Vincent Price was a truly glorious screen presence. Never recognised by any major award ceremonies due to the snobbery shown toward the genres he mainly worked in, he brought a level of half-serious, half-comedic gravitas to a whole host of horror B-movies, elevating them from pulpy nonsense to something approaching high art. His early 50s stuff like House of Wax and The Fly stand out from their many similar contemporaries thanks to his committed, fearless sincerity, the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he did with Roger Corman (particularly House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of the Red Death) remain the definitive cinematic versions of Poe, and his later work like Theatre of Blood crossed over into tremendously enjoyable camp.

The first Dr Phibes film falls into the latter territory, and follows a vaguely similar plot – rather than a scorned actor killing off his critics one by one, this has a former surgeon killing off the doctors who botched the operations on his wife, each murder themed to one of the ten biblical plagues of Egypt. While that may sound like utter trash, it’s made into something much more than that through Price’s performance, some inventively stylised production design and some truly pitch black humour that embraces its melodramatic themes. There might be clunky lines galore, and the intense score is frequently jarring (perhaps intentionally so), but this is a film so sure of itself that you can’t help but be taken in by the fairground horror and grand guignol excess.

Gloriously OTT, art deco-inspired set design9
Wonderfully macabre British sense of humour9
Vincent Price doing a spot-on parody of Vincent Price10
An utterly ridiculous and at times baffling script5
Flagrant sexism and tinges of exploitation4
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I can't remember a scene where they talk to each other
7Overall Score

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