In many ways Holy Horror was an initial volume. The Bible is fairly prevalent in horror, and had the book done any better I might’ve considered a sequel. Take The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I’d literally never heard of it until I saw on a website listing states’ favorite horror films that it was number one in Pennsylvania. At that point I decided I would have to see it one day. That day came and I later found out that quite a few critics hold it in high regard. It is very campy, almost worthy of the live action Batman series with which I grew up. Phibes is out for revenge and kills his victims (more on this shortly) with vampire bats and acid. It may have been the first movie I’ve seen with death by brussels sprouts and locusts. None of this makes it fit Holy Horror’s premise, however.
Phibes is a serial killer using the Bible as his road map. About halfway through the film we learn Dr. Phibes’ doctorate is in theology. He is using the ten biblical plagues to kill his victims. The police consult a rabbi to learn about the plagues but even here the Bible’s misquoted. Interestingly for this period, the inspector refers to the plagues as a myth. The first plague shown is of bats. There is also a plague of rats. Neither of which occur in the Good Book. The Bible’s a fairly easy tome to find, but it takes quite a bit of ingenuity, I guess, to murder by gnats or the death of cattle (which doesn’t prevent The Reaping from trying). Plot holes are large enough to drive a chariot through, but the Bible clearly has a starring role in the narrative. And Vincent Price is able to pull it off because he’s, well, Vincent Price.
Drawing some inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera, and featuring a scene set in Highgate Cemetery, this movie has its fingers all over the place. I do have to wonder why so many people in Pennsylvania picked this as their favorite horror film. I grew up in the state watching horror, much of it camp, and much of it worse, but never heard a thing about this. It’s not really scary. Perhaps it appeals to those who think they know the Bible but really don’t. Of course, having amulets inscribed with Hebrew letters to symbolize the plagues is classy. I doubt The Abominable Dr. Phibes will give anyone nightmares, but it could stand a bit of analysis in its use of the Good Book.
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