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

Take 3: House of Wax (1953) Review

For KN Winiarski’s 1st Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon, I chose to write about a film that was recommended to me by one of my fellow bloggers. As the title states, I will be reviewing the 1953 film, House of Wax, which was suggested by Patricia from Caftan Woman. This is a movie I’ve heard of, but had never seen. Since the film was released between 1920 and 1960 (one of the blogathon’s requirements), it gave me a good excuse to check it out! Even though I have seen and reviewed three of Vincent Price’s movies, only one of them was released during the Breen Code era. Because House of Wax premiered in the early ‘50s, it allowed me to view more of his films from that time period. Based on the synopsis, House of Wax is considered a “revenge film”. It made me curious to see how this type of story would work within the Breen Code era. I was also interested in comparing House of Wax to a project like The Crow, which I reviewed back in May.

House of Wax poster created by Warner Bros.

The acting: House of Wax is the fourth film of Vincent Price’s I’ve seen. While I enjoyed his acting performances in The Whales of August, House of the Long Shadows, and Shock, I really liked his performance in the 1953 film! When his character, Henry, is talking about his wax figures, the passion he has for his craft can be seen on his face and in his eyes. Vincent makes the audience feel bad for Henry when these figures and the museum burn to the ground. As time moves forward, Henry evolves into a man of sophistication. Through the power of his acting talents, Vincent makes this transition feel believable. Prior to watching House of Wax, I was not familiar with Phyllis Kirk as an actress. However, I really liked her portrayal of Sue Allen! The emotional intensity Phyllis brought to her role is what made her performance stand out! When she is chased through the city by a murderous criminal, the audience can see and feel the fear Sue is experiencing. This helped raise the intensity of that scene. After she reaches the safety of a neighbor’s house, she immediately bursts into tears. Sue’s emotions show just how emotionally exhausted she is from constantly looking over her shoulder.

The wax figures: Because this film is called House of Wax, a showcase of various wax figures is to be expected. What was unexpected for me was the overall quality of these wax figures! All of them were so well-crafted, they looked like real-life individuals. In fact, there were times when I was waiting for at least one of them to start moving on their own. Throughout the film, facts about the people these figures were representing and the artistic process were shared within the dialogue. One example is when Henry is explaining how he created his Marie Antoinette figure. He tells a potential investor that Marie’s eyes are glass and were inserted through a hallow part of the head before it was attached to the neck. I found this part of the story fascinating! I also wish there was a documentary about this particular art form.

The historical accuracy: House of Wax takes place during the early 1900s, with the time period influencing every aspect of the film. What works in this movie’s favor is how the visuals looked and felt like the time period the film’s creative team was striving for! As Henry’s wax museum is burning, a fire truck appears to put the fire out. A noteworthy point is the model of the truck resembled one from the early 1900s. Another way the time period was reflected was through the set design! The exterior of the House of Wax museum looked like a movie palace from decades past, commanding the attention of passers-by. The beige and red marble alcove leading to the museum reminded me of an outdoor market, with the museum itself selling a form of entertainment to potential customers. These design choices made the overall film feel immersive!

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 3D effects: One of House of Wax’s claims to fame is featuring one of the earliest forms of 3D in cinematic history. Any poster of the film and the movie’s opening credits boast this detail enthusiastically. However, the 3D in this movie stayed in 1953. In the scene where Henry opens his House of Wax museum, a spokesperson uses paddle-balls to get patrons’ attention. During his routine, the spokesperson breaks the fourth wall and tells a man in the audience that he is trying to hit his popcorn bag with one of the paddle-balls. When the paddle-ball moved toward the audience, the moment itself looked like it was filmed in 2D. The 3D in House of Wax comes across as an outdated gimmick that felt awkward and out of place.

