One may not appreciate it on the first viewing, but The Abominable Dr. Phibes is walking a treacherous high-wire act.
As a sort of horror / comedy film, the movie already has its work cut out for it. Play too much towards the comedic edge and you run the risk of receiving groans or eye-rolls from the audience. Whereas if you push harder on the horrific aspects of the story, you will effectively lose any chances for comedic opportunities in the story. What’s more, with Vincent Price’s character of the titular Dr. Phibes framed as an early slasher villain, the formula of quirky kills could quickly become repetitive.
But impressively, Dr. Phibes pulls off this challenge with grace. With a welcome injection of dry, playful British wit and ample wordplay set against Price’s gleefully over-the-top villain, one can’t help but appreciate this darkly camp approach to a slasher film.
Perhaps what keeps the film somewhat grounded is that despite its unabashedly silly premise and delivery, Dr. Phibes himself is presented as a tragic, albeit absurd, character who is carrying out his plot for reasons that the viewer can easily connect with. Despite the wackiness that runs throughout the proceedings, there is a bleak and desperate romantic quality that seeps in as well.
In effect, The Abominable Dr. Phibes delivers a remarkable blend of grim and playful material that spiritually links to later movies of this same caliber such as Evil Dead 2 in its execution – a piece that serves just as effective for those looking for a unique horror film as it does for those who are in the mood for a darkly offbeat comedy.
Rating: 4 out of 5