the resurgence of interest in ancient Egypt (offering a parallel between the film's setting in the 30's and the film's release in the 70's), it centers on Phibes' obsessive search for a papyrus scroll containing a map to the secret of eternal life. Opposing him is the strangely obsessive Dr. Biederbeck, a character introduced with a hilarious bluntness in the first few minutes.
WARNING: Second film a little slow.