Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, Robert Fuest)

Ah, Vincent Price. Widely known as one of the greatest actors and called a “national treasure” by some, he is truly awesome. In the 1971 schlock cult classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Mr. Price gives a performance worthy of such praise; the surprising aspect of this role is that he hardly speaks at all, with his voice filtered through a microphone of sorts. No, he lets the murderous doctor and famous concert organist’s actions “speak” for themselves, and in the process delivers a juicy part that is sinister, creepy, and monstrous while still remaining a bit sympathetic.

Meanwhile, the British Inspector Trout finds himself dealing with a rash of odd and cruel murders, as doctors who shared a single operation are dropping like flies. Men are killed by bees, frozen like popsicles, drained of blood-and that’s just a sampling of the crazy deaths that happen in this film. Assisted by the lovely yet speechless Vulvia, Dr. Phibes plays dead while raining down his Old Testament inspired vengeance, with his methods coming strictly from the 10 plagues that God imposed upon ancient Egypt.

While the plot itself is nicely inspired and consists of gothic horror and dark comedy, the film has other great attributes. The set design, particularly Phibes’ mansion, is absolutely stunning and colorful. I loved how he has his own little wind up mechanical band, and the organ which he plays in the style of The Phantom of the Opera is vivid, lively, and awe-inspiring. Furthermore, I loved that the director brought in Orson Welles’ old acting buddy Joseph Cotton to play the head surgeon who is forced to go on the offensive with Trout; the two of them have a decent rapport even though early on the film establishes the relationship between Trout and the policeman assisting him.

Another wonderful aspect of the film is its humor, which often pops up unexpected and therefore is even funnier than it really should be. Like I mentioned before, what we have is relatively dark, dry, black comedy that draws from the murder and violence that Dr. Phibes has in ample spades. One of the killings is actually so incredibly silly that it becomes humorous right off the bat, and the expressions of Trout and his assistant make the mood even more laughable.

Proudly displaying an eerie and strange finale that is also oddly touching, this picture is one of the highlights of the 70s horror scene. Price was truly one hell of an actor, and the films that he often was a part of are sadly long gone relics of an older age. 90

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Brood (1979, Cronenberg)

Despite not being as good as, say, Videodrome, I wonder if I'll see a movie from Cronenberg that is as nasty as this one. Combing disturbing murders with some rather truly gross moments, this is a movie that covers rage in Croneberg's usual style of the mind-body horror that is his bread and butter. Sure also helps that this was his way of covering his rather messy divorce, which I'm sure didn't help make his art any happier or less misogynistic, although I'm not sure this movie really hates on women. Breaking up leads to people creating some rather bleak things, I suppose.

From the outset, the viewer discovers that Oliver Reed's arrogant psychologist is going beyond the limits of science in an attempt to "Cure" his patients of their problems. However, he has become obsessed primarily with the protagonist's wife, who has intense rage problems and is too quick to blame everyone and anyone for the way she is. Unfortunately in this case, that leads to the creation of freaky deformed monsters that emerge from her and become her very own "Children," therefore body mutation results.

But if you thought the body mutation in Videodrome or Scanners was beyond insane, what happens to the wife is something straight out of a demented nightmare. Not only is there a murder scene that manages to be rather starling for being something out of a low budget 70s horror movie, but also the movie's climax is enough to unsettle most jaded fans of the genre. Nasty doesn't even begin to cover what ends up happening, and I'm not even sure I really understand what transpires.

The fact remains though that in some ways Cronenberg is wary of science gone amok, or at least he may feel that some protective measures need to be put in place. The Brood isn't so much a movie about a woman's violent impulses that manifest in murderous mutant monsters (try saying that three times fast), but is rather a mediation upon the dangers of pushing something too far. In addition to existing as a way of cleansing the feelings of someone who went through all too common experience-divorce. 88