Running Time: 95 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Format: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Languages: English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: None
Region: 1
MSRP: $14.95

Own It!
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price had three superior periods as a horror movie star. The first was in the ‘50s, when he starred in such cheesy William Castle flicks as House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler. In the ‘60s came the famous faux-Edgar Allen Poe ‘adaptations’ he made with Roger Corman. Then in the ‘70s he starred in some enduring black comedies. The Abominable Dr. Phibes and especially Theater of Blood are mini-classics, with Dr. Phibes Rises Again remaining a more than decent sequel.

The British seems to have a better feel for this sort of thing, probably because their actors tend to be more understated and shaded in their performances. The film follows the adventures of anti-hero Anton Phibes. Phibes apparently perished in a fiery car accident while rushing to a hospital to be with his injured wife. She herself would also die on the operating table.

Years later, a series of improbably grotesque and baroque deaths begin to occur. The police are at a loss as the bodies begin to pile up, victimized by bats and bees and other bizarre like. One fellow is even found frozen to death on a summer’s day inside his car. Eventually the pieces fall together: Phibes, a mechanical genius, is indeed alive (sort of), and is wreaking his revenge on those he believes responsible for his wife’s death. His methods are based on the ten Biblical plagues that God visited on Egypt.

I can’t really stress how much fun this film is. As with all successful horror-comedies, this one works in both directions. The acting is top-notch, the script clever and the direction inspired. And for a film that undoubtedly sported a comparatively meager budget, it looks downright sumptuous. If you ever want a good handle on what the word ‘droll’ means, this film is the very definition.

Afforded a widescreen enhanced transfer, the picture is quite beautiful and ably reflects the lushness of the production. The sound is equally good.

Only the film’s trailer is included here, but it’s a doozy. It’s pretty elaborate, in fact, so you might want to watch the film before viewing it.

I’d like to take a second to commend MGM on their cult DVD output. They have come under much criticism for releasing a slew of bareboned discs. All I can say, speaking as a veteran of the twenty-year reign of the VHS tape, is that DVD fans have apparently gotten way too spoiled way too fast.

While companies like Warner Brothers sit on huge catalogs of films and seemingly release discs with an eyedropper — at this rate it’ll be a decade before even outright classic WB movies like Them! and The Thing From Another World are released -- MGM is putting out a veritable flood of enjoyable schlock with often gorgeous, (usually) widescreen transfers and selling them for a pittance. With a MSRP of only $15, discs like this one can often be found on the web selling for under twelve or even ten dollars.

Compare this with the Image’s prolific Wade Williams collection of ‘50s and ‘60s sci-fi schlock. Don’t get me wrong, I love their stuff. Even so, they are equally bereft of extras and generally bare at a MSRP of $25, ten bucks higher than the MGM stuff. Yet they haven’t come under nearly as much criticism by fans. Meanwhile, stuff like The Things With Two Heads, never even released on VHS, will soon be released in editions so superior to video that’s there no comparison and at a price half of what tapes in their heyday ever sold for.

Ken Begg, 4/26/2001