With Arrow’s amazing release of The Complete Dr. Phibes Blu-ray box set I finally had the chance to see a horror classic that had been missing from my catalogue of chaos. And it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
Though made in 1971, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is set in 1920’s London where a string of sick murders have caught the attention of Scotland Yard due to their strange circumstances and the fact that all the victims are physicians.
After one victim is stung to death by bee, another bitten by bats and a third suffocated while wearing a frog mask, the investigation, led by the increasingly stressed Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) uncovers the connection in the killings which is that each replicates one of the Ten Plagues of Egypt visited on the Pharaohs in the Old Testament.
The man behind the mounting murders which inventively follow the biblical account is the crazed Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price amazing as always), who although thought to be dead is very much alive. Now he’s out for revenge on the doctors he believes were responsible for his wife’s death after they failed to save her in surgery.
With boils, bats and frogs already visited upon the medical professionals on the abominable doctor’s hit list, the plagues of blood, hail, rats, beats, locusts, darkness and the death of the first born are still to come as Phibes seeks out righteous retribution using his home made macabre machines and terrifying traps.
Perfectly blending comedy and horror into a glorious gore-filled film full of frights and fun, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a true horror classic with a cracking story line and tons of style.
With its carefully crafted costumes and props and impressive art deco set designs including Phibes brilliantly built ballroom complete with grand organ, clockwork band and hidden torture chamber the movie feels far more artistic than many other more trashy 70’s horrors and credit is due to Robert Fuest for his excellent direction.
Blending the psychedelic surreal feel of many films of the period with the roaring Twenties setting works marvelously well counter balancing the traditional police murder investigation with the dreamlike scenes of the silent Phibes and his beautiful driver and assistant Vulnavia (played by Bond girl Virginia North) dining, dancing or playing spooky yet sweet music together.
Price’s immensely powerful presence imbues the mostly silent Dr. Phibes with a great deal of gravitas as the hideously burnt and disfigured anti-hero can only speak through an archaic voice box made from a gramophone.
As with so many brilliant horror baddies’ the audience can’t help but root for Phibes especially given the bungling bobbies on his trail and the unlikable victims he so creatively and compellingly kills.
The murders, much like those seen in Theater of Blood, are magnificent and epically imaginative from the rats on a plan to the ironic head shrinking of a psychiatrist. The finale comes when Dr. Vesalius (Citizen Kane’s Joseph Cotton) has his surgical skills put to a twisted test pre-empting Saw’s fiendish death dealing devices by a very long way.
Packaged with more extras than a doctor has pain pills – along with the sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again – The Complete Dr. Phibes is an amazing release and it would be abominable shame not to buy it.