Happy birthday Admiral Moon: We review both Dr Phibes movies

Commander's log, Stardate 01082013.2:

Expelling a gasp of relief, Admiral Moon burst into the Mothership's living area this week. When quizzed on where he had been, the Admiral launched into a pontificating tale of derring do. "My experimentation with the eldritch arts had turned on me," he explained, "a spell went wrong and I was trapped in dark dimension of horror for weeks on end! Only my expert knowledge of dark magic, learned during hours spent watching Vincent Price movies allowed me to eventually devise my escape back to the real world!"

As he continued, Gort leaned in and whispered to me: "Are you going to tell the old codger he was just stuck in a cupboard for a fortnight, or am I?"


For a musical, archeological, mechanical, mystical genius and Vincent Price doppleganger, Dr Anton Phibes doesn't have a lot of luck. Able to construct a full-size clockwork orchestra to accompany him on his pipe organ while he takes a break from dabbling in the dark arts, he's still unable to prevent his beautiful wife from falling ill and dying on the operating table. Meanwhile, as he races to her side, his car spins off the road and he is grotesquely deformed in the resulting crash.

A good evil genius never lets life get him down, however, and Phibes reconstructs his face with prosthetics and his voice by connecting a device built into his neck to a gramophone. He recovers his wife's corpse from the morgue and preserves her in a state of suspended animation, then conjures a beautiful, but slightly sinister assistant from the dark realms and sets out to take his revenge on the medical staff who failed to save his beloved.

"Saw's saga is almost a torture-porn remake of Phibes' adventures."

Phibes and the mute phantom Vulnavia's revenge takes the form of the biblical plagues of ancient Egypt. Each of the doctors is dispatched with an ingenious mechanical trap ranging from having their head crushed by a sabotaged, frog-shaped, antique helmet to being trapped in an airplane with a swarm of feral rats. If this, firstly, sounds very unlike the Egyptian plagues, you have keenly spotted that Phibe's mythological knowledge may be slightly exaggerated. Secondly, you are probably thinking this all a bit like Saw. Correct again, you clever soul, you have also spotted that Jigsaw's saga is almost a torture-porn remake of Phibes' adventures.

Unlike Saw, Phibes only returned once more, in an even-campier adventure that was almost as enjoyable as the first outing. This time, Phibes actually travels to Egypt in order to use an ancient temple to restore his wife to life. Lacking the loose theme of the first film's murders, the sequel loses something, but the unexpectedly joyous ending, with Phibes singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, makes up for this somewhat.

Both films stand on the insanity of making a gothic horror movie in the style of the 60s Batman TV show. While enormously cheesy, they are huge fun and rightly deserve their place as cult classics. It's tragic that there was never a third outing, despite good ticket sales and a whole series of workable scripts being written, but we can at least take heart that such off-the-wall movies managed to win out at the box office at all.