The Abominable Doctor Phibes

Year Of Release: 1971
Running Time: 95 Minutes
DVD Released By: MGM
Directed By: Robert Fuest
Writing Credits: James Whitam, William Goldstein
Filming Location: Hertsmere, EMI-MGM Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England, UK (studio) / Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, Highgate, London, England, UK / Rosary Prior High School, Caldecote Towers, Elstree Road, Bushey, Hertfordshire, England, UK

Starring: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes), Joseph Cotten (Dr. Vesalius), Virginia North (Vulnavia), Terry-Thomas (Dr. Longstreet), Sean Bury (Lem Vesalius), Susan Travers (Nurse Allen), David Hutcheson (Dr. Hedgepath), Edward Burnham (Dr. Dunwoody), Alex Scott (Dr. Hargreaves), Peter Gilmore (Dr. Kitaj), Maurice Kaufmann (Dr. Whitcombe), Peter Jeffrey (Inspector Trout), Derek Godfrey (Crow), Norman Jones (Sgt. Schenley), John Cater (Waverley)

Tagline 1: Revenge Is The Best Medicine.

Tagline 2: Love means never having to say you're ugly!

Tagline 3: Dr. Phibes has great vibes!

Tagline 4: There are two sides to Dr. Phibes.....both of them EVIL!

Alternate Titles:
The Curse of Dr. Phibes (1971)
Dr. Phibes (1971) (USA) (promotional title)

Interesting Bits of Trivia:
This was Vincent Price's 100th film. There are several goofs in this movie that you may or not be able to spot. At one point you can see a wire on one of the bats. After the first scene where Phibes and Vulnavia dance together, Vulnavia walks upstairs as Doctor Phibes lowers a cage of bats through a hole in the floor and into a downstairs room. Seconds later, Vulnavia is somehow magically downstairs and in completely different clothes when the bats arrive. Also, during the second scene where Phibes and Vulnavia are dancing together, if you watch actress Virginia North's face carefully, you can see her smiling and trying not to laugh at Price's amusingly campy performance.

 

 

Rogue Reviewers Round Table Review: October 2004
Review Topic: "Legends of Classic Horror"




Cast Of Characters

Doctor Anton Phibes: Doctor Phibes basically is a ruined man. He used to be a brilliant and very famous organist, but then when his wife had to have emergency surgery and he was rushing home to be by her side, his car crashed and he was severely burned in the fire that ensued. Blaming the doctors that performed the surgery for his beloved wife's death, he's exacting his revenge by visiting biblical plagues upon each of them, vowing to kill each and every person who was involved in the operation before he finally joins his wife in her eternal rest. We don't get to see Doctor Phibes without his make-up for very long in this film, but there's these special sunglasses you can put on so that you can see him as he really is all the time. Some people might not believe you about the glasses and won't want to put them on, so you'll have to lay the smackdown on them and make them do it.

(Reviewer's Note: For those of you that don't know, that last bit was a reference to the movie They Live. Trust me, it's funny if you've seen the movie.)

 


Doctor Phibes with make-up.

 


Doctor Phibes without make-up.

Vulnavia: This chick is not only hot, but she does what she's told and she doesn't talk at all. What the heck more could you ask for in a woman? Anyway, Vulnavia is Doctor Phibes' assistant. She runs errands for him and pretty much does everything he tells her to do. She's rather like a zombie in a lot of ways, except that she seems to be pretty much aware of everything she's doing and doesn't spend most of her time trying to suck people's brains out of their skulls.

Dr. Vesalius: This guy was the head surgeon on the team of doctors that operated on Doctor Phibes' wife, and as such, Doctor Phibes saves his punishment for last. Basically he's a normal, rational kinda guy who has a son that he loves and likes to play with electric trains. Just don't let him get a phone in his hands. He knows that phonejitsu stuff and he'll cold cock your butt in a heartbeat. Just ask Inspector Trout about that one. He's still got a knot on the back of his head.

