Vincent Price is a disfigured doctor, out to off the surgeons who bungled his late wife’s operation in assorted arch manners based on the nine biblical plagues. But Phibesie’s no ordinary serial killer evil genius disfigured vengeful mastermind recluse. For a start, he’s supposedly spent years in hiding devising this elaborate revenge plan, but he’s somehow found time to build a giant underground Art Deco dancehall complete with Wurlitzer and robot orchestra. Second, the doctors he and the delightful Vulnavia off thoroughly deserve their fates (especially the blood-drained Terry-Thomas). Here’s that rare cinematic creature: an arch-villain who gains the audience’s sympathy, and does it with bags of style.
Price, though he never really “acts” on camera, is never less than magnificent too, peeling off his rubber face, vouchsafing cod-antiquated prophecies (“Nine eternities in doom!”) through a gramophone to a picture of Caroline Munro (Vinny reportedly spent most of the shooting time laughing his rubberised head off during these passages, and not in a demonic, echoey way), and drinking pureed Brussels sprouts through the back of his head.
If Vincent’s perfect despite the mask, the rest of the cast are pretty damn ace, too. Top of the tree is certainly Peter Jeffrey’s cantankerous-but-hapless Inspector Trout. In fact, couple this performance with his combative Detective Dexter in the magnificent Thriller episode Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are, and we have to say we’re having a hard time thinking of a better screen copper right now. Can you? Answers on a head-crushing frog mask, please.
Anyway. Aside from T-T, the doctors include Joseph Cotten, James Onedin and the husband from also-ran Thriller episode The Next Victim, plus there’s Hugh Griffith, James Grout and Aubrey Woods turning in nice little cameos. Robert Fuest is the perfect director for the madcap macabre meanderings – as Price himself said, “He’s all over the place, like an unmade bed.” Norman Warwick, who’s photographed everything from John Mills Land Rover drama Ice Cold in Alex to Cliff Richard hovercraft musical Take Me High, and Brian ‘Man Who Fell to Earth‘ Eatwell collaborate with the Avengers supremo to make the whole thing look incredible, from the lavish lair to the sober gentleman’s club in which our favourite scene, the unscrewing of one unfortunate medic from the wall by Jeffrey and his men, takes place. A chorus of The Dark Town Strutters’ Ball in their honour, Frank Sidebottom-headed clockwork maestro, please!