The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Love means never having to say you're ugly.
Year of Release: 1971
Running Time: 95 minutes (1:35)
Director: Robert Fuest
Vincent Price ... Dr. Anton Phibes
Joseph Cotten ... Dr. Vesalius
Peter Jeffrey ... Inspector Trout
Virginia North ... Vulnavia
Derek Godfrey ... Crow
Terry-Thomas ... Dr. Longstreet
John Cater ... Superintendent Waverley
Hugh Griffith ... Rabbi
Caroline Munro ... Victoria Regina Phibes (uncredited)
Doctors are being murdered in a bizarre manner: Bats, bees, killer frog masks, etc. , which represent the nine Biblical plagues. The crimes are orchestrated by a demented organ player with the help of his mute assistant. The detective is stumped until he finds that all of the doctors being killed assisted a Dr. Vesalius on an unsuccessful operation involving the wife of Dr. Phibes, but he couldn't be the culprit, could he? He was killed in a car crash upon learning of his wife's death.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the movie that reminds us that there's nothing more embarrassing than having your maid walk in on you watchin' Arab stag films. Doesn't anyone knock anymore? Yeesh. The AMA hates this one. You really can't blame 'em for that, we've already got a serious doctor shortage in this country, we sure as shit don't need zombies risin' from the grave, bubonitizin' the ones we do have. The other thing is, it's hard enough to get people to try to move into this profession. The student loans are so high it'll be 15 years of workin' 14 hour shifts before they can even get outta the red, then it's 10 more years of payin' off the loans they had to take out to pay their malpractice insurance cause judges won't quit awardin' welfare queens $28 million in cash cause their bandaid fell off of their needle tracks after they left the hospital. I've gotta say, much as I enjoyed the movie, I can see where they're comin' from. Anyway, what we've got here is The Phantom of the Opera meets Saw. Featuring Vincent Price as the Proto-Jigsaw. So even though Saw did it a lot better, there's something to be said for a movie this old with this degree of cunning. I'll say a few of those things now so they'll be on the record. First thing you may find interesting is that, when confronted with a strange man that shows up unexpectedly an looks like he hasn't slept in about two months, Brits freeze up like a Commodore 64 tryin' to load a .BMP file. At that point, they're more or less helpless and won't do a thing to resist in any way. I guess that explains why we were able to gain independence from them despite being horribly outmanned and outgunned. Second, never tell the public anything. Once you've made that mistake they could chime in with helpful clues that may help you solve crimes an that's just completely unacceptable and demeaning to both you, and your police force.
And third, even the undead Vincent Price that looks like the much decayed Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th VII gets more chicks than you do. But a point of interest for me in this movie is how Vince Price starts killin' off the doctors that botched his wife's breast enlargement surgery, while using the Christian Bible as his source material. I'm sure by now everyone's aware that the reason people detach each others heads with Skil saws an bludgeon each other to death with ball peen hammers is cause of all the violence in movies an video games. I think we can all agree that we're in no way responsible for our own actions an that outside sources are always gonna be responsible for our misdeeds. But I was really surprised to see Vince Price usin' the Good Book for pointers. Until this moment I was certain that these well meaning individuals that wanna take the titties an axe murders outta our media were doin' what they were doin' to protect us from ourselves. They all seem to preach about positive family values an how they just wanna keep us from tyin' each other up an takin' cheese graters to each other, but when I asked 'em about all this bad stuff that happened in the Bible before movies were even invented all they would say was that God works in mysterious ways an that if I didn't shape up an get with the program they were gonna have to reprogram me. I certainly didn't want that, but maybe you guys can help me understand this situation. It almost seems like violence has been around for a long time. Worse still, if somebody can read one of the holiest of books an pull scenarios out of it for evil purposes, it almost implies that free will is a real thing an that these weirdos that make furniture outta people's femurs are genuinely bad people and not just being influenced by movies. That or the Bible is just as bad as violence in movies... I dunno what to think anymore, this is heavy stuff. You'll have to forgive any typos I may make from here on, it's difficult to type while in the fetal position.