A protagonist I can’t root for: More often than not, “revenge films” feature a protagonist who represents the opposite of the horrors committed against them. Eric Draven from The Crow is a perfect example. While he kills the villains who have wronged him and his fiancé, Shelly, Eric is fighting fire with fire when his city’s justice system is ineffective. He also chooses to keep his moral compass intact by helping those who are innocent. I won’t spoil House of Wax for those who haven’t seen it yet. But all I’ll say is that as time goes on, Henry throws away his moral compass and takes his mission too far. Because of this, I couldn’t bring myself to root for this character.

Scares that aren’t consistent: There are several moments in House of Wax that are truly unsettling to watch. Seeing Henry’s wax figures burning is just one of them. However, I expected the film to be much scarier than it was. The most terrifying moments happened toward the beginning and end of the movie. Everything in-between felt like a juggling act of darker and lighter moments. Right after Henry’s wax museum burns down, a happy dance party is shown. This feels like a major tonal shift from the ominous tone that was set up in the film’s opening scene.

1st Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon banner created by Kristen from KN Winiarski Writes.

My overall impression:

As a movie, House of Wax is good! It is a horror title that relies more on tone and atmosphere. But as a “revenge story”, I feel a film like The Crow does a better job at expressing that type of narrative. One major difference is how the character of Henry is not worth rooting for, as he abandons his moral compass within the course of the film. I found this to be a surprising choice for a Breen Code era film. While it doesn’t overpower the movie, the 3D aspect of the project did not work. It was obvious that 2D filmed moments were waiting for the 3D effect to kick in. Sadly, the 3D failed to show up. I would say House of Wax is an interesting choice for Halloween viewing, as it utilizes wax figures to provide elements of horror. It eliminates the use of blood/gore and has the ability to put the audience on edge.  

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

Have you seen House of Wax? Which film of Vincent Price’s is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Shock (1946) Review (Clean Movie Month #5)

It’s now the end of Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Clean Movie Month. For my second year participating, I’d say I did a pretty good job staying consistent with my content! Throughout July, I have reviewed five films; two from the ‘30s and three from the ‘40s. The film I will talk about in this review, Shock, is a part of those aforementioned five, boasting a release date from early 1946. This film was included in The Blog Complainer’s Random Movie Roulette series, which ended up being the best movie out of that collection. Because of Cameron’s review, I chose to include Shock in my Clean Movie Month line-up! While I usually watch movies from my DVR, cable, or through physical media, the only way I could watch this film is from Youtube, where it was posted on the Cult Cinema Classics channel. I’m glad I was able to watch it so I could bring you this review of Shock!

Shock poster created by 20th Century Fox. Image found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shock_movie_poster.jpg

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: So far, I have seen The Whales of August and House of the Long Shadows. Despite seeing a small amount of films from Vincent Price’s filmography, I noticed something different about his performance in Shock. In this film, the character of Dr. Richard Cross was terrifying because of his influence and choices. Vincent also expressed emotions in subtle ways. Good examples came from when Richard expressed fear anytime someone brought up his wife’s murder. This cast was so strong, even secondary characters were memorable! Even though his character, Mr. Edwards, was in the movie for a short amount of time, John Davidson did a good job with the acting material he was given! His performance was emotionally driven, as he didn’t rely on dialogue. It added intensity to one of the film’s suspenseful scenes. The one actor who stole the show was Anabel Shaw, who portrayed Janet Stewart. Her emotionality was on point in this film! One beautiful example is when Janet witnesses the murder.

The music: The music in Shock did a good job setting the tone throughout the story! Whenever a suspenseful scene played out, ominous or dramatic music was heard. In a scene featuring Richard and Elaine, a sweeping tune that would usually be heard in romance films served as background music. Musicality also boosted these scenes, with the strong percussion of that scene’s tune landing right on an intense moment. This helped the musical element of the project maintain a sense of consistency.

