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Vincent Price is going to kill you.

Well, that's not completely true.  You know, because he passed away due to lung cancer back in 1993...but if he WAS alive I'm sure he'd murder you something awful.  Man, what a way to start an article.  I've already declared that I'm going to make fun of someone who's dead, thereby painting everything else in a somber tone.  Sorry about that.  What we're going to talk about day has a lot to do with the later years of Vincent Price and a small film series that is phenomenally awesome, deeply influential to the horror genre, and positively retarded all at the same time.  All the movies we're going to talk about today came out years before I was born but they all have one thing in common:  Vincent Price embarrasses himself in all of them.  The problem with genre icons (like Price) is that anyone into horror KNOWS that Vincent Price was one of the greats.  But when we look back at our own experience, what comes to mind.  Pictured to the left is the very best Vincent Price movie I can recommend.  It was made much earlier than what I'm really here to talk about but it went by the name:  House on Haunted Hill.  It's a really good ghost story/murder mystery film that is one of the few films that I won't give away the ending.  Well, maybe I will.  If you hate spoilers, don't highlight the following text.  The reason House on Haunted Hill is so awesome is that it's a ghost story where, when you see the strings that are making the skeleton walk around (and you laugh at the cheesy special effect) you later find out that it WAS a cheesy special effect that Vincent Price uses to murder his wife.  The fact that there are ALSO "real" ghosts in the story only adds more to the depth of the film.  And hell, the film doesn't really end.  The final moments are literally taken up by a crazy drunk rambling about how they still have several hours until sunrise and that the ghosts are coming to kill them all.  The end.  How great is that?

Man.  If you hate spoilers that has GOT to be the epitome of temptation.  My point is that Vincent Price definitely made a lot of good horror movies.  I mean, he's Vincent Price.  He's one of THE great horror actors from the last century.  That doesn't mean that by the late 1960's mistakes weren't made (or that double negatives weren't not never posted on the site ever).    I'm going to quickly walk you through 15 amazing murders done by one of Vincent Price's unremembered character. (Well, he is rather well known, but not to many people under the age of forty, admittedly.)  I am, of course, talking about Dr. Phibes.  Did I mention that he's abominable?

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

When a movie's tagline reads "Love means never having to say you're ugly", you know you're in for something out there.  I know it's nothing new for me to say, but Dr. Phibes is a really weird movie.  As in, it's weird by my standards.  They included the original trailer for the film on the DVD and it shows that the film (and its sequel) were marketed as horror movies.  The problem is that when you watch this, you don't know if you're supposed to laugh or look deep within and analyze what is going on in front of you.  Someone would say that Dr. Phibes is very symbolic.  Other people, the kind that create goofy websites where they review terrible old movies, would tell you that Dr. Phibes is about a guy who gets horribly disfigured in a car crash and starts murdering the people who were indirectly responsible for his wife's death.  That's a gross over simplification.  While this article is more or less here to list the murders of Dr. Phibes, a little explanation of the strangeness is indeed required. 

Vincent Price dresses up like an elderly Captain Kangaroo and can only talk by plugging his neck into a phonograph.  He's got a hole on the other side of his neck...this one's for eating and drinking.  If you ever wanted to see a film where Vincent Price drinks wine through a hole in his neck, congratulations.  You've found what you've been looking for.  You sick, sick bastard.

By the end of the film they do unmask Dr. Phibes (which isn't a big deal because he appears on the cover like this, after all).  It's not that spectacular, but it IS Vincent Price in Zombie make-up.  Considering how we'll see him cross-dressing as a Nun by the end of this article, I figured it'd only be fair to share zombie-Price while I still could.  Dr. Phibes (the character) is apparently a mechanical and medical genius.  This is best represented by his greatest invention:

...people in plastic masks pretending to be robots that pretend to play musical instruments.

I warned you this film was weird.  The other thing that you should know is that I could argue that The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a musical.  A bizarre horror-comedy-musical.  How else would you describe a violent but goofy film where the villain has a wind-up band that plays music that he can dance to every five minutes?  Of course, there are other signs besides the "robots".

