November 4th, 2009


The Abominable Dr. Phibes vs. Theater of Blood

The horror-comedy The Abominable Dr. Phibes was on Turner Classic Movies on Halloween. I recorded it on DVR and watched it Monday night. Then, last night, a bunch of us--me, my girlfriend, awv2006, jwirenius and some other friends--went to the Film Forum in lower Manhattan to see the horror-comedy Theater of Blood. Watching both films back to back like that, it quickly occurred to me that they're actually exactly the same movie. The evidence:

The Plot
Phibes: Vincent Price stars as Dr. Phibes, a musician and theologist who is driven mad by the death of his wife and plots to kill the doctors who couldn't save her
Theater: Vincent Price stars as Edward Lionheart, an actor who is driven mad by not winning the Critics Circle Award and plots to kill the critics who voted against him

Theme Killings
Phibes: Deaths based on the ten plagues of Egypt
Theater: Deaths based on famous murders from Shakespeare plays

Villain Believed to Be Long Dead By the Victims as Red Herring
Phibes: Check--Phibes thought burned to death in a car accident while racing to hospital after news of wife's death
Theater: Check--Lionheart thought dead by suicide attempt in front of critics on the award night

The Victims
Phibes: All the doctors are cartoonish buffoons except their leader, played by Joseph Cotten
Theater: All the critics are cartoonish buffoons except their leader, played by Ian Hendry

Villain's Sexy Female Assistant
Phibes: Vulnavia, played by Virginia North (connection to Phibes unknown)
Theater: Edwina, played by Diana Rigg (Lionheart's daughter)

Phibes: Bumbling but ultimately heroic
Theater: Bumbling but ultimately heroic

Villain's Ridiculously Obvious Secret Hideout
Phibes: Big mansion in plain view of everyone that's completely outfitted for Phibes' needs, including a pipe organ, an elevator and working electricity, where much time is spent dancing with his female assistant
Theater: Big abandoned theater in plain view of everyone that's completely outfitted for Lionheart's needs, including a working sound system and electricity, where much time is spent rehearsing Shakespeare with his female assistant

Villain's Silent but Appreciative Audience
Phibes: Robotic musicians created by Phibes
Theater: Local winos turned Lionheart's henchmen

Face Makeup
Phibes: Phibes, a burn victim, wears makeup in order to look his old self, including a fake nose
Theater: Lionheart, a ham actor, wears exaggerated stage makeup in order to look the part, including a fake Jewish nose for when he plays Shylock

Ridiculously Complicated Final Trap for the Hero
Phibes: Acid pouring through a long, winding tube that takes a full six minutes before it will spray out onto our hero
Theater: Two daggers on a rolling device aimed at our hero's eyes that takes freaking forever before it will blind him


Like many pilot episodes, last night's premiere of V featured exaggerated character traits, clunky dialogue, and emotions that were slightly too big for their contexts. It also featured a heck of a lot of potential, though, and in time these "pilot errors," as I'm starting to think of them, will probably get evened out, as they often do in subsequent episodes of TV programs. So it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either.

I have fond, if vague, memories of the original V that aired in 1983. I was 14 at the time, so I don't remember much about it except that I had a mild crush on the female leader of the Visitors (Jane Badler as Diana) that led to a lifelong fascination with women who have dark hair and blue eyes--though, come to think of it, that could probably also be traced back to Erin Gray of Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons fame--and of course I remember the famous mouse-eating scene. Then came V: The Final Battle and V the regular series in 1984, which featured Robert "Freddy" Englund as Willie, one of the good Visitors, and the whole thing pretty much ran its course and tumbled into the pit of dead but continually beaten horses that so many high-concept TV series do.

Anyway, knowing the original story pretty much sapped all the suspense for me, since I already knew the Visitors were bad guys masquerading as philanthropists, but I enjoyed last night's remake nonetheless. Still, I'd love to see somebody do something new and exciting with this idea. When are we going to get a movie/TV show about aliens who really do come to Earth with good intentions, only to have the talking head cable TV pundits and reactionary radio talk show hosts fill everyone's minds with racism and mistrust, and ultimately blow Earth's chance at achieving peace and taking its place in the larger universe? That strikes me as a more timely idea!