Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) is a man so rocked by his wife passing away on the operating table (his being horribly disfigured in a car wreck doesn’t help matters) he decides to kill the eight doctors and one nurse who couldn’t save her, with nine of the ten Biblical plagues: boils, bats, frogs, blood, hail, rats, beasts, locusts, and death of the first-born. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) is on his heel, and the race is on to stop Phibes before all nine plagues are reenacted.
This film is just a delight. It’s terribly corny and riddled with plot holes (most of which spring from trying to create deaths from plagues that are more bothersome than deadly), but it’s darn entertaining and funny, too. One of my favorite scenes is when Dr. Longstreet (Terry-Thomas) is watching what appears to be an ancient porno. His maid comes in and scolds him—for missing his dinner. I was also amused by the unlikeliness of the scene when Nurse Allen (Susan Travers) meets her doom. While she sleeps, Phibes covers her face completely with a viscous green goo (which she sleeps through), then releases locusts in her room. When the detectives find her, sans face, she’s lying in the exact same position we saw her in last, which leaves us to assume that she also slept while the bugs ate her—I guess she pulled a double shift that day. (Though to be fair, a reader did point out to me she remembered Allen saying something about taking a tranquilizer before bed.)
It has creepy moments on occasion, for example the scene when a doctor is sleeping soundly while Phibes lowers a mysterious cage into his room. But then the cage is revealed to be full of fruit bats. Fruit bats? Really? What are they going to do, lick him to death? Never mind the technical aspects of their anatomy, fruit bats are the cutest breed of bats—they look like little foxes.
Vampire bats at least have sparse fur, puggy upturned noses, and visible fangs, making them suitable as horror movie villains. Thus, even the eerie moments are upstaged by cheese.
There are some heartstrings-tugging moments, like when Phibes holds up a necklace to his wife’s portrait; in silhouette, it looks like she’s wearing it, emphasizing his inability to be with her. Those few seconds are more effective than his multiple speeches to her promising revenge, that all seem to start with, “My love, my queen…”
Price gives his usual hammy but stellar performance. My brother Jeremy, who watched this with me, said, “There was only one Vincent Price.” Indeed, and I miss him. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something lighthearted but gory.