The movie begins in what looks like one of those faith healer telethon sets that got merged with a Las Vegas wedding chapel, where Darth Vader is auditioning for the lead role in Phantom of the Opera. Upon completing his big organ solo, Lord Vader gets up an activates his mannequin quartet an they all start playin' big band music. It's still better than a gospel choir, so the man's made some improvements since he acquired the place from Clyde Fletcher. But anyway, once he gets the band in motion, some lady comes out in what looks like something you'd expect a clown to get married in an they do the Minute Waltz. By now the guy's taken off the black getup an we can see that it's just Vincent Price, which is just as well, cause his lady friend is pretty hot an nobody wants to see her get force choked. So Vince an the woman (Vulnavia) lower this cage with a shade over it like it's got Gizmo inside an they're tryin' to keep him from meltin' into an unsightly puddle, down through the floor and into a car down below. Then once Vulnavia changes into her Rooskie hat, she drives over to Stately Wayne Manor so she can use her ninja grappling hook to get up onto the roof an lower Gizmo down into Balding Gray's room through his sunroof. Only it ain't Gizmo in the cage, it's something even cuter. An once they get outta the cage, the deadly fruit bats start crawlin' all over Balding an drawin' tic-tac-toe grids all over his face. The next morning, Alfred finds Balding with his face all torn up, only when he tries to see who won the tic-tac-toe game an angry prop on a string flies towards his head an he has to duck outta there to call the chief constable. So Detective Nose (The character's name is Trout but... well I'm sure you get it) an his flunkie start theorizing that maybe the bats confused Balding's face for a cantaloupe, but that still doesn't explain how they got in there, plus some other guy was killed the other day after a whole mess of bees showed up in his library an stung 'im until he looked like the "before" picture in one of those Proactive advertisements. Later that day, at a masquerade party, a douchey little geek that'd look a lot like Rod Serling if he could wipe the smirk off his face for five seconds enlists help in getting his frog-shaped mask on. Fortunately, he enlists the help of Vince, an Vince has rigged this mask to continuously tighten until it smooshes the wearer's brains outta their nostrils like a Play Doh Fun Factory. Elsewhere, while the cops do their best to avoid any police work so the press can't tell something's amiss an start warnin' people they might be in danger, another stuffy old codger in another stuffy old mansion dismisses his maid so he can sneak off to his study an watch dirty movies.
But about the time his pants start fittin' funny the maid walks in on him an he has to shield his trousers behind his projector so she don't get her hopes up. Then Vulnavia shows up an the dope just lets her tie him up on account of all his blood bein' outta his brain an by the time Vince comes in an jabs a needle into his elbow he figures it's all over an doesn't bother to call for help while Vince drains all the blood outta him an puts it in canning jars. Would have gone a lot quicker if Vince had started draining from his... moving on. By now Inspector Nose has conceded that they're gonna have to work on this case since the killer seems to be picking on members of the upper class, so he goes to talk to another doctor to see if he knew any of the deceased (all doctors) and what they might have in common. It takes Inspector Nose awhile to get the doc (Vesalius) to stop pretending to be Gomez Addams an put his train set away, but by the time he gets Vesalius' attention the phone rings an Nose has to run off to the latest crime scene. The maid isn't much help, and Nose is real confused as to why this guy just let someone drain eight pints of cherry Gatorade outta him an leave 'em on the mantle. Clearly these belong in the fridge, but there's finally a break in the case when Nose finds Vince's key chain on the floor. He takes the key chain to the creep that made it to find out who he made it for, but the creep is only able to recount the mental fap image he saved in his mind of the woman that purchased the items and little else. But it does seem that there were 10 key chains, an that the symbols were all Hebrew, so Nose takes the key chain to a rabbi an after an hour of tryin' to fend off the conversion attempts, he's able to get the rabbi to tell 'im all about the symbol, and how it represents one of the 10 biblical plagues. Meanwhile, Vince hooks up this electronic hickey makin' machine to his neck so he can talk to the shrine he's constructed for his dead wife. Her picture is up above the organ the way Jesus' would be normally. Then Nose goes back to Vesalius who tells him that he an the surgeons that keep gettin' plagued into submission botched Vince's wife's surgery cause it was the last procedure of the day an they all had golf on the brain. Fortunately, Vince died in a car wreck shortly thereafter an wasn't able to sue them out of existence, but Nose only has the how and the why at this point an he's startin' to think he should have just gone to clown college like his high school guidance counselor suggested.
