Cast & Crew
In 1920s England, Dr. Anton Phibes, caped and shrouded in long black robes, vigorously plays his organ, then waltzes in his elaborate movie-palace-like mansion with his beautiful, mute assistant, Vulnavia, while an orchestra of mechanical puppets serenades them. Phibes, a mechanical genius as well as an accomplished organist, then loads a cage swathed in black cloth into his limousine and drives off with Vulnavia. In another part of town, as Dr. Dunwoody slumbers in his bed, Phibes lowers the cage through a skylight into the room and releases a flock of vampire bats. After Dunwoody's shredded body is discovered the following morning, Inspector Trout is called to investigate and recalls that another surgeon was stung to death by bees the previous week. Meanwhile, back in his sanctuary below the main floor of his house, Phibes, still cloaked, drapes an amulet over a wax bust of Dunwoody, which he then sets on fire. Afterward, Phibes cements a prosthetic nose and ears to his face and dons a wig. At a lavish costume party that night, Phibes hands one of the guests, Dr. Hargreaves, a frog mask and fastens it with a latch. As Hargreaves ascends the staircase, the latch begins to contract, strangling him to death in front of the startled guests. Although Trout perceives a pattern of torture in the deaths, his superior scoffs at his assumption. The following night, as Dr. Longstreet watches a lurid film of a snake dancer at his house, Vulnavia enters the room, sheathed in a floor-length, white fur coat, and seductively binds him to a chair. Phibes then appears, plunges a needle into Longstreet's arm and begins to draw out his blood vial by vial, until he is drained dry. As Longstreet suffers death spasms, he grabs Phibes, dislodging an amulet from Phibes's pocket. After Trout discovers that all the victims worked with Dr. Vesalius, he goes to visit the surgeon. Vesalius is at first skeptical about Trout's assumption that he is connected to the murders until a phone call for the inspector reveals that Longstreet's body has been discovered. When Trout takes the amulet found next to Longstreet's body to the jeweler who made it, the jeweler identifies it as one of a set of ten Hebraic symbols commissioned by a mute, attractive woman. Trout then takes the amulet to a rabbi, who recognizes it as the Hebraic symbol for blood, one of the ten plagues that beset the Pharaoh of Egypt for enslaving the Israelites. The rabbi lists the plagues in order: boils, bees, bats, frogs, blood, hail, rats, locusts, the death of the first born, with the final curse being that of darkness. Meanwhile, in his sanctuary, Phibes attaches a speaker to a hole in his neck and through a phonograph amplifier, speaks to a photo of his dead wife, vowing that all those who killed her will now die. Vesalius, realizing that Trout's theory may be correct, shifts through his case files, narrowing them down to only one instance in which all the victims worked together, the case of Victoria Regina Phibes, who died during an operation. Vesalius then tells Trout that when he cabled Victoria's husband in Switzerland, the man raced back to England, but in his haste, his car crashed and he burned to death, after which he was entombed next to his wife in the family crypt. When Trout investigates Phibes's trip to Switzerland, he learns that the doctor's bank account was transferred to England by a tall, attractive woman. Meanwhile, Vulnavia, smartly dressed, stops her car along the roadside where she attracts the attention of Dr. Hedgepath, who is being driven by his chauffeur. Hedgepath instructs his chauffer to help Vulnavia, and as the man leans over to examine the car's engine, Phibes knock him unconscious, then places a hose inside the limousine and locks Hedgepath in the back seat. After the chauffeur's unconscious body is found, Trout is summoned to the scene of the crime and finds Hedgepath frozen to death in the back seat of his car, his body encased in hail spewed from the hose. One night, as Vesalius and his son Lem, an avid piano player, are playing chess, Lem tells his father about a conversation he had with Darrow, the owner of the music shop, in which Darrow mentioned a man named Phibes as an example of a great organist. Vesalius then goes to question Darrow, who reveals that Phibes is his patron. When Vesalius relays the information to Trout, the two open the Phibes family crypt and discover that Victoria's sarcophagus is empty, leading Trout to believe that Phibes is still alive. Now certain that doctors Kitaj and Whitcombe, who also