Take 3: The Abominable Dr. Phibes Review

The Abominable Dr. Phibes was recommended by one of my readers named Michael. When I found out the movie was considered a horror-comedy, I thought it’d be a perfect entry for MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur, as horror-comedies are the theme for February. Then I discovered the film was released in 1971. Because Kim and Drew, from Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews, are hosting the 6th Annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon, where the subject is movies premiering in years ending in 1, I decided to review The Abominable Dr. Phibes for both blogathons! As of early 2021, this is the fifth film of Vincent Price’s I’ve seen and written about. Most of these movies have either belonged in the horror genre or have been mysterious in nature. With The Abominable Dr. Phibes, this will be a little different, as part of the story is a comedy. Out of the movies of Vincent’s I have seen, none of them have featured a large amount of humor. So, by choosing this film for the aforementioned blogathons, I am given an opportunity to see Vincent work with slightly different material!

The Abominable Dr. Phibes poster created by American International Pictures.

Things I liked about the film:

The mystery: In horror movies, there is usually a mysterious element that can come in a variety of forms. One of these forms is a mystery. Throughout The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the detectives at Scotland Yard are attempting to figure out why several doctors in their neighborhood are dying of mysterious causes. The way the mystery is presented allows the audience to solve it alongside the characters. This presents the idea of the audience sharing an experience with the detectives in the film. Even though we see what is making these doctors die, it doesn’t take away from the intrigue of the mystery. In fact, it keeps the audience invested in what is about to happen next. Seeing how all the pieces of the story connected was interesting to see. It definitely kept my attention as I watched the film!

The craftmanship: There were several items in this movie that caught my eye due to their quality and artistry. A frog mask is just one example. The head covering mask is covered in three different shades of green, allowing it to shine from many different angles. Gold piping can also be found on the mask, assisting in distinguishing its shape. Jewels add finishing touches as the mask features gold gems around the frog’s eyes and an emerald clasp in the back. Dr. Phibes’ mask also boasts incredible craftsmanship! The eye covering mask is shaped like a bird and is coated in shiny shades of green, bronze, and gold. Both masks were two of the beautiful I’ve ever seen!

The set design: The Abominable Dr. Phibes features several interesting set designs that are worth noting. Despite Dr. Phibe’s house only being shown at night and only part of its exterior could be seen, it was a magnificent structure! Its Victorian style brightened the night with its white frames and cherry wood doors. The house features a grand white marble staircase paired beautifully with chandeliers and crystal sconces. I wish more scenes had taken place by this staircase, as it is an impressive part of Dr. Phibes’ residence! Other locations in the story also displayed memorable set designs.  Dr. Vesalius’ apartment is a great example. Near the front door is a curved, frosted window. The door itself was covered in a light and dark wood that ending up complimenting the faded yellow walls. This location looked reflective of the late ‘60s to early ‘70s due to its color scheme and furniture selections.

Scared audience image created by Katemangostar at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/terrified-friends-watching-horror-movie-in-cinema_1027311.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People image created by Katemangostar – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The underutilization of Vincent Price: As I said in my introduction, this is the fifth film of Vincent Price’s I’ve seen. Therefore, I, as an audience member, know what he is capable of, talent wise. Despite being the top billed actor in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Vincent wasn’t given much material to work with. He didn’t have any speaking lines in this movie. While there is an explanation given within the story, the only time we hear Vincent’s iconic voice is through recordings. It also doesn’t help that the different ways Dr. Phibes went after his victims overshadows Vincent’s performance. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the creative team behind this film cast Vincent Price simply to get more people to see the movie?

Weak on comedy: The Abominable Dr. Phibes is classified as a horror-comedy. When I made this discovery, I was expecting the movie to be more like Young Frankenstein. Even though there were a few times I found myself giggling, the film didn’t contain much humor. The Abominable Dr. Phibes relies more on the horror genre. It also contains a mystery within the overall plot, which would make it a horror-mystery. I felt misled after these reveals.

Depiction of demises partially used for shock value: Strictly from a story-telling perspective, it was interesting to see how Dr. Phibes carried out his plan. But when the plan is put into practice, the depiction of his victims’ demises comes across as more gross than scary. Within a segment of the story involving rats, there was a brief shot of a rat chewing on what looks like a bloody bone. I won’t spoil The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in case any of my readers haven’t seen it. But parts of the film like the one I described feels like the movie’s creative team just wanted to shock their audience.

Ultimate Decades Blogathon (1) banner created by Kim and Drew from Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews.

My overall impression:

When I think of the term “horror-comedy”, Young Frankenstein immediately comes to mind. Even though I haven’t seen this film, I am aware of its premise. Because of my expectations, I was somewhat let down by The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Sure, its mystery was intriguing and kept me invested in the overall story. But as I look back on this movie, I find myself expecting more. Despite its classification as a horror-comedy, it ended up being a horror-mystery, with very little comedy to be found. I was also disappointed to see Vincent Price underutilized in The Abominable Dr. Phibes. While he was given different material to work with, he didn’t have any speaking lines. The way Dr. Phibes’ victims met their demise overshadowed Vincent’s performance. These factors make his portrayal of the titular character feel like a part of an ensemble instead of someone leading a film. This is an interesting movie, but I can think of stories of this nature that are stronger than this one. I still prefer a picture like The Crow over The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Overall score: 7-7.1 out of 10

Have you seen a horror-comedy? Which film of Vincent Price’s would you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

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