I don't know if it's cool or disturbing, but when the windows of your car have a picture of you sitting inside the car (as opposed to being windows), there is definitely something wrong with you.

Check out Phibes' phone.  The whole plot of the first movie is that he must avenge the death of his wife.  But, as you can tell by the fact that he put her face on the rotary dial, he's a little obsessed.  Like "oh my dear departed wife, look at the tattoo of you I got on my ass" kind of obsession.  Not that I...err...know a lot about men getting tattoos on their hind quarters.  I'm not sure why I thought that'd be something you all could relate to.  Don't worry Neil, no one knows our secret.  :whew:

The final chunk of weirdness is Vulnavia.  Vulnavia (besides having a Romanian version of the word Vulva for  name) is the attractive henchwoman of Dr. Phibes.  She doesn't talk and she pretty much walks around in expensive dresses and helps Dr. Phibes keep the secret lair clean.  When you watch the movie, it's pretty obvious that Vulnavia was supposed to be a robot or something, but since it's never established in the actual film, you're sort of left to believe that a very young and very attractive mute woman who was eternally devoted to a faceless older man who couldn't get over the loss of his wife.  In the end she's accidentally killed by acid, but since she sort of comes back in the sequel, I'm not going to talk about that.  Instead, let's get on with the murders of Dr. Phibes.  They are rather spectacular, in their own retarded WHAT THE HELL AM I WATCHING kind of way.  Keep in mind that back in the 1970's this was supposed to be scary.  It's a weird testament to how we've changed as a society when simple acts of malicious evil end up being really comical.  Trust me, you'll understand in a minute.

Death by Bats:

Dr. Phibes sneaks a bird cage filled with giant (vampire) bats into the bedroom of one of his victims.  This isn't a bad way to start the movie, as we get to see a guy lift up the sheets to find phenomenally large fruit bats crawling up over his groin.

Death by Mechanical Frog Mask:

Now, the point of clever murders in horror films is to impress upon you just how clever the villain is.  In this case, the film really, really doesn't explain how we got to this scene.  Dr. Phibes' victim is invited to a costume party, only he isn't told that it's a costume party.  When he arrives at the door, a butler (Phibes in a masquerade mask) gives him a jeweled frog mask that will eventually strangle him as he wears it.  The thing is, did Dr. Phibes organize this party, or did a costume party happen to be going on that week?  Did he go through his victim's mail and forge an invitation that didn't mention that it was a costume party?  Did he kill the original butler so he could take his place and be guaranteed the opportunity to give his victim the deadly mechanical mask?  :deep breath:  If you're the kind of person who is bothered with questions such as these, you need to get out more.  It's a movie.  It doesn't have to make sense.

All you have to understand is that Dr. Phibes built a mask that strangles anyone who wears it.  First robots, now this.  The man truly is a genius.  I wonder what other bits of cleverness he has for us.

Death by Catapult-launched Bronze Unicorn Head

Oooooookay.  Laugh once at the victim's "Oh My God, I am like totally dead" expression so we can move on.

Death by a 6-pack of Blood:

The fact that Vincent Price uses his robot to seduce a fellow and then drains him of his blood isn't that weird.  In fact, it's kind of creepy.  What's less than creepy is this:

Ignoring the religious symbolism, you're looking at a six-pack of blood cola.  No medicinal jars, no surgeon basins...You're looking at a mans' blood in easy-to-slam bottles. Thank you Dr. Phibes.  I'll have cherry-flavored if you don't mind.

Death by Rats....(sort of)

If you've noticed that Dr. Phibes is using a biblical plague theme in all his murders, you're much more religious than you want to admit.  Here, Dr. Phibes calls upon a plague of rats to avenge his wife's murder.  Let's see how it goes.

"My I'm a good pilot.  I love flying my plane into the blue sky.  Say, what's that down there?"

"OH MY GOD, DOCTOR PHIBES PLANTED A RAT BOMB IN MY PLANE THAT'S NOW DISPENSING ARMIES OF RATS THAT ARE BENT ON EATING ME ALIVE.  IF ONLY SAMUEL JACKSON HADN'T KILLED ALL THE SNAKES ON THIS GOD-DAMN PLANE, THEIR NUMBERS WOULD BE HELD IN CHECK.  OH GOD, WHAT ARE THEY DOING NOW?"