presided over Victoria's case, are in danger, Trout sends his assistant, Sgt. Schenley, to warn Dr. Kitaj. Kitaj is just taking off in his private plane when the sergeant arrives, and as the sergeant races his car down the airstrip, the doctor becomes airborne. Soon after, rats swarm into the cabin and attack Kitaj, who loses control of the craft and crashes. Concerned that Whitcombe may be the next victim, Trout meets the doctor at his club and is about to whisk him off to the safety of a country retreat when a brass bust of a unicorn catapults through a window, impaling Whitcombe on its horn. Worried about the safety of Nurse Allen, who assisted in Victoria's operation, Trout seals off the hospital in which she works and confines her to her room. As she slumbers, aided by a sleeping pill, Phibes, disguised as a doctor, drills a hole through the floor of the room above hers, lowers a hose and begins to drip honey over her body. He then pipes locusts through the hole, and when Trout goes to check on the nurse, he discovers that the locusts have devoured her flesh. Because legends state that the death of the first born follows the plague of locusts, Trout fears that Lem may now be in danger and dispatches the police to the Vesalius house, where they discover that Lem has been kidnapped. Phibes then phones Vesalius, stating "the ninth will soon die," and directs him to the dark house on Malden Square, warning him to come alone. When Trout insists on accompanying him, Vesalius knocks him out and hurries to the house. There Phibes informs him that Lem has been locked onto an operating table and the key to the latch has been embedded next to his heart. In six minutes, acid will start to drip onto the table, and unless Vesalius can extract the key and free the boy, his face will be obliterated. To make his point, Phibes rips off his mask, revealing a disfigured, fire-ravaged face. As Phibes plays his organ, Vulnavia, following his orders, takes an axe to the puppet orchestra. Seated at his organ, Phibes descends into his sanctuary just as Trout arrives at the house, and Vesalius extracts the key with only seconds to spare. Vesalius pulls Lem off the table, sending the acid showering onto Vulnavia. Spotting the organ, which has just ascended to the first floor, Trout and the sergeant climb aboard and descend into the sanctuary just as Phibes lies down next to Victoria's embalmed body and seals them into a crypt beneath the floor. When Trout and the sergeant reach the sanctuary, they see no one there.
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Nacio Herb Brown
Ronald S. Dunas
E. Y. Harburg
Louis M. Heyward
A. W. Lumkin
James H. Nicholson
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Vincent Price stars in what is quite possibly, the ultimate "Vincent Price" movie, one that practically cemented the actor's public and professional identity as the actual personification of all things horror.
In The Abominable Dr. Phibes, he plays Dr. Anton Phibes, a mysterious figure who is systematically hunting down and disposing of a team of doctors that he feels were responsible for the untimely death of his beloved wife (played by British cult favorite Caroline Munro, albeit seen only in photographs). Joseph Cotten fights for his life in his role of Dr. Vesalius, the chief surgeon of the botched procedure and British comedian Terry-Thomas pops up in a brief and amusing cameo as one of the doomed doctors.
The gimmick here is that Phibes dispatches his victims in a spectacular variety of gruesome and bizarre ways, all of which are based on ten biblical curses involving various deaths brought on by bats, rats, locusts and some other nasty surprises!
Directed in a bright, colorful and campy visual style by former art director (and frequent director of several episodes of the similarly peculiar TV series The Avengers) Robert Fuest, Dr. Phibes is a fast-paced, super-stylish black comedy that boasts some extremely memorable, often eerie, set pieces that will undoubtedly delight the fans of Price and of horror films in general.
Possessing a particularly gleeful and nasty sense of humor, the movie, set in the mid 1920s, comes across almost like a live action version of the artwork of Edward Gorey, not just in the film's mix of dark comedy and clever shocks, but also visually as well. Price with his pale, ghastly makeup and flowing robes or fur coats, looks straight out of one of Gorey's dark and scratchy tableaus, as do the collection of stuffy detectives, and Phibes' mute and fashionable assistant, Vulnavia (Virginia North).
Keeping in mind the fact that the most closely associated and instantly recognizable trait of Vincent Price is his inimitable voice, one particularly interesting thing to note about Dr. Phibes is that we don't even get to hear it until approximately thirty minutes into the film! And when he DOES talk, it's in a slow, robotic tone via a cord that's plugged into his neck and played out through a Victrola! I won't go into the details of WHY he has to speak that way so as not to spoil any of the film's dark little secrets, but rest assured that Price makes up for his quiet performance with some truly hilarious and ominous facial reactions and expressions. According to some of the stories about the making of the film, Vincent had so much fun with this role and thought it was so funny, that he would often laugh, destroying the layers of makeup he had to wear that prevented his lips from moving. He told a reporter, "Phibes was something I had to take very seriously when I was doing it so that it would come out funny. All the same, it was just agony for me because my face was covered with plastic, and I giggled and laughed the whole time, day and night, and the makeup man and I were practically married because the makeup kept dissolving and he had to patch me up every five minutes."
The Abominable Dr. Phibes was distributed in 1971 by American International Pictures, the ultimate "B-movie" studio who were synonymous with churning out "exploitation" pictures directed to the "youth market"- films that ranged from the Roger Corman titles to beach party and biker flicks and eventually throughout the 1970s with its blaxploitation, women-in-prison and other assorted drive-in material. Typical of AIP's style,Phibes was marketed initially with the silly tag line, "Love Means Never Having to Say You're Ugly," a goofy riff on the famous catchphrase from the recently released (and immensely popular) Love Story (1970). Though critically well accepted, Dr. Phibes didn't scare up much box office during the first run until AIP revisited the film with a more traditional horror-angled approach (in which it was credited as Price's 100th film, which probably isn't officially accurate) and the film became very successful...so successful in fact, that AIP developed and rushed out a sequel the following year entitled Dr. Phibes Rises Again co-starring additional cult favorites, Robert Quarry and Fiona Lewis. It featured Price embarking on a new adventure out in the desert searching out a way to reanimate his dear dead wife. More icky murders and campy mayhem ensue.
In 1973, Price would revisit the Phibes formula with the brilliant and wonderfully sick Theatre of Blood, where he played a similar demented and vengeful madman who dispatches his enemies in a variety of creative and gory ways...this time as a long-ignored ham of an actor who gives his snooty critics their "just desserts" in the style of gruesome murders based on the plays of William Shakespeare.
Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Ronald Dunas, Louis M. Heyward, James H. Nicholson
Director: Robert Fuest
Screenplay: James Whiton, William Goldstein
Cinematography: Norman Warwick
Film Editing: Tristam Cones
Art Direction: Bernard Reeves
Music: Basil Kirchin
Cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes), Joseph Cotten (Dr. Vesalius), Virginia North (Vulnavia), Terry-Thomas (Dr. Longstreet), Sean Bury (Lem Vesalius), Susan Travers (Nurse Allen).
by Eric Weber
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Love means never having to say you're ugly.- Dr. Phibes
Your wife no, Phibes, but you I will kill!- Dr. Vesalius
But you can't, Doctor Vesalius. I am already... dead.- Dr. Phibes
Nine killed her; nine shall die! Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom!- Dr. Phibes
I will have killed nine times in my life, Dr. Vesalius, how many murders can be attributed to you?- Dr. Phibes
Your wife, no, Phibes, but you I will kill!- Dr. Vesalius
This was Vincent Price's 100th film.
The movie, although they don't say it outright, is set in 1925, quite obviously because the characters refer to the deaths of Anton and Victoria Phibes as having happened 4 years previously, and it says "1921" on the Phibes' tombstones.
The working titles of the film were Dr. Phibes and The Curse of Dr. Phibes. Although an August 1970 Variety news referred to the film as The Curse of Dr. Pibes, a title that is also cited in some modern sources, "Pibes" was most likely a typographical error. The opening and closing onscreen cast credits differ slightly in order. Throughout the film, "Vulnavia" plays the violin as Phibes murders his victims. Onscreen song titles are prefaced by the following written acknowledgment: "The Producers wish to thank The Big Three Music Co. for permission to use the following songs."
Although a September 1970 Variety news item noted that Albert Fennell was to produce the film with Ron Dunas, the extent of Fennell's contribution, if any, has not been determined. An October 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Peter Cushing was originally to co-star with Vincent Price. The 1972 film Dr. Phibes Rises Again, directed by Robert Fuerst and starring Price and Peter Jeffrey, was a sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes (see below).
Released in United States 1971
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1971