The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) starring Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Peter Jeffrey
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of the great horror movies. It has a great cast, beautiful music, wonderful sets putting the Art Deco style to excellent use and some great acting. 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. Soon, he realizes that there are a series of murders. They’re apparently revenge killings for the death of Victoria Regina Phibes, a beautiful young woman who died on the operating table four years before.
The problem is, the woman’s husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, died shortly afterward in a tragic car accident. 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). He’s brilliant in several fields, including music, theology, and based on his clockwork orchestra, mechanics and robotics. He 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. It hints 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:
First, Professor Thornton is stung to death by bees;. This leaves his face looking like he’d been affected by boils. This murder occurred before the start of the movie.
Next, Dr. Dunwoody is mauled to death by bats. This replaced the Biblical death by gnats since it was more visual
Then, a mechanical frog mask crushes Dr. Hargreavess throat.
After that, Dr. Longstreets (Terry-Thomas) blood is slowly drained from his body. An especially grisly murder.
Next, a machine spewing ice freezes Dr. Hedgepath to death .
Then, rats attack Dr. Kitaj. This causes him to crash his plane. This replaced the Biblical death by lice to be more visual for the movie
And then, horn of a brass unicorn head spears Dr. Whitcombe. It’s a great moment in dark comedy. The police, in the background, unscrew the corpse that’s been skewered to the wall …. As main characters discuss it in the foreground
Next, locusts eat Nurse Allen.
Death of the firstborn
Phibes kidnaps and attempts to kill the son of Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten).
Finally, at the conclusion of the film, Dr. Phibes lies down by his dead wife. He 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.
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. She is only seen in photographs of the lovely Caroline Munro.