The Abominable Dr. Phibes

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"Nine killed you, nine shall die and be returned your loss, nine times nine! Nine killed you, nine shall die, nine eternities in doom!"

A 1971 horror film starring Vincent Price as the eponymous doctor and Joseph Cotten as his nemesis.

Four years ago, in 1921, Victoria Phibes died after only six minutes on the operating table. While rushing to her side, her husband Anton Phibes, a brilliant organist with expertise in theology, medecine and automation, crashed his car, and was thought to have been killed. In truth, the horrifically burned man had survived, only to learn of the death of his wife. In despair, Phibes went into seclusion, swearing vengeance upon those he perceived responsible for the death of his only love.

Now the year is 1925, and doctors have been perishing in disturbing and bizarre ways. At first, the only connections between them seem to be that the manner of their death is related in some way to one of the ten plagues of Egypt as outlined in the Old Testament, and that a silent, beautiful woman was nearby when they died. Yet there is one more connection between the doctors; a certain failed operation comes back to haunt them.

But if there were ten plagues, and only nine people operated on Victoria... then for whom is the Plague of Darkness intended?

Tropes used in The Abominable Dr. Phibes include:
  • Actor Allusion: In real life, Vincent Price was an excellent chef and art expert. In the movie, Phibes cooks up a Brussels Sprouts-based concoction in order to get locusts to eat a woman, and throws a withering Death Glare at one of his victims upon seeing an ugly piece of art in his room.
    • The wax busts he melts after each kill.
    • Dr. Phibes' wife's full name is Victoria Regina Phibes. Victoria Regina was the name of a 1935 play starring Vincent Price.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the script, Vulnavia is a clockwork creation of Phibes'. The actual movie leaves her nature more ambiguous.
  • Animal Assassin
  • Anti-Villain: Phibes.
  • Black Cloak: Phibes wears one at the beginning as he flamboyantly plays his organ, complete with ominous black hood. He dons a white cloak in the climax.
  • Book Ends: Phibes plays Felix Mendelssohn's War March Of The Priests twice on his organ. The first time opens the movie. He plays it a second time as he prepares to join his wife in death towards the end.
  • Camp: The movie is full of it, Phibes' lair and mannerism in particular.
  • Collapsing Lair: Phibes orders Vulnavia to destroy everything in his lair once his vengeance is accomplished. She uses an axe, which is not really appropriate for the task. She can only achieve mere vandalizing with it.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Phibes' techniques for killing off his enemies involve such varied methods as impaling a man on a gold unicorn's horn, a contracting, crushing frog mask, and adorable flesh-eating bats[1].
  • Costume Porn
  • Covers Always Lie
  • Cute Mute/The Voiceless: Phibes' assistant, Vulnavia. Though she is apparