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The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) starring Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Peter Jeffrey

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of the great horror movies, with a great cast, beautiful music, wonderful sets putting the Art Deco style to excellent use and some great acting, where the audience even feels some sympathy for the murderous Dr. Phibes, played incredibly well by the talented Vincent Price.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes begins with Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey), investigating the grisly murder of a surgeon in 1925. He soon learns that another surgeon had been murdered the week before, also in a strange manner and soon, he realizes that there are a series of murders being performed, revenge killings for the death of Victoria Regina Phibes, a beautiful young woman who died on the operating table four years before.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes unmasked and Vulnavia

The problem is, the woman’s husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, died shortly afterward in a tragic car accident, as he was driving to the woman’s side, and the couple had no children or relatives so who is committing the revenge murders?

The answer is Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price), a man brilliant in several fields music, theology, and based on his clockwork orchestra, mechanics and robotics has survived the automobile accident, although disfigured and mute. The movie wisely chooses to not show his full disfigurement until the end of the movie, hinting at it several times and the brilliant Dr. Phibes has used his knowledge of acoustics to artificially recreate his voice. And he is using his knowledge of theology to pattern his murders after the Biblical ten plagues of ancient Egypt:

  1. Vincent Price as The Abominable Dr. Phibes

    Boils Professor Thornton is stung to death by bees; leaving his face looking like he’d been affected by boils this murder occurred before the start of the movie

  2. Bats Dr. Dunwoody is mauled to death by bats this replaced the Biblical death by gnats since it was more visual
  3. Frogs Dr. Hargreavess throat is crushed by a mechanical frog mask
  4. Blood the blood is slowly drained from Dr. Longstreets (Terry-Thomas) body an especially grisly murder
  5. Hail Dr. Hedgepath is frozen to death by a machine spewing ice
  6. Rats Dr. Kitaj crashes his plane when he is attacked by rats this replaced the Biblical death by lice to be more visual for the movie
  7. Beasts Dr. Whitcombe is speared by the horn of a brass unicorn head a great moment in dark comedy as the police, in the background, unscrew the corpse that’s been skewered to the wall as main characters discuss it in the foreground
  8. Locusts Nurse Allen is eaten by locusts
  9. Death of the firstborn Phibes kidnaps and attempts to kill Dr. Vesaliuss (Joseph Cotten), son
  10. Darkness at the conclusion of the film, Dr. Phibes lies down by his dead wife and has a mechanism drain the blood from his body and replace it with embalming fluid, as the duo are hidden beneath the floor under an art deco depiction of the sun and a lunar eclipse.

As the disfigured, demented Dr. Phibes is executing his years-long planned revenge, there are two protagonists trying to foil him the hard-working Inspector Trout (whose name is a source of comedy as he’s repeatedly referred to as Pike, etc.) and Dr. Vesalius, the head of the surgical team, who faces Dr. Phibes in a surgical confrontation at the end of the movie a very exciting race for life. Phibes beautiful, silent assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) needs to be mentioned as well; a very good performance.

Vincent Price prepares the final murder in The Abominable Dr. Phibes

In fact, all of the performances are very good, and very serious making for an enjoyable, classic horror movie that anyone would enjoy, especially fans of Vincent Price. Frankly, what makes Dr. Phibes despite his cold-blooded murders sympathetic is his great love for his lost wife, who is only seen in photographs the lovely Caroline Munro.

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