The next day, Vulnavia is off the beaten path pretendin' to be a damsel in distress so that when still another hapless doctor drives by he'll stop to help. Vince has to club the chauffeur first, cause while the doctor is all for the damsel gettin' help, he's not about to soil his good bib an tucker. Once again, the victim doesn't panic at all when Vince an Vulnaria open up his car an drop off a little mystery box for him before exiting. Is the washer an dryer such a bad prize? Everyone wants the mystery box, I don't get it. Later that evening, the cops come upon the chunkhead's vehicle, still off to the side of the road, with the doors frozen shut so tight you've gotta believe Mr. Freeze is inside takin' a nap. They're eventually able to pry the door open, only to find the chunkhead's attempt to chryogenically freeze himself has gone terribly wrong an it would appear that Jack Frost's been nipping at a lot more than just his nose. While this is happening, Vesalius is playin' chess with his son, but has to quit when he sprains his brain tryin' to figure out where to put his rook. That bit of information doesn't seem important, but it would be if you weren't such a heathen that don't read the Bible to know where they were goin' with this. The next morning, Nose an Vesalius head to Midion so they can see what's inside Vince an his wife's coffins. Ash, and nothing, respectively. It makes sense to us, but these cops couldn't catch a tennis ball wearin' a velcro bodysuit. Then Nose returns to the office where his angry little boss wants to know where he comes off doin' police work instead of vigilantly sitting on the case file with a gun in each hand so the press doesn't get wind of what's goin' on. So since Nose has to kiss ass for awhile so the boss'll feel empowered, he sends his flunkie out to find the next victim. That's how good they are, Vesalius gave them the starting lineup, but they still can't prevent Vince from goin' all biblical on these tools. Unfortunately, the boss's tirade forced the flunkie to waste just a little too much time starin' dejectedly at his shoes an the next victim is takin' off in his plane as the flunkie rolls up. Also, it's really hard to pass an airplane in a car, an what's worse, these guys are in England an he's tryin' to pass on the left, which is just plain rude. Vince is also out here not too far off, smellin' the roses watching the whole sequence, an about the time the plane becomes airborne Willard's army of rats attack the pilot an get 'im all infected with bubonic plague while they chew off little bits of his face til he goes into a tailspin an totally blazes up some poor farmer's alfalfa crop.
Later on, a toast is in order for Vince an Vulnavia. Things couldn't be going more smoothly if these police officers were corrupt enough to just look the other way. It's no wonder Scotland Yard was never able to catch Jack the Ripper. Elsewhere, Nose has gotten to the next doctor on the hit list, which is fortunate for Vince, cause if Nose hadn't shown up an tried to drag the guy to safety just then, he may never have been impaled by the brass unicorn bein' launched from a catapult. So with the help of Nose's bang up police work, Vince tells the corpse bride's shrine that he's just about got all the loose ends tied up an pretty quick he'll go lay down an play dead again so they can catch up on what she's been up to while he's been workin' through his frustration. So while Vince boils up some Brussels sprouts to ferment into what's gotta be the only smell that can possibly overpower his undead aroma, Nose heads over to the hospital with Vesalius to warn the nurse that partook in Mrs. Phibes' surgery that she's up next, an that she can't go home cause the only place she's safe is with Nose an his spotless police record. Naturally, Nose lets her go to sleep in one of the rooms without stationing a guard inside or even leavin' the door open, so Vince heads upstairs to the room above her, drills a hole in the floor, an starts drippin' Nickelodeon brand green slime down all over her til she looks like Swamp Thing pulled out his Swamp Thang an nailed her with a money shot. Once that's done, he removes the cloth from his box of tricks to reveal a jar full of locusts, which he pipes down into her room. Vince is probably home, through dinner an into the shower before Nose an Vesalius decide to check on the nurse, who's now ready to star with Mel Gibson in The Couple Without a Face cause hers's been chewed off down to the cheekbones. Having successfully checked off every other plague from the list, and every other potential victim from his list, Nose finally figures out that Vesalius is next, an that he's been paired with the death of the first born son. Unfortunately, Vince is still about eight steps ahead and by the time Nose an Vesalius reach the house, the kid is gone an Vince calls up to tell Vesalius that even though Nose is completely worthless and that he's in no danger whatsoever, he'd like him to come alone to his lair for the finale where he's got some serious Jigsaw-esque shit rigged up for him.
My sensibilities were able to hold out and prevent me from referring to Phibes and Vulnavia as Jigsaw and Amanda during the plot summary. And realistically, only two of the death sequences remind one of Saw, though one could argue that the sequence at the climax is really only reminiscent of The Pit and the Pendulum, with a twist. It just wouldn't do to make a bunch of Saw references when this preceded it by three decades. Unfortunately, The Abominable Dr. Phibes just doesn't have the recognition needed to refer to Jigsaw and Amanda as Phibes and Vulnavia, as the reference won't be caught. So maybe I've squandered a decent joke for the sake of sensibility, but you've gotta draw the line somewhere. In any event, despite being rated PG-13 and recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, this one holds up pretty well. It helps that the movie was set in the 20s, although I suspect now that there are probably some anachronisms that appeared in the movie. I didn't catch that it was set in the 20s until the dates on the tombstones were shown. In general, this one's a little talky for me. Not too bad, but it's noticeable. The subplot with Inspector Trout and Superintendent Waverley kinda stretched things out longer than they needed to be. Additionally, the comedy sequences (while funny) are really out of place in a movie where Vince Price is raining down serious wrath of God type vengeance on people. There aren't many, and they aren't very long, but they simply don't belong there. An another thing, for a guy so hacked off about his wife's surgery goin' south, he's awful friendly with Vulnavia. Maybe they had an "arrangement" or something. Afterall, I suppose it's tough to get an assistant when you look like you live beneath the planet of the apes an worship the bomb. Realistically, two of the death sequences and the ending are about the only things that Saw borrows from, if it even consciously did so. There's no morality play here about how people are monsters that need a reality check. Phibes is just a lonely guy, that's all. In a way, that's comedy too. The end credits actually list Phibes an Vulnavia as "the protagonists". While technically, all that really means is that they're the main characters, the protagonist generally implies that the character being referred to is the "good guy". Which, despite the movie's intention of getting the audience to sympathize with Phibes, doesn't make him a good person. So it's funny, but in no way a detriment because in the strictest sense, it's factual.