"Well, they're gnawing at my crotch.  There's really nothing to do but crash the plane.  Goodbye genitalia and goodbye world!"

Death by Magic Freezing Machine:

As previously established, Dr. Phibes kills someone with a magic freezing machine.  That freezes them.  Let's move on.

Death by Brussel Sprouts:

While a lot of this movie goes to great lengths to just be weird (I'm not even going to mention the zany comedic performance of the jeweler for instance), the scene where Dr. Phibes sits around boiling brussel sprouts stands out in my mind as one of the weirdest.  He also has a bucket of grasshoppers.  Of course it all comes together in the next scene:

Oh.  His victim is sleeping...and doesn't wake up when he pours liquid brussel sprouts all over her face.  Interesting fact about brussel sprouts:

If you wear them on your face, locusts will eat all the flesh from your bones in a matter of minutes without waking you up.  They're like piranhas, if piranhas ate brussel sprouts that had been lathered all over your body.  Oh and they'll also turn your hair grey for some reason.  They're evil like that.

Death by...Hey, did you see the movie Saw?

If you like the movie series "Saw", then you might find this final (attempted) murder really, really, REALLY familiar.

Dr. Phibes:  "You can see by the x-ray that the key to your son's restraints has been placed dangerously close to his heart.  You will have 6 minutes to operate on him and remove it.  If you don't free him in that time, this horrible acid will pour through the ceiling and melt off his face."

So, well...yeah.  The final death from Dr. Phibes is pretty much the overt inspiration for the "Saw" film series.  It's kind of interested to see narrative tricks show up as the core gimmick of another film made decades later.  Of course I would call Saw a drama/horror, while Doctor Phibes is this weird wannabe horror/musical/comedy. 

Oh and just in case you were curious, in the end Dr. Phibes embalms himself and seals himself in a tomb with his dead wife.   The end. 

....or is it?

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

I've already wasted many, many words on the ideas behind unnecessary sequels.  Furthermore, I've expounded far too much on sequels that effectively change what happened in the last movie (The Matrix Series, for example, sort of ignores the ending of the 1st movies for some reason).  Here, when the planets are in alignment, Dr. Phibes' machines bring him back to life so that he can travel to the temple he built in Egypt around a river that gives eternal life to whoever travels down it.  So instead of being about revenge, Dr. Phibes is acting upon a mastermind scheme to bring his wife back to life.  This all sort of implies that Dr. Phibes explored Egypt, discovered a lost temple, and then installed the temple with robots and a mechanical snake swimming pool (don't ask) BEFORE he went crazy because of the death of his wife.
Note to self:  Stop trying to make sense of movies.  Nothing good can come of it.

Forgive me while I beat a dead horse:  Look at the picture above.  Apparently when Dr. Phibes was SANE he build a cardboard pyramid on top of a swimming pool (note the ladder) and redecorated the Egyptian tomb with the help of Liberace. 

Oh and remember Vulvanavia?  Instead of being a robot (or even being played by the same actress), Dr. Phibes summons here from the ethereal plane to come to his assistance.  They dance and mildly grope each other, making me wonder if Mrs. Phibes had some sort of open marriage arrangement and Vulnavia was their "housemaid/houseguest/lovemonkey" or something like that.  Of course now she's a ghost made of pure energy in the form of a scantily-clad woman, so all bets are off.  Did I mention the Dr. Phibes movies are weird yet?

And now, let's get to the Deaths.  The motivation for these murders is not vengeance against those that killed Dr. Phibes' wife.  Rather in this one everyone who falls victim to Vincent Price's shenanigans does so because they're after the river of eternal life that is going to bring his wife back to life.  Almost all of these murders could have been prevented by Dr. Phibes telling the archeologists that the secret temple is his freaking Summer home, but that wouldn't make for a good movie.

