THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)
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Four years earlier Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) lost his beautiful wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro) during a medical procedure. Racing home upon hearing the news, Phibes himself got into a car accident and was presumed burned to death. But the doctor is not dead and though horribly scarred, he plans to exact revenge on the nine medical personnel he feels responsible for Victoria’s death. Now the police are baffled as Phibes begins to exact his revenge in the form of biblical plagues and begins a bloody path leading to the chief surgeon (Joseph Cotton) for whom he plans the worse fate yet!
Price classic is stylishly directed by Robert Fuest from a script by he, along with William Goldstein and James Whiton. The flick may take place in 1925, but Fuest gives it a 60s art deco look and a very twisted sense of humor. While Phibes’ plans for those he seeks revenge on are quite ghastly, there is a sense of fun as Phibes unleashes his plagues with an assortment of bizarre gadgets and a disguise or two. The results can be gruesome, but nothing too extreme as the film was rated PG…or “GP” as it was called during this era. There is some fun to be had in watching Phibes make a fool of Scotland Yard Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and evade any attempts by the law to protect those still yet to meet a horrible fate. It is a bit methodically paced and feels somewhat longer than it’s 94 minute run time, but watching Phibes play the organ while plotting horrible deeds is campy, ghoulish fun with Price doing what he does best. On a technical level it is well made though some of the FX are delightfully cheesy by today’s standards.
As for the horror legend, Price is at the top of his game here as the sinister Phibes. Even having to play the role mute and add his voice later (Phibes lost the ability to speak in the accident and uses a device to emit his voice) he still chills with the look in his eyes and his mannerisms and his dialogue is still recited with that Vincent Price flair. He never goes overboard, but just over-the-top enough to give a diabolical horror movie style Bond villain vibe to the gadget making/organ playing Phibes. Joseph Cotton is another movie veteran who knows to take the campy/creepy material seriously as the main target on Phibes’ list, Dr. Vesalius. Peter Jeffrey seems to be having a good time as the constantly baffled and outwitted Inspector Trout. Another role that is meant to be campy with the actor showing just enough restraint to not become outright silly. Virginia North is a sexy femme fatale as Phibes’ silent assistant Vulnavia and an un-credited role playing Phibes’ Victoria in photos and corpse form is British film vixen and future Bond girl, Caroline Munro. A classy cast that all approach the material with proper amounts of camp or seriousness.
Overall, this is a cult classic and another example of why Vincent Price is a legend. As a film itself, it is a little too slow paced for it’s own good and the mix of gruesome and giddy may not always work completely, but it is still a lot of twisted fun. The diabolical doctor would return for a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the following year.