Lem Vesalius: Remember how everyone thought that Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation was a weenie? Well this kid's kinda like Wesley...only more of a weenie. His only real purpose for being in this film was so that Doctor Phibes would have someone to visit his "death of the first born" curse on. That was how he got his revenge on Dr. Vesalius. In a way, it's almost sad that Lem survived the whole ordeal. Now the poor kid is condemned to a lifetime of being the most boring and nerdy person at every party he goes to.

Dr. Longstreet: Of all the victims in this movie, Dr. Longstreet was the most amusing, so I decided to throw him in here. You may recognize the actor. His name is Terry-Thomas. He's one of those people that you've seen in lots of old movies and even in various cartoons, but you really don't know their name. Well now you do. Anyway, Dr. Longstreet finally got a night alone with his housekeeper Mrs. Frawley out of the house. So he pulls out this new girlie movie he just got in the mail and throws it in the ol' projector. Well he's drinkin' brandy and havin' a good ol' time with the movie, when suddenly Vulnavia comes in. He's so busy drooling over her that he lets her tie him to a chair, at which time Doctor Phibes comes in and proceeds to drain him of all his blood. All in all, he probably got off the easiest of any of them, and at least he got to watch a skin flick before he died.

Inspector Trout: I feel so sorry for this guy. All through the movie he's trying his best to protect these doctors and get to the bottom of the murders, and at every turn Doctor Phibes is always a step ahead of him. It's not like Trout was incompetent or anything. He was actually a really smart guy and a good cop. Unfortunately, Doctor Phibes was just a little too smart for him.

Sgt. Schenley: Schenley is Trout's right hand man, and a good cop in his own right. There's really nothing more to say about him, so let's move on.

Waverly: To be honest, I don't know if this guy's name is Waverly or not. It probably isn't, but there's four different generic police officials listed in the credits, and the character Waverly is the only one I couldn't really account for. So whether he is or not, I'm making this guy Waverly. Basically he's a bureaucrat and a total bitch who's only worried about how the murders make him look and how they'll affect his career. Pretty typical really. He bitches incessantly and that's really his only contribution to both the investigation and to the whole of the film itself. I'm assuming that he's either the police chief or that he's just in charge of that particular police station. Either way, someone needs to do a body cavity search on this guy. Not because he's hiding anything, but because he deserves it.

Crow: I couldn't really figure out if Crow was Trout's direct boss or if he's just another inspector at the station. He's only semi-involved in the case, so I was never really sure what his actual position was. I don't know why exactly, but looking at this picture makes me want to put a speech balloon over his head that says, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Mrs. Frawley: She's Dr. Longstreet's housekeeper, and not a bad looking chick for a woman her age. She didn't really have any bigger part in this film than the goldsmith or the rabbi, but I thought I'd throw her in here anyway just because her interactions with Dr. Longstreet amused me.

The Goldsmith: This guy's a bitch. Trout finds one of the medallions with the Hebrew character on it and takes it to this guy to see if he can tell him anything about it, and this guy is bitch the whole time. Not in a nasty way mind you, but if you look at the best quote section down below, you'll see what I'm talking about. At least he pointed Inspector Trout in the right direction by telling him that the symbols on the medallions were Hebrew characters.

The Rabbi: Again, like the goldsmith and Mrs. Frawley, the Rabbi didn't have much of a part in the movie. He was however a key player because he's the one that filled Inspector Trout in on the fact that the symbol on the medallion represented one of the ten curses of the pharos that Moses inflicted upon them for holding the Israelites as slaves. I'm trying to think of something funny to say about this guy, but it's 1:23am, I'm tired and nothing's coming to me. I mean, I look at his eyebrows, and I know they're funny, but the words just aren't coming. Know what I mean? Oh well, I'm sure you can extract various bits of humor from the picture with which to amuse yourselves.

