Can a cult classic be too cult to be effectively parodied? This is the question that arises several times during Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre's assault on The Abominable Dr. Phibes...in 3-D. The original film, a B-movie that reveled in its own bizarre nature, was a horror thriller about the titular Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) using his knowledge of theology and music to exact revenge on the team of physicians he blames for his wife's death. Phibes is presumed dead, thanks to a fiery car crash on the way to his wife's bedside. In fact, he's a spry hunk of beef jerky who hides his charred face behind a mask and can now speak only through an acoustical machine of his own creation while he and his beautiful mute assistant Vulnavia unleash the biblical plagues of Egypt upon the "guilty" doctors.
Got all that? You'd better, because the fast and furious nature of Magic Smoking Monkey's technique allows little time to puzzle out what's going on if you don't have passing familiarity with the plot. And unlike previous Monkey targets such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is obscure enough that there were scenes when the audience seemed unsure where to laugh, because they weren't certain where the movie stopped and the parody began. In any other comedy, such pauses are momentary respites, but in a Magic Smoking Monkey show, they stretch uncomfortably — and anything that slows the barrage of gags is deadly.
Fortunately, director Donna Northcott ensures that all such pace pauses are obliterated by the arrival of something unmistakably over-the-top, whether it's another improbable murder by plague as personified by Jaysen Cryer (you never suspected a man in a bat suit performing a filthy lap dance on another man was in the Bible, did you?), or the return of Ruman Kazi as the harried chief of police, whose rants are delivered in a gloriously plummy and unintelligible stream of nonsense.
These outbursts are directed at our nominal hero, Inspector Trout, played by Ben Ritchie with a cunning blend of deadpan cool and thickheaded stolidity. Trout and his partner, the shoot first and look dumb afterward Schenley (Casey Boland), stumble upon murder after murder and engage in bizarre games of hide-and-seek, passive-aggressively invade each other's personal space and eat and drink crime-scene evidence with equanimity.
Richard Lewis feels underutilized as Dr. Phibes. Lewis is a dead-funny actor, but with no lines to deliver and little to do but stare mournfully and symbolically "burn" photos of his victims before shuffling offstage, he's not permitted to deliver the full Lewis experience.
The opposite is true for Phibes' nemesis, Dr. Vesalius, played by Luke Lindberg. Lindberg makes the most of the (intentionally) hacky dialogue and crafts a memorable character, or at least a memorably ridiculous character. Whether blithely playing with his choo-choos or removing car keys from a patient's abdomen, Dr. Vesalius is consistently hilarious. The play itself may flag momentarily, but Lindberg never does.
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