I had to think quite carefully about this one, because there are some really strong contenders. I’m a big fan of Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland and Tremors, as well as the recently released Cabin in the Woods. I don’t really know that I have a favourite. One horror comedy I’m rather fond of though is a 1970s Vincent Price vehicle, and as Vincent is my main man, I’m going to write about that.
The Abominable Doctor Phibes (1971)
Because honestly, how can you not love a film that contains the line: “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen.”
That awesomeness aside, this film is just plain fun. Vincent Price plays Anton Phibes, a famous organist whose wife died in surgery after a car crash they were involved in. Phibes was thought to have died in the accident, but he didn’t, and now he’s back to avenge himself on the medical staff whose negligence he believes is responsible for his wife’s death. He lives in an awesome underground lair fitted with a giant organ (of course) and several automatons, and he’s assisted in his endeavours by a glamorous young woman called Vulnaria, although we never find out why the hell she decided to get involved. Best of all, Phibes chooses to avenge himself in imitation of the Biblical plagues. Therefore we have such amazing set-piece deaths as a woman being covered by honey and then eaten by locusts
a man being crushed to death by the frog mask he’s wearing
and a man frozen to death with an ice machine
And the aforementioned unicorn, of course. It anticipates the unnecessarily elaborate deaths in films like the Saw series, only Doctor Phibes does the whole thing with tongue very firmly in cheek.
Price is on top form here, having obviously been given free rein to camp it up as much as he wants. He really is a joy to behold. The dialogue is glorious, and many of the visuals are really quite lovely, especially of Phibes’s lair
How did he get the time and money for all that? Who knows! Who cares!
And if you like this, I would also recommend Theatre of Blood (1973), another Price vehicle, where he plays an actor who takes revenge on the critics who disliked his performances by killing them in imitation of the deaths in Shakespeare’s plays. Fantastic stuff.