Victoria Regina Phibes: This is Doctor Phibes late wife, Victoria. She was never actually in the film other than in photographs until the very end. Even then she was dead and laying in his sarcophagus anyway, so she didn't really have any role at all other than Doctor Phibes' inspiration for getting revenge. You may not recognize the actress, and she actually went uncredited in this film, but her name is Caroline Munro. Five years after this movie was released, she appeared as the incredibly hot Princess Dia in the film At The Earth's Core, which you will also find reviewed on this site. All in all, I think I much prefer seeing her in sexy cavegirl skins. I'm looking at this picture here and all I can think is that it looks like a high school yearbook photo.




Screen Shots

 

"Oh Martha, I know that no one could ever possibly understand the feelings we have for one another. The world is full of unromantic fools. But to Hell with all of them. Let us lay together now and bask in the afterglow of our love."

"Eeeeek screech skreeee eeeek eek screeeech. Skreeee eeeeek eeeek eeeeek screeeech eeek eeeeek eek skreeee."

(Translation: "You're already into me for twenty-five bucks. If you want the whole afterglow thing it's gonna cost you another five.)

 

(Reviewer's Note: Now the obvious and easy joke here would be that this is Michael Jackson's make-up table. But since I'm far more clever than that and I find the obviousness of placing a Michael Jackson joke here to be patently unfunny, I'll forego that particular joke and instead go with something somewhat less obvious that makes a rather goofy and somewhat semi-vague reference to the film, Bride of Re-Animator...)

"Now if I could just find that thing I re-animated a little while ago with the fingers and the eyeball, I could add these new parts to it, throw a baseball cap on it, stick it on top of a giant blob of pork fat, shoot the whole thing up with about 20cc's of re-agent and viola! The spitting image of Michael Moore."

Dr. Hargreaves had no idea when he went to the party that he was going to croak by the end of the evening.

"Glug glug glug glug glug..."

"What do you mean? How dare you ask me if I know how to fly this thing? Don't I look like I know what I'm doing???"

"Come along now doctor, quit horsing around. This is serious business!"

"How many times have I told you not to bug me while I'm sleeping?!?!"

I don't care how bad your headache is. You should have known better than to go to an acupuncturist that sits around sniffing crack scented incense all day. That was just asking for trouble.




Best Quote

Goldsmith: "It's one of a very unusual set this."
Trout: "A set?"
Goldsmith: "Yes."
Trout:
"There's more than one?"
Goldsmith: "Well of course there's more than one. It's a set."



- Inspector Trout asking the goldsmith about the medallion he found on the floor at Dr. Longstreet's house after his murder. - (Reviewer's Note: Duh!)




Video Clip
When prompted, enter bmovie for the username and central for the password.

The Abominable Doctor Phibes
Dr. Whitcombe horses around in the hotel and winds up getting screwed...er, I mean unscrewed.



Summary and Conclusion

Oh how I love Vincent Price movies. Although it sounds cliche after all these years, he truly was the master of the macabre. His campy performances and over the top theatrics made him a legend, and his ability to mix a sense of fun and black humor into nearly everything he did made him the most beloved actor of the genre. He never took himself seriously, and that's what made people love him.

The Abominable Doctor Phibes is darkly humorous tale of revenge. Several years ago, a group of eight doctors and one nurse performed an emergency surgery on his beloved wife Victoria. The surgery resulted in her death, and in his rush to get to his wife's side, Doctor Phibes' car crashed, and he was presumed to have been burned up in the accident. While he was in fact burned beyond recognition in the accident, it was not his body that the authorities found in the charred wreckage of the car, but rather it was that of his driver.

