The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest / Great Britain, 1971):

A sardonic wink, back at The Phantom of the Opera and ahead toward Phantom of the Paradise, with The Avengers as structure and plenty of Franju in the mix. Vincent Price is Phibes, natch, first spotted in a black leather cape set off against the glowing scarlet pipes of his organ, a cut to reveal an entire orchestra of life-sized, windup automatons doling out '20s jazz -- the "Clockwork Wizards," just one of the elements in the underground refuge, shabby American International studios reimagined as British Art Deco. Vengeance is afoot, a gallery of doctors targeted by curses culled out of the Old Testament, modernized to fit Price's macabre scheme. Tropical bats feast on one sleeping fellow, while Terry-Thomas' night off with stag one-reelers is interrupted so that eight jars can be filled with his blood; rats, locusts, ice, and impalement by brass-unicorn follow. Rabbi Hugh Griffith lays out the pharaoh connection (to pay off later in mummy love) to Scotland Yard inspectors Peter Jeffrey and Derek Godfrey, yet the reason is plain to Phibes, who gazes at his wife's portrait and, via jugular-to-gramophone tube, murmurs: "Nine killed you... nine shall die." Director Robert Fuest remembers the young Welles' baroque joke about the film studio set as an oversized toy-train set, so Joseph Cotten is introduced playing with an electric pack; other luxurious gags include the frog curse evoked at a costume party with an amphibious mask tightening around the victim's neck (a handheld POV is drenched crimson as the pop is heard), deadpan Virginia North as Price's nonspeaking assistant, fetchingly decked in Cossack duds, and His and Hers sarcophaguses, "Over the Rainbow" ushering in eternity, or at least the sequel. With Sean Bury, Susan Travers, David Hutcheson, Edward Burnham, Alex Scott, and Norman Jones.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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