The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Written by: James Whiton, William Goldstein
Starring: Caroline Munro, Hugh Griffith, Joseph Cotten, Terry-Thomas, Vincent Price, Virginia North
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Directed by Robert Fuest
The Complete Dr. Phibes Blu-Ray is available on Amazon
Legendary horror icon, Vincent Price, plays Dr Anton Phibes, a musician who’s wife, Victoria, tragically dies on the operating table. Phibes seeks revenge on the 9 surgeons, including one female nurse, who played a part in ‘murdering’ her. With a female sidekick, Phibes strategically murders the culprits, inspired by the G’Tach, an age old Jewish curse that plagued the Pharoahs. Inspector Trout and his colleagues at Scotland Yard notice a connection between the murders of the surgeons and seek to foil the killer’s plans before he strikes again. But Phibes is not a force to be reckoned with.
This is a true horror film for those who adore the Hammer Horror type movies. It’s laced with humour, albeit dark, and has a superb performance by the forever menacing master of horror, Vincent Price. Comedic cad, Terry-Thomas, makes an appearance as Dr Longstreet, a doomed doctor involved in the operation of Phibes’ wife. His leering over a snake dancing woman on film, which he projected onto a bedsheet across the door, is quite amusing.
The ways in which Phibes murders his victims is quite inventive and old skool, with one getting a huge laugh-out-loud moment: Unscrewing the doctor from the brass unicorn impalement (“I think it’s a left hand thread”). One of the killing techniques, where a surgeon must retrieve a key from Phibes’ victim’s chest to save him from a face full of acid, is most definately the inspiration for the likes of SAW and other modern copycat films.
The costumes and set design are magnificent and are as much a part of the film as the characters and set-piece murders. Though the film was shot in the 70’s, I believe that the film is actually set in the 1920’s, though the art deco design suggests a decade or two later.The costumes of Phibes’ stunning sidekick Vulnavia, played by Virginia North, are extraordinary, bringing a touch of elegance to the vengeful killings of Dr Phibes, and as one character calls her, “very fashionable”. The explanation of Vulnavia’s presence or connection to Phibes is never mentioned in the movie, but nevertheless she is enjoyed as his stunning accomplice, who quietly aids and abets her master.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is memorable for a lot of reasons, besides the plot. Little segments of set design, such as Dr Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards, a group of ‘clockwork’ musicians with papier mache heads who grace Phibes’ ballroom, have become synonymous with the movie, adding to the depth of the Phibes’ backstory, his myth and mystery. Even the sight of Phibes’ car driven by Vulnavia, complete with the blind down depicting Phibes’ face side on, is enough to cause unease. In addition to the set design, the make-up and effects used in the move are fantastic and set the tone as terrifying enough to shock but retaining the dark humour that runs throughout. It’s evident that the film is produced by people who love and enjoy creating a visual story, and in turn is a cult favourite amongst horror fans.
A love story at the heart of it, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of the true originals of its genre. Very few films can hold a story together that deals with love, loss, revenge, death and still include humour, without it becoming a jumbled mess, but Phibes delivers the package beautifully.
I heartily recommend this to all horror fans out there. This is one of the classics that must be seen.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes has been released by cult distributor Arrow Video as part of a limited edition ‘The Complete Dr. Phibes‘ Blu-Ray boxset, alongside its sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again. The boxset will be limited to a run of 3,000 copies only.
The Blu-Ray of The Abominable Dr. Phibes is excellent in quality, with clear visual and audio in the HD release and a smattering of special features to boot. The film is accompanied with optional commentary tracks, one by director Robert Fuest and the other with William Goldstein, who co-wrote the film with James Whiton. Returning to Arrow Video special features are The League of Gentleman, who discuss their love for Phibes in the 13 minute featurette ‘Dr. Phibes and the Gentlemen‘. The Blu-Ray also features a theatrical trailer of the movie.
As with most Arrow Video releases, The Complete Dr. Phibes boxset comes complete with a 100-page collectors edition booklet, detailing the creation of both of the films as well as some stunning photos from the movies depicting Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes, his sidekick Vulnavia and Phibes’ wicked death mechanisms.
If you’re a fan of Vincent Price, horror or Phibes, The Complete Dr. Phibes Blu-Ray boxset is a must.