Abominable and Biblical

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.


Decade Fail

In a recent newspaper report on the state of the nation, local journalist Tom Moran cites a Pew survey in which most Americans surveyed rated the current and swiftly ending decade as the worst one of their lives. As a professional academic who was ousted from a highly rated, long-term teaching post this decade after a Fundamentalist takeover of the school where I taught, I am inclined to agree. Five years later I am still searching for any kind of meaningful full-time work, while yesterday I spied an ad for a “Ghost Twitterer” (as if someone is so important that they can’t write their own 140 daily words) and bowed my head in sorrow. Maybe we really have sunk to a new low.

What really caught my eye, however, was the statement of a fellow professor at Rutgers (where I have been an adjunct for nearly three years). Ross Baker noted that “It has always taken calamities of almost Biblical proportions to shake this country out of its smugness and complacency.” While I agree with his assessment, the use of the phrase “biblical proportions” demonstrated once again that my chosen field of specialization has a solid place in the popular imagination. Generally “biblical proportions” is a phrase used to refer to disasters, something along the magnitude of a world-wide flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the plagues of Egypt. These mythological episodes have left a deep impression on our culture that the message of the Bible is a fitting one for the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Perhaps we are really in trouble if this facile view of the Bible is wedded to a facile misuse of the same book for constructing prejudicial public policies and ill-conceived conservative “reforms.” If the past decade has been a wash in this country, I would attribute it to a conservative evangelical political machine that churned out a president who literally would have been pleased to bring on the mythical Armageddon. During this bushesque reign of biblical proportions, I lost a secure job teaching Bible and haven’t been able to find any other full-time work. I would continue my rant but I have to polish up my résumé, and hone my succinctness skills, and try for a Ghost Twitterer position.