The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest / United Kingdom, 1971):

An opulent and sardonic wink, aimed back at House of Wax and ahead toward Phantom of the Paradise. Glistening leather against the phosphorescent pipe organ establishes the bravura visual timbre, there's a wind-up jazz band of life-sized automatons and a mute vulturette (Virginia North) attired like a czarina and Robert Fuest is just getting started. Egyptology in England (Gautier's Le Roman de la Momie), a botched surgery and a vengeful aesthete, "a damn strange business." As Phibes, Vincent Price fastidiously applies nose and ear to his charred skull, then plugs a gramophone to the side of his throat so he can rhapsodize over his beloved's shrine: "Nine killed you. Nine shall die. Nine eternities in doom!" Old Testament curses for the murders, each more ornate than the last: bats in the boudoir, rats in the cockpit, a brass unicorn like a harpoon to the chest. The plague of frogs allows for a masquerade with an amphibian mask that tightens around the doomed psychiatrist's neck (the snap registers as a wobbly POV shot that turns crimson), shot as an ode to Franju's Judex. Behind on the trail of corpses, the Scotland Yard inspector (Peter Jeffrey) gets a dry reprimand from his superior: "It seems that, with immaculate precision, you've been arriving on the scene just after the victim's death..." Foxtrots and locusts fill the art deco spaces in this deluxe suite of amusements, drawn with Beardsley lines to set off its lavish bloodletting. (Terry-Thomas settles down for a night of saucy reels, and who turns up before the hand-cranked projector but the fatale beauté with needle and empty jars.) Fuest seals the matrimonial sarcophagus with "Over the Rainbow" to usher in "the beautiful beyond," or at least the sequel. With Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Derek Godfrey, Norman Jones, and Susan Travers.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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