Death by Snake Diversion followed by Deadly Telephone

Try to keep up.  The first murder in this one is pretty out there and unnecessarily complicated.  I'll show it in reverse order, so that we can better understand the inner workings of Dr. Phibes' mind.

Dr. Phibes has designed a telephone that will stab you through the brain when you pick it up.  Now that he's invented this device, he needs to figure out some clever way of tricking someone into PICKING UP A TELEPHONE.  If you're a normal person, this might sound a lot like tricking someone into opening a door or flushing the toilet....but to Dr. Phibes this presents a complicated problem. 

So he builds a mechanical snake.

He engineers a mechanical snake that is OBVIOUSLY mechanical once it is attacked.  While the victim studies the mechanical snake that looks very real, he sees across the table...another snake (the snake is a python, but apparently people in the 1970's didn't think they sold these things in pet stores or that anyone would recognize them).  The "not a python" has something strange on it's body:

The man picks up the snake laughing...until he notices the cheap scotch tape that's holding the wind-up device onto the body of a real snake.  As if on cue, the snake (which is NOT a python, nope, not at all) bites the man, injecting its deadly venom into his veins.  The man screams and runs to the telephone so that he can call an ambulance so that he doesn't die from the snake bite. 

And then the telephone sticks a metal spike through his brain.

I swear, it takes a special kind of genius to come up with that convoluted a plan to make someone pick up a telephone. And I do mean special.

Death by Strangulation:

Apparently Dr. Phibes was a little self-conscious about the last murder, so he decided the research budget couldn't afford another mechanical serpent fiasco.  As such, he simply strangles one of the archeologists and throws them off the cruise liner the cast is taking to Egypt.

Death by Trained Attack Eagle:

Maybe this is to make up for a continuity issue, but in the first film Dr. Phibes had an eagle next to his throne.  So it totally makes sense that a spastic, easily-panicked explorer gets murdered by one.  Total sense.

Death by...I...err...scorpions.

Dr. Phibes is either getting creative or he's run out of ideas and he's just randomly stringing scenes from other movies together until something sticks.

Phase 1:  Vulvanation seduces one of the archeologists with the promise of sex.  She lures him with her bosoms and modest attire.

Phase 2:  Once the man is trapped in the scorpion chair and cannot move his arms properly, we show him the key that will set him free and leave it in a ceramic dog piggy bank that he can easily reach.

Phase 3:  Now that he's broken open the dog to retrieve the key, the scorpions that were also waiting inside the dog will be unleashed and extremely angry (possibly about being trapped inside a dog piggy bank) so as to sting him until he dies.

Phase 4:  Rejoice in the genius of Dr. Phibes.

Gah.  I swear, if I was Dr. Phibes henchman, I think I'd just be beating these people with a crowbar instead of following out his plans.  "To do today:  Devise a mechanical scorpion chair, buy scorpions & piggy bank shaped like a dog, purchase scorpion food so that scorpions don't starve while waiting inside the dog piggy bank."  Of course if I was Dr. Phibes' henchman I don't know if I'd still wear Vulnavia's flowery dresses, but I'm not going to rule anything out until I see the benefits package that comes with the job.

Death by Sausage Machine:

While everyone is sleeping, Dr. Phibes puts one of the cast inside a giant sausage machine that crushes him until he comes out as....sausages.  To cover up his screams, Dr. Phibes goes to Hollywood to purchase a necessary prop.

You have to like a movie that shows you the giant fan that the movie industry uses to simulate strong winds in films to SIMULATE A STRONG WIND in the film. There's something deep to be said about that, but ultimately we're watching Vincent Price take two steps off-camera so that we can see how the movie studios do it.

Death by Sand Blaster:

Man #1:  "Oh my.  It seems that Dr. Phibes filled the air conditioning with sand.  If only he hadn't turn it to "high" the flesh wouldn't have been blasted right off his face.  Dr. Phibes is truly a clever opponent."

Man #2:  "Are you sure he didn't just bludgeon our friend and put a plastic skull and some sand in our car?  I mean, this is retarded....plus I think he's just screwing with us."

