12/31/10

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

WHAT COULD BRING IN A HAPPIER NEW YEAR THAN... 

A jolly old film to bring out the new and bring in the old.  This Vincent Price masterpiece was recommended to me by one of the best horror movie critics out there and I put it on the back burner at first because the title seemed so ludicrous - even though I've never been unamused by anything starring Price.  Serves me damn right, this rocked!

Let us take a few minutes to give Vincent Price his due.  He is BAD ASS.  There are a lot of actors out there who fear being typecast into a specific role, and at times, Price was one of them.  Even though he was admittedly typecast into the dark twisted well-spoken villians or the dark twisted well-spoken victims, he did a damn good job at dark twisted and well-spoken.  So what if he got typecast?  He rocked the roles better than anyone else I could imagine in his place. 

How awesome is this guy?

- succeeded in oodles of high & low-budget films

- was well-known for memorizing not only his own lines, but also the lines of the other actors (aka, dude did his homework) 
 
- Yale educated (and not even bought in!)

- patron of the arts, so to speak: donated almost a hundred pieces to a college in the 50's to help their art program

- appeared in Thriller (here be hilarious audio session)

- appeared on The Brady Bunch (lol!)

- appeared on the Muppet Show (happy new year)

- appeared on The Lucy Show

- celebrity roasted Bette Davis 

- made an instructional video for Sear's Roebuck employees to sell another of his art collections? 

- managed to make TV commercials humorously reusable:
(Tilex, Easter Seals, Polaroid, Wine Coolers, Stay Alive, 3D Cameras, Nestle)


- did voice-over for Burton's Vincent, a short film (Edward Scissorhands, much?)


It is also worth noting that Price wrote at least two books when he wasn't busy being a horror tycoon.  One was an art book on American Art - he gives an interesting interview on Carson, more or less commenting that too many people confuse art with galleries and price tags.  The second was a cookbook entitled A Treasury of Great Recipes, written by him and his wife Mary.  Putting the Kitsch in kitchen.

In Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, you've got your classic horror dude triad of the 60's & 70's, which is in many ways my favorite film era because of the risks directors actors and designers took - stuff that doesn't necessarily look risky from the vantage point of now, but might not have happened if not for the originals.  This isn't to say that other decades aren't awesome (it's the recent stuff that's succeeding at actually scaring me the most - you know, when you're sitting there with your fingers plugged in your ears waiting for the thing to strike), but there was something obviously special about this time that makes me kind of envious of those who were young then (I wasn't borned yet).   I just like the colorization, the crazy half-method/half-classic hybrid acting, and the daring and possibly drug-induced plot twists.  

One of the problems with films in the last few decades is that while we can scare, there are pray few truly WEIRD gems - we often substitute succumbing to the weird with various unstable attempts at either being overly funny so that a huge audience of total morons can laugh at your stupified movie or being overly serious - since CGI can rationally make Jeff Bridges look 20 years younger (except his teeth) and you can always tack on another number to the end of The Ring and make people pee themselves at little girls with hair over their faces crawling out of televisions (the Ring wasn't that bad though, I'll admit).  We are afraid - no, terrified - of looking silly or stupid in front of an audience, and many films reflect that fear until it becomes a downfall.  The disease of taking oneself too seriously sets in (introduction to Overpaid Hollywood Actors 101).  But NOT TO WORRY FOLKS:  The Abominable Dr. Phibes is none of those things.  It is quite simply an opus of weirdness.  




I was caught by surprise by this fabulously self-aware tongue-in-cheek horror, which brought back from memory playfully-made stuff like The Prisoner and Help!.  For the first bit of the film, I was sitting there in half suspense, wondering what the hell was happening and whether or not the filmmakers were serious or joking, and the answer is really: both.  Dr. Phibes is a (for all intensive purposes 'dead') famous organist and scientist on a mission of vengeance.  He's also hideously deformed and speaks through a tube which he connects to various gramophones around his humble marbleized digs.  

Working with Phibes is his lovely sidekick "Vulnavia" (porn name much?) who carries out each task in total silence like a magician's assistant.  I would love to get my hands on her kick ass costumes, which are these 60-70's odd takes on 20's clothing and enough silly hats to make the pope jealous.  In some costumes, she looks angelic, and in others, she looks like a supervillian in the making.  
Although Vulnarnia Vulvana Vulvina Vulv.. Vulnavia is gorgeous and sleek and an interesting kind of straight-faced accomplice to the at-times laughable Price in all of his grandiosity, I was really confused about who the hell she was, or how an undead organist/scientist managed to get this hot chick working for him who doesn't say anything at all while he blowtorches life-sized wax busts and sorts brussel sprouts.  I mean did he stop by a school for hot and sadistic mute chicks on his way back from the undead? (note to self: start school for hot mute sadistic chicks - i'll be rich!!!!)  I thought she was his daughter or his dead wife or something, so that part could have been a little more clear than just re-using a Bond girl for sidekick's sake.  

I was also simultaneously amused and confused by the death scenes in this movie.  While the murders plotted and executed by Phibes and the lovely Vulvarnia Velveeta Vulva Vulnavia are hysterically ingenious and varied, I was bewildered at how all of the victims just froze where they stood and let the killings happen (with exception to the "unicorn" death - my favorite - that guy had no heads up and neither did the audience - don't worry, I didn't spoil it for you).  I thought they could have invested a bit more time into the whole 'struggle' idea.  I don't know anyone with working arms and legs who would just sit there and let themselves be devoured by vampire bats without at least attempting to get up and run. 


But then again, this film is what it is, a total horror joyride with a cast that obviously had a metric buttload of fun in the creative process.  Price supposedly had to repeatedly have his make-up reapplied because he kept laughing so hard during the filming.  I will be the first to admit that I have repeatedly misjudged Vincent Price as a total stock character of himself, and to a degree I'm not entirely wrong: the truth is that nobody does Price better than Price and there will never be another like him.  He has yet to disappoint me in a role.  I should have queued this movie up long ago, but I'm glad I finally did. 


WTF = 21 
W =  7
T = 7
F = 7


OMG: action figure desire -------------------->
(Vincent Price Masque of the Red Death)


And now, for your New Year's Eve enjoyment, the movie - follow links in 10 parts!
(one of the BEST opening scenes ever!)







4 comments:

  1. Vincent Price is cheesy. I had no idea he'd been in all those commercials or wrote a cookbook. But I'll give you this movie. There's a trippy kind of sense of humor in it that you just don't get in horror movies any more. Regardless I don't think he's half as good as Christopher Lee IMO.

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    Replies
    1. You are a moron.

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  2. UnicornBeatsNarwhal1/24/11, 7:19 PM

    I think I'm in love with that Vincent Price doll. The face is so intricately carved! I'm asking for that for xmas. I think he also did a battleship commercial too. :)

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  3. the second one is even more ridiculous than the first. hope to see a review of that one too!

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