Watching the Abominable Dr Phibes is an experience I think would be quite similar to going insane. However if going insane is this enjoyable, then I think the majority of the population is missing out on what appears to be a tremendous amount of fun. Made in 1971 the Abominable Dr Phibes is a film that one has to wonder how it ever got made. By the early 1970’s American International Pictures had released an endless stream of Vincent Price movies based more often than not on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The films soon became tiered, lacking inspiration and originality. Film goers who were used to AIP Price pictures such as Cry of the Banshee (1970) and The Oblong Box (1968) must have been shocked when they saw Phibes...
The plot sounds like pretty standard genre stuff a mad Doctor avenges the death of his wife at the hands of the Doctors who botched her operation by killing them off one by one. But it’s the way that the final product is executed that makes Phibes so memorable. See Phibes was not a medical Doctor, oh no- he was a Doctor of music. This means that he spends a great deal of the film with his clockwork band and on his organ, not to mention dancing with his drop dead gorgeous mute assistant. He, also, was in a car crash but survived despite the fact that his face has been burnt away so that he know resembles a skull- it’s ok however he wears a rubber mock up of his face. His voice box was also destroyed in the accident so he used his knowledge of music to recreate his voice by talking through a gramophone, oh he also has to eat and drink through his neck. Now of course if you’re a serial killer in a horror film it must be difficult making your kills original, not for Phibes he takes inspiration from the plagues of Egypt, which means we get to see such delights as a man get impaled by the head of a brass Unicorn.
Sound crazy? Believe me it is- but it is by no means stupid. Phibes is an exceptionally well made film that benefits from superb direction, superb sets and design and it tops it off with a superb cast. In an interview about a proposed second sequel Vincent Price said that he wouldn’t do another Phibes unless “Robert Feust directed it, he’s the only one crazy enough too, he was a little bit insane”. Of course if Feust had been sane when directing then the film just wouldn’t have worked. Every minute some new insanity graces the screen- whether it be Phibes phone baring his wife’s face, or each murder ending with Phibes melting a wax effigy of the persons face he has just killed. It’s fantastic the film never lets you go, there’s always a new and strange piece of imagery to grab your attention. Which moves me on to my next point- the sets and design. Being set in the 1920’s lends the film an excellent art deco style that suits the musical feel of the film well. Phibes mansion lair is gloriously garish and it just wouldn’t work any other way. Of course to Phibes himself- Vincent Price in perhaps one of his greatest roles. You can just tell he’s having fun hamming it up to levels perhaps never reached before in his career (as unbelievable as it sounds it probably true). From playing with a daisy to mashing up sprouts, Price gets ample opportunity to steal the show and despite having few lines he does it admirably.
Of course there are one or two nitpicks, but they are not enough to ruin the impact of the film. My main problem is the sometimes idiotic police subplot. It does its best to be amusing but looks as if it’s trying too hard and the humour appears childish and unfunny. The actors are of course fantastic and they do the best with what poor material they have, the majority of the time it works, only failing once or twice. For example a scene where the head of the police forces car is driven off after being borrowed and damaged only for the audience to hear slapstick type noises of a car crash.
Overall The Abominable Dr Phibes is one of Prices greats and without doubt a forgotten great of seventies horror. Its influence continues even today apparently being one of the inspirations behind the Saw franchise- of course the big difference being that this is light hearted fun that does not rely on its audience’s appetite for gore. Phibes was followed by one sequel, Dr Phibes Rises Again! (1972) although many others were planned none were made. It’s a shame really, Phibes if anything makes the viewer want more and sadly just one sequel is not enough to fill my appetite for Phibes.
Welcome one and all- Please leave sanity at the door
A Teenage boy with a passion for all things nerdy! Expect a lot of Doctor Who, Cult/Horror Movies, Literature and Novels, History, Comic Books and random thoughts. Posts published weekly on a Friday evening. DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the items reviewed on this site and i also do not own of the pictures (unless stated so). If you own one of the photos and wish for it to be removed contact me at this adress: Super.firstname.lastname@example.org. However all of the written work is my own and is protected under copyright law.