The Abominable Dr Phibes stars Vincent Price as a living corpse, seeking revenge on the nine medics who were in attendance when his wife (Caroline Munro) died during routine surgery.
He concocts his revenge based on the ten biblical plagues of ancient Egypt, from the Old Testament.
So we see a nurse having her head covered in liquefied Brussels sprouts, and killer locusts set upon her, a doctor attacked by rabid rats in his aeroplane, another doctor attacked by vampire bats, and Dr Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufman) speared to a door by the brass horn of a unicorn.
Dr Longstreet (Terry Thomas), is interrupted while watching a ‘naughty’ film featuring a belly dancer with a snake. He is seduced by the Doctor’s lovely but silent assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) and allows himself to be bound to the chair.
Vulnavia distracts his attention by belly-dancing while the good Dr Phibes drains him of his blood – which is left on the mantle shelf in jars.
Scotland Yard’s long-suffering Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey), and his eager assistant Crow (Derek Godfrey) are initially puzzled by the murders until Crow pieces together they had all served on a surgical team headed by Dr Vesalius (Joseph Cotton).
The police know Phibes is behind the murders – but they also “know” that he supposedly died when driving his car off a cliff several years before.
Phibes was not killed, only hideously scarred, with no features remaining to speak of (he only takes on an identity when he dons his rubber facemask). He speaks through a cord extended from his throat and eats through a tube.
As the head of the surgical team that failed to save Victoria’s life, the final curse – the curse of darkness – is saved for Vesalius.
Vesalius learns Phibes has kidnapped his son and goes to his house to play out the final scene. The diabolical ending forces Vesalius to perform an operation on his own son to keep him from being bathed in acid.
The Dr Phibes makeup (by Trevor Crole-Ress) is outstanding in depicting without revulsion the look of a living corpse covered in scars.
Set in England, circa 1929, The Abominable Dr Phibes has been described as an “anachronistic period horror musical camp fantasy”. Often amusing, occasionally sickening, always impressive for the imaginative Art Deco sets, it’s pretty flatly directed, despite memorable images like the opening shot of Price hunched as manically as the Phantom of the Opera over an organ in a black cowl.
Due to the film’s success, a sequel, Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) was released.
Dr Anton Phibes