:sound of Dr. Phibes bludgeoning Man #2 with a pipe:

Death by Magic Elixir of Life (or the opposite of what I just typed):

One of the characters apparently has been using water from the river of eternal life to keep himself young, and needs to go down the river or he'll start to age.  Dr. Phibes locks him out, singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" as he pushes his gondola & his dead wife down the river to a happy ending all their own.  So while Dr. Phibes wins in the end and it's implied he succeeds in bringing his wife back to life, the film really ends with this:

...one of the characters you didn't care about rapidly aging until he's nothing but a skeleton.  I don't think this counts as one of Dr. Phibes' murders, but it is how the Dr. Phibes movies end. 

Bonus:

 Other films that feature Vincent Price Murdering People in Bizarre and possibly Retarded Ways!

Dr. Goldfoot & the Bikini Machine (1965)

&

 Dr. Goldfoot & the Girl Bombs (1966)

Yes, you read that right.  In the 1960's, Vincent Price starred in a couple of slapstick comedies that were pretty much all about showing off girls wearing golden bikinis.  In the first one he has a machine that builds women while in the sequel he builds robotic girls that EXPLODE WHEN SOMEONE KISSES THEM.  So he's the evil Doctor Goldfoot who's sending robotic women to make-out with important politicians so that they'll explode.  Thank you, Mario Bava, director of classic horror films such as Planet of the Vampires and Black Sunday.  This truly is something to be remembered for.

While the above picture pretty much sums up the point of the Dr. Goldfoot movies, I need to point out the assistant standing behind Vincent there is playing a character named "Handjob".  And while the Internet Movie Database assures me the character's name was Hardjob, I've listened to the audio of this film so many times I'd bet money that while he had one name on paper, everyone called him the much funnier but horrible name anyway.  Because when Vincent Price uses the word handjob in a sentence, you tend to pay attention.

You also pay attention when Vincent Price cross-dresses as a nun to confound the police.  If you ever want to see Vincent Price in drag, as a nun, and doing a scary but flirty woman's voice, then I totally suggest renting "Dr. Goldfoot & the Girl Bombs".  Just don't get too excited about it.  If your friends figure out you've got a "Vincent Price in women's clothing" fetish, you'll never hear the end of it.  Trust me on this.

Bonus #2:

Death by Shakespeare!

 

Theater of Blood (1972)

When I said "Death by Shakespeare", I wasn't joking.  All of the murders in this movie are taken straight from Shakespeare's plays, and are performed while Vincent Price (often in costume) recites the appropriate lines from the play in question.  This film is, as was Dr. Phibes, a weird horror/comedy, a trend I see in a lot of "scary" movies from the early 1970's.  Vincent Price plays a Shakespearean actor who everyone thought was dead but has returned (like Dr. Phibes only this time he still has the skin on his face) to kill the theatre critics who mocked his performance and cheated him of a theatrical award.

Oh and he befriends an army of hippy homeless people who help him commit his crimes.  So we've got Vincent Price in theatrical make-up reciting Shakespeare while hippies and bums snicker and drool.  As you can imagine, it's something you don't easily forget.  Speaking of things you don't easily forget...

If you're familiar enough with Titus Andronicus, you might already know where this is going.  Say hi to theatre critic, Meredith Merridew, who loves his poodles more than anything else in the world.  In fact, he often calls them "his babies."  Again if you know the work in question, what comes next really shouldn't surprise you. 

Nope, you shouldn't be surprised at all when Vincent and his homeless friends hold down Mr. Merridew and force-feed him pieces of his beloved poodles.  This IS something that happened in the original Shakespeare (minus the "holding down" part).  Makes you wish they'd teach THAT on in High School, doesn't it?

Thank you, Theatre of Blood, for showing me two decapitated poodle heads.  Oddly enough, this was the freakiest thing that I saw in all my "Vincent Price is horribly murdering people" movie marathon.  I attribute this to the fact that, even though their eyes are gone and they're DEAD poodles, they're still cute and almost cuddly. 

Obviously I have problems.

On that note, I think I better stop typing.  I hope you've enjoyed a quick look at what Vincent Price shouldn't be remembered for.

-jared

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Copyright 2006 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman.  It depends.  Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.

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