Alrighty, time for the tiresome opinion section and breakdown. The plot is good fun, and not without a decent amount of intelligence. It's not immensely complex, but there's a lot more going on than the "old dark house" or "spam in a cabin" style of horror movie. On the surface it's your basic revenge movie, with a few twists. But the twists are what make it stand out above a lot of other British horror movies from the early 70s and late 60s that Hammer was churning out at the time. So high marks on the plot. The acting is very well done as well. Even if you don't care for the comedic sequences, you must acknowledge that they were well executed. I'm pretty sure it was a rule that in the 60s and 70s all British horror movies had to star either Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price or Basil Rathbone, so with that criteria met, I'll go over who's important and why. Keep in mind that who's important to me is just that, and that many of these particular actors were fairly significant for their time, in Britain. Vincent Price of course, needs no introduction, nor could my hands tolerate the strain of typing out all his titles. Joseph Cotten (Screamers, Soylent Green, The Devil's Daughter, Baron Blood, The Screaming Woman, Lady Frankenstein), Hugh Griffith (Legend of the Werewolf, Craze, Dr. Phibes Rises Again), Terry-Thomas (The Vault of Horror, Dr. Phibes Rises Again), Peter Jeffrey (Deadly Strangers, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Countess Dracula), Derek Godfrey (Hands of the Ripper), John Cater (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter), Aubrey Woods (Horror Maniacs), John Laurie (The Reptile, Devil Girl from Mars), Maurice Kaufman (The Vault of Horror, Psycho-Circus, Gorgo, The Giant Behemoth, The Quatermass Experiment), Susan Travers (The Snake Woman), David Hutcheson (The Evil of Frankenstein), Alex Scott (The Asphyx), Peter Gilmore (Warlords of the Deep), Dallas Adams (From Beyond the Grave, Frankenstein: The True Story), Alister Williamson (The Oblong Box, The Deadly Bees, The Gorgon, The Evil of Frankenstein, The Curse of the Werewolf), Thomas Heathcote (Demons of the Mind, Five Million Years to Earth, Island of the Burning Damned, Village of the Damned), Charles Farrell (Countess Dracula, The Vampire Lovers), Walter Horsbrugh (Five Million Years to Earth, Curse of the Demon), Caroline Munroe (Flesh for the Beast, Demons 6: De Profundis, Slaughter High, The Last Horror Film, Maniac, Starcrash, Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Absence of Light). Good actors with good resumes.
The special effects, for their time, are pretty good. You've got the terribad cliched bat on a string for the opening plague, but otherwise, the others are pretty good. Vincent Price's bomb worshiping mutant makeup looks good. You've also got Chilly Willy, the victim of the plague of hail, lookin' good. The skull with bloated locusts sitting on top of it that just had to unbutton their pants after eating off all the facial flesh. And a couple less interesting, if well executed effects like scraped up faces. Overall, nicely done. The shooting locations are alright. Standard British stuff for the most part, although Phibes' lair looks pretty cool. Just okay on the shooting locations. Neither great or poor. And the soundtrack is... different. Much of the music for the movie is either organ music played by Phibes, or violin solos played by Vulnavia. Seems like maybe they heard Basil Kirchin's compositions an decided he was a deadbeat. Phibes' music is actually relevant to the plot, but in general, the instrumentals work as a plot device. Vulnavia's violin is also a plot device, seemingly inserted to add an intangible bit of strangeness, as she's generally playing flawlessly while somebody's gettin' their face eaten by rats or havin' all their blood sucked out an poured into canning jars. The actual scoring isn't bad either, but it's overshadowed by the aforementioned plot devices. Alas, there is no "Hello Zepp" for the climax. Overall, it's fairly dry by my standards, but generally speaking, a must see for fans of British horror. It's one of their best. Individuals lacking an aversion to older movies may want to consider adding 8% - 10% to my rating.