Friday, 31 May 2013

Little Shoppe of Horrors #29 - The Abominable Dr Phibes

Although it has been out for the last six months or so I had not got around to reading this issue of Richard Klemensen’s long running British horror magazine until now – a few days before the next issue, focusing on Hammer’s Vampire Circus, is released.

In reading this issue on the Dr Phibes films I had an epiphany of exactly what it is that I so like about Little Shoppe of Horrors. It is the polyphonic, kaleidoscopic, triangulated approach that Klemensen takes.

Triangulation is a concept that I first encountered in relation to map-reading and orienteering and then in relation to social sciences research. It means that when you have multiple takes or perspectives on something then you are better able to pinpoint exactly what that something is.

Or, to bring it back to a British horror subject of particular relevance this week, that of Peter Cushing’s centenary, it is the way in which just about everyone who ever worked with Cushing indicates how he was a gentleman, a consummate professional, and was heavily affected by the death of his wife Helen.

Or, in relation to the Phibes films, it is how the various authors’ contributions not only cumulatively tell you just about everything you could ever want to know but also give you a sense of where the truth likely lies on those occasions when there are multiple conflicting or mutually reinforcing accounts.

For instance, the tension between Vincent Price and Robert Quarry on the second Phibes film appears to have stemmed less from anything either actor did than certain third parties insinuations that the latter was being groomed as a replacement for the former. Additionally matters of sexual orientation may have played their part, with contributor David Del Valle noting that Quarry was openly gay and Price’s daughter that her father bisexual and closeted.

Away from the Phibes films specifically another thing that emerged from the issue is the importance of the TV series The Avengers for 1960s and 1970s British fantasy cinema. While this had earlier been argued for by Matthew Boot in his study of the British horror cinema Fragments of Fear, it is the detailed discussion of director Robert Fuest’s work as a designer on The Avengers that makes all the difference here.

Another point that several contributors make is how The Abominable Dr Phibes makes little sense when considered in terms of conventional narrative logic (who/what is his mute assistant Vulnavia, for instance), but nevertheless works despite – or indeed because of – this. This in turn leads on nicely to the Vampire Circus issue, insofar as that film is so atypical and fantastique in the Hammer canon.

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