Moments of suspense: In Shock, suspense was included in a few scenes. Within these parts of the story, the suspense’s execution was well done! One example is when Mr. Edwards has a fight with Elaine. The build-up toward the moment itself was steady, like someone walking to their destination. The surroundings of the characters were dark and mysterious, which worked in the favor of that scene. Mr. Edwards’ lack of speech makes the audience question his motives. All of these elements effectively came together to create one of the best scenes in this film!

Clean Movie Month banner created by Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Image found at https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2020/07/01/cleanmoviemonth2020-is-here/.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Limited amount of suspense: As I previously mentioned, I liked the suspenseful scenes in this film. However, these scenes were very limited. When I read Cameron’s review of Shock, I believed the film would be similar to a story like Rear Window. In the Alfred Hitchcock picture, there was a consistent use of suspense, as the audience receives the mystery in pieces. Because the whodunit, howtheydunit, and whytheydunit of the mystery was revealed early on in Shock, it caused the story to not be as suspenseful as I thought it would be.

Under-utilized characters: A few under-utilized characters could be found in Shock. One of them was Mr. Edwards, who was featured in about three inter-connected scenes. Before these particular scenes appeared in the movie, Richard talks about Mr. Edwards’ mental regression, saying how the patient may need to be moved to a new facility. Because of these story-telling details, I was hoping Mr. Edwards would play a larger role in this story. Sadly, it just felt like he was in the film for the sake of being there.

A slower pace: Because Shock is classified as a film noir, the pace is going to be on the slower side. But most films in this specific genre have an under-lying suspense that consistently weaves through the overall narrative. Since the suspense in this film was limited, it caused the pace to be slower than it should have been, as the majority of the movie revolved around Janet’s prognosis. I’ve mentioned before that mysteries, more often than not, have faster paces. As I already said in this review, the mystery was revealed early in the story. This also prevented the pace from picking up speed.

Love of mental health image created by freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

All of the movies I chose for Clean Movie Month were enjoyable in their own respective ways. If I were to rank them, however, Shock and Goodbye, Mr. Chips would be tied toward the bottom of the list. Shock was a fine film, with memorable aspects that made me like the picture for what it was. Anabel Shaw’s performance was one of the best parts of this project, outshining bigger stars like Vincent Price. But some things in this movie held it back from being stronger. One of the movie’s biggest flaws was the limited amount of suspense. Because of this creative choice, the majority of the story felt like a drama than a film noir. Shock is a Breen Code friendly film. But I was surprised by the references of excessive alcohol use that were included in the script.  When Janet’s husband is asking about Richard’s medical credentials, one of the hotel’s employees says that Richard can cure a hangover. When an investigator working on Richard’s wife’s case is talking to Richard about a potential suspect, he tells Richard that the suspect is a “drunkard”. An excessive amount of alcohol use is never glorified or promoted in a typical Breen Code film. This is why I was shocked (yes, that word choice was intentional) to find these statements in a movie from 1946.

Overall score: 7 out of 10

What are your thoughts on this year’s Clean Movie Month? Are you excited for A Month Without the Code? Tell me in the comment section?

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: House of the Long Shadows Review

Vincent Price is an actor who has become as much of a household name as the Michael Jackson song he provided the voice-over for, Thriller. Prior to my involvement in the Vincent Price Blogathon, the only film of Vincent’s I have seen is one that is very different from what he is known for: The Whales of August. Last August (me reviewing The Whales of August in August was not intentional), I reviewed that film for the A Month Without the Code Blogathon. Even though I liked Vincent’s performance in that movie, I found the movie itself to be mundane. So, for this current blogathon, I wanted to watch one of Vincent’s films that contained more horror. When I discovered House of the Long Shadows, I was intrigued by the movie’s synopsis. For those of you who have visited my blog before, you would know I enjoy a good mystery from time to time. Because of this film’s mysterious nature, I had hopes to get, at least, some enjoyment out of this project!