Doctor Phibes used the fact that everyone believed he was dead to start plotting his revenge against those who he blamed for killing his one true love. The plot involved visiting the ten plagues of the pharos upon the eight doctors and one nurse that took part in the operation. The curse of the pharos is a story from the bible in which Moses brought ten curses down upon the heads of the pharos that held his people in slavery. The curses, at least according to this film are as follows: Boils, bats, frogs, blood, rats, hail, the beast, the locusts, the death of the first born, and last but not least, darkness. Apparently these are not entirely biblically accurate, but for the most part they are. Each doctor is visited by the curse that was selected for him. Here's a list of how it all went down...

Boils: The doctor was attacked by a swarm of bees and left with boils all over his face and body.

Bats: The doctor was attacked while he slept by a room full of bats.

Frogs: The doctor was choked to death by a self-tightening frog mask he was given to wear at a fancy dress party.

Blood: The doctor had all the blood drained out of his body.

Rats: The doctor was attacked by a bunch of rats while he was flying in his plane, causing him to crash.

Hail: The doctor has his driver stop when he saw Vulnavia by the side of the road and had his chauffeur check on her. The chauffeur was subdued by Doctor Phibes, and then Phibes placed a hail machine in the doctor's car, freezing him to death and dropping the inside temperature of the car to minus 100 degrees.

The Beast: The doctor was impaled by a brass unicorn head that was launched from a catapult across the street from the hotel he had just checked out of. He was about to walk out the door with the police when the head came flying in and impaled him, sticking him to the wall.

The Locusts: The nurse was locked in a room at the hospital for her own protection, and then after taking a sleeping pill, she fell fast asleep. Doctor Phibes drilled a hole through the floor above her bed and dripped a concentrated goo made from cabbage and brussels sprouts all over her. He then fed locusts into the room through the hole and they basically ate her down to the bone, as you can see in the screenshot above.

The Death of the First Born: Doctor Phibes kidnapped Dr. Vesalius' son and locked him down on an operating table. He then inserted a key near the boy's heart, and when Dr. Vesalius arrived, Phibes told him about the key and that he had exactly six minutes to operate on the boy and retrieve it. He only had six minutes because there was a long spiraling tube coming down into a container with a bunch of drip tubes protruding from it that was positioned directly above the boy's head. Doctor Phibes started some sort of a thick acid flowing through the device and told Dr. Vesalius that the acid would take exactly six minutes to reach the bottom, at which time it would kill his child. His only chance to save his boy was to retrieve the key so that he could use it to unlock the chains from the table and move his son out of harm's way.

The Darkness: Doctor Phibes actually visited this curse upon himself at the end of the film when he shut himself in his sarcophagus with his dead wife and began the process of embalming himself.

The acting throughout the movie was first rate by everyone involved. Price himself was simply amazing as the man behind the mask. He couldn't speak, eat or drink through the mouth of his mask, and therefore everything he did was indicated by him flexing his throat muscles like he was swallowing. Doctor Phibes had devised a method of allowing his voice to be transmitted through a phonograph horn with the aid of a device he would attach to the side of his neck. This allowed him to speak and be heard without having to use his mouth to form the words. The brilliance of Price's acting is on full display here, because he can express a full range of emotions through just the look in his eyes and whatever miniscule facial expressions he can manage. Price however wasn't the only great actor in this film. The entire cast did a beautiful job in bringing this film to life. Even those that had rather insignificant parts did a great job in making their characters memorable.

Something else that really stood out for me in this film was the absolutely incredible cinematography. The entire look of this film was nothing short of brilliant. Each and every camera shot and angle was set up in such a way that it perfectly accentuated all of the various characters, scenes and situations to the point where you just sit there watching in awe at the brilliance of it.

I don't know if The Abominable Doctor Phibes is my all time favorite Vincent Price movie, but if it's not, then it's damn close. I wouldn't be exaggerating in even the least little bit if I said that this film is a pure work of art. There's no other way to say it. I can't recommend this film enough, and if you're looking for a simply incredible movie to stay up late with, then this is the one. If you don't already own this film, do yourself a favor and get it. You won't be sorry.

B-Movie Central's Rating: 5 Bees!

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