My Horror Movie Top Ten – The Abominable Dr Phibes

Anyone who has read my ‘About’ page will know that I love Horror movies of a certain vintage. These ten are probably my favourite ten Horror movies of all time. Yes they were all made between 1930 and 1971 and I am not for one moment going to apologise for that. These films are all part of my own personal cultural heritage as much as Black Sabbath, Van der Graaf Generator or Hawkwind, and in their own way these films have a certain fantastical innocence that I feel the horror movie lost with The Exorcist in the mid 70s, much as music did with punk at around the same time.

Choosing my Top Ten was quite difficult, but I think I have the right mixture of monsters, actors and directors; Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll, the Mummy, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Terence Fisher, James Whale, Jacques Tourneur, are all there along with hopefully one or two surprises.

,As a teenager in the 1970s, so I suppose it was inevitable that I should love the stylish British made Horror movies of companies like Hammer, Amicus, Tigon and American International. They were as much a part of the period as T.Rex, Loon Pants and Ziggy Stardust. Released in 1971  The Abominable Dr Phibes starred Vincent Price as the disfigured car crash survivor who bumps off the medical team he holds responsible for his wife’s death. For an added dash of macabre fun the murders are themed upon the Plagues of Egypt  (even if some like the Plague of Lice are replaced by a Plague of Bats because bats just work better than lice) . An idea that recurs in the later Price chiller Theatre of Blood when the much mocked actor Edward Lionheart (Price) murders his critics according to William Shakespeare.

Set in 1925 the film was noted for it’s very stylish art deco set design, which is perfectly complemented by Basil Kirchin’s musical score. The director, Robert Fuest, had in the 1960s worked as a production designer on TV shows like The Avengers and his love of visual styling was clearly evident in the way he lovingly shot production designer Brian Eatwell’s sumptuous colour coordinated sets.

Aside from the stunning visual imagery what I like about the film is Price’s exuberantly camp performance as the murdering concert organist, which he pulls off without having to talk to camera. There is also a fine support cast of familiar British faces like Terry Thomas, Hugh Griffiths, Peter Gilmore and an uncredited Caroline Munro as Phibes’s embalmed wife Victoria. Phibes is part Bond villain and part Phantom of the Opera, I can’t help but think what fun could be had pitting him against David Suchet’s Poirot.

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