Film Reviews

The Abominable Dr. Phibes, or: The Price of Revenge

The Film:

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Where to Watch:

Youtube or your local library

The Premise:

Vincent Price plays Dr. Phibes, a man seeking revenge on the medical staff he blames for his wife’s death.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

The beginning of this movie is a really long shot of Vincent Price in a dark cloak playing the organ rather sinisterly (can you really play the organ any other way?). His accompaniment is a wind-up band and, eventually, a woman dressed in white. They dance for an unnecessary amount of time, though perhaps I’m just biased. Extended dance scenes are a movie pet peeve of mine (I’m looking at you, Pride & Prejudice).

Since this is a Vincent Price movie, there is a murder within the first 10 minutes. Dr. Phibes lowers a cage into the room of a sleeping man and unleashes (the horror) A FRUIT BAT. The next morning, the police arrive to discover the man SURROUNDED by fruit bats, who have presumably shredded him to DEATH.

a fruit bat crouches on the chest of a sleeping man

Phibes, having successfully completed this murder, puts a necklace with a strange po-mo symbol on a wax effigy of the guy and burns it. This movie is rapidly becoming House of Wax.

The next murder occurs at some kind of weird masquerade ball. Phibes is, of course, wearing an eagle mask. It becomes apparent at this point that the movie is set in early 20th century London as an actual line one of the partygoers utters is “Jolly fine party, what?” Moments later, Phibes kills this man using a deadly FROG MASK.

a man in a golden mask adjusts a frog mask on another man

Victim number 3 is this old guy projecting footage of belly dancers onto a screen and drinking port, the early 20th century equivalent of looking at porn on the internet. Suddenly, Dr. Phibes appears, to this oddly warm, happy music. Obviously the director knows the audience doesn’t care about this guy; we just want to see Vincent Price kill people. Phibes puts this man’s blood into little vials while the woman in white PLAYS THE VIOLIN. Unfortunately, it becomes obvious that Phibes is slipping; he drops one of his po-mo necklaces.

The police are able to use the necklace to figure out that the po-mo symbol is, in fact, a Hebrew symbol. All of the murders so far have mirrored the 10 plagues of Egypt. So THAT’S why Phibes murdered someone with a frog mask. Right now, my biggest question is if Phibes is going to make the sky rain fire or make the freaky death cloud from Prince of Egypt appear. The police also discover the connection between the victims: they all worked for Dr. Vesalius at some point.

We also discover more about Phibes’s personal motivations now; in a move that rivals Helga (from Hey Arnold) in terms of creepiness, he has built a shrine to his dead wife, who looks remarkably similar to the woman in white. After a terrible car accident in which Phibes reportedly died, doctors tried and failed to revive Phibes’s wife…which means revenge is called for. As a result of the accident, Phibes can’t talk, but he seems to somehow project his voice using bolts, wires, and a phonograph.

A man kneels by a shrine, looking at a picture of a woman with a 1960s style haricut

The next four deaths:

Phibes kills this rich guy by basically turning his car into a freezer, which I guess counts as the hail plague.

Plane filled with rats. Now you know Snakes on a Plane is a Dr. Phibes spin-off. The police try (and fail) to prevent this death by engaging in a very low-speed chase with the plane. Meanwhile, Vincent Price is lying in a nearby field smelling flowers. SERIOUSLY.

A man with gray hair and a moustache crouches in a field, holding a flower up to his face
I need this as a poster.

BRASS UNICORN catapulted into a guy’s chest, prompting the line “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon.”  If you watch the trailer, you’ll get to see this beautiful moment.

Locusts. Phibes drips this green goo on to this lady’s face while she’s sleeping (this is pretty much exactly what happens in You Only Live Twice). He then releases locusts into the room, which stick to her and eat her face.

The last intended victim is Dr. Vesalius himself (played by Joseph Cotten!), who is supposed to suffer the death of his firstborn. Vesalius will have to operate on his son to remove a key lodged by his heart. This key will free his son from the operating table; if Vesalius fails to do this, acid will pour down and burn through his son’s face.

At this point, it is revealed that Phibes did, in fact, die in the car accident but reassembled his own body somehow. His TRUE FACE is revealed, which just kind of looks like a plaster skull. The horror, the horror.

Vesalius manages to free his son, which is somewhat disappointing as I spent most of the film with the irrational urge to punch that kid in the face. Meanwhile, Phibes gets into a coffin with his wife and embalms them both. By the time the police arrive, Phibes is nowhere to be found.

The Critique:

This movie is over-the-top and insane in the way the best Vincent Price movies are. Definitely recommended if you enjoy the films of Vincent Price and/or ‘70s B horror movies.  There’s apparently a sequel, which I will be tracking down in the near future.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther heads

I may be a teensy bit biased because I would probably give footage of Vincent Price waiting in line to buy stamps the same rating.

Deducted one Pink Panther head because FRUIT BATS were apparently responsible for a murder. Also this movie is not quite as great as The Raven, House of Wax, or The Fly.

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