House of the Long Shadows poster
House of the Long Shadows poster created by London-Cannon Films and Cannon. Image found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LongShadows.jpg

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Prior to watching House of the Long Shadows, I haven’t seen many of the projects from Desi Arnaz Jr.’s filmography. In fact, I’ve only watched his guest appearances on I Love Lucy and his special appearance on The Brady Bunch. Despite this, I was impressed with his lead performance in the film! His casual yet effortless acting style worked with how the character was written. Desi’s acting abilities fit the role of the protagonist, Kenneth Magee! I also liked Julie Peasgood’s portrayal of Mary Norton! Her expressions and emotions really highlighted the sense of urgency her character was experiencing. A scene where Julie sold me on what Mary was going through is when Mary first comes to the Manor to warn Kenneth of the unseen dangers he will face. Because this blogathon is dedicated to Vincent Price, his performance should not be overlooked. As I said in the introduction, the only other film of his that I’ve seen is The Whales of August. The great thing about House of the Long Shadows is how Vincent is given more material to work with as an actor. This allowed him and his character to have a more commanding presence!

 

The use of music: The music that can be heard in the film’s background does a really good job at keeping the movie’s tone consistent. Throughout Kenneth’s stay at the Manor, scores that sound mysterious, sinister, and even sad are played at various moments of the movie. At times when the tone changes, the music never skips a beat and adapts with the events of the story. A great example is when Kenneth is driving to the train station. When the weather is fair and the sky is sunny, light-hearted music can be heard during Kenneth’s drive. As soon as the skies turn dark and stormy, ominous music takes the place of the previous tune.

 

The element of mystery: For those who haven’t yet seen House of the Long Shadows, I won’t spoil the story. What I will say is the mystery element of the film was well-written! The narrative is presented in a way that allows the audience to solve the mystery alongside Kenneth and Mary. This creates an interactive and shared experience between the characters and the viewers. It also maintains a sense of intrigue throughout the movie. As the story unfolds, it makes the audience wonder what will happen next.

Terrified friends watching horror movie in cinema
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:

A limited use of horror: Vincent Price is an actor who is known for starring in horror-esque films. This detail made me believe House of the Long Shadows would be a horror movie. While there are elements of horror to be found, they primarily existed in the film’s second half. The story as a whole placed more emphasis on the element of mystery. This made the movie not as scary as I expected.

 

Diane and Andrew’s subplot: In House of the Long Shadows, there is a subplot involving a young couple named Diane and Andrew. They are in the area of the Manor due to a vacation gone wrong. While watching this movie, I found their subplot to not be integrated in the overall story as well as the other characters’ stories. If anything, it felt like it was there for the sake of being there.

 

The limited use of lighting: I understand the limited use of lighting was adopted to emphasis the atmosphere of the Manor. Where this succeeds on that regard, it also hides the beauty of the Manor itself. One of the most striking features of this location is the grand staircase. It had visually appealing details, such as the gold ornamentations along the iron bars of the stairs. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see this part of the Manor clearly because there was little to no lighting in this space.

Vincent Price Blogathon banner
The Vincent Price Blogathon banner created by Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry from Cinematic Catharsis. Image found at https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/2020/02/20/vincent-price-blogathon/

My overall impression:

Vincent Price: a name that is, more often than not, associated with projects featuring ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night. While this has become a part of Vincent’s legacy, it’s important to remember what he offered to the horror genre, as well as the world of film, as an actor. When I watched his performance in House of the Long Shadows, Vincent’s performance reminded me of Bela Lugosi’s performance in the 1931 film, Dracula! Even though both actors are on screen for a certain amount of time, they use their acting abilities to control the camera’s focus and command its undivided attention. As for the film itself, House of the Long Shadows is truly a hidden gem! Despite being different from what I expected, it’s a movie I think fans of mystery, horror and Vincent himself will enjoy! Maybe the final words of this review are nowhere near as memorable as Vincent’s closing monologue in Thriller. But they do have a special place in this post.

 

Overall score: 7.8 out of 10

 

Have you seen any of Vincent Price’s films? If so, which one is your favorite? Tell me in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen