The Abominable Dr Phibes
James Whiton, William Goldstein
Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes
Joseph Cotten as Dr. Vesalius
Virginia North as Vulnavia
Terry-Thomas as Dr. Longstreet
Peter Jeffrey as Inspector Trout
Vincent Price is, without a doubt, one of the classic horror figures of all times. Price is particularly well suited to characters with over-the-top behaviors and highly stylized settings – and could in fact give William Shatner a lesson of two in “over acting”.
The Abominable Dr Phibes is a PERFECT example of Vincent Price at his stylized best.
The film begins with a dark figure playing gothic music on a huge pipe organ. The audience for this recital of sorts seems to be having a wonderful time…until you look a bit closer. They are all mannequins seated in positions that give the illusion that they are enjoying themselves in a lavish nightclub. Then we see the first appearance of Vulnavia (Virginia North). Though she never speaks a word through the entire movie, Vulvania has quite an impact.
Vulnavia and the organ player proceed through a highly ritualized chain of events, gliding through loading an automobile with a large box, driving to a swank part of London and arriving at a large British mansion.
Our next scene shows an older gentleman preparing for bed, clearly living in the lap of luxury. Just as the poor old fellow falls asleep the skylight in his room opens and the box is lowered in by a rope. When the box is opened we hear squeaks and screeches that betray the fact that some sort of creatures have been released.
Well friends, the creatures turn out to be bats, and proceed to eat our elderly gentleman alive! And this is just the beginning…
As you have likely figured out, the mysterious organ player is The Abominable Dr Phibes himself. Vulnavia is his silent-but-deadly sidekick, and the two of them are on a murder spree. Each of the victims of this murderous mambo has one thing in common: They were somehow involved in the untimely death of Mrs. Phibes on a hospital operating table as doctors, nurses or attendants.
Hot on the trail of the dastardly Dr. Phibes and his lovely assistant is Inspector Trout, played by Peter Jeffrey. Trout is a bit of a bungler, but smart enough to figure out the pattern of the murders and narrow down the suspects to just one man: Dr. Phibes.
This film is an intriguing tale of revenge. The sets are “70s spectacular” and the performances by Price and North are extraordinary. There are a few elements that really make this horror movie work:
• The murders are done in very creative and ingenious ways, using intricate devices and techniques. (Somebody watched The Abominable Dr Phibes before writing the horror movie Saw I’m sure)
• Vincent Price pulls no punches in his over-the-top portrayal of the good doctor, and makes him believable, as only Vincent Price could.
• Humor and levity intermix with horror and intrigue, and this rescues The Abominable Dr Phibes from being a total cheese-fest.
• The style and, well, “bigness” of the visuals, characters and music result in this not just being a great Vincent Price movie, but a work of art where every element fits together just right.
The Abominable Dr Phibes showcases the brilliance of 70s style and of the mastery of Vincent Price. Many of the younger folks may have missed him altogether, which is a shame. I do think, though, that one of the best contributions that the freak-show Michael Jackson has made to the world is introducing Vincent Price to a whole new generation of horror-buffs by using his voice in the pop music hit “Thriller” from the 80s. Now, watch The Abominable Dr Phibes and REALLY get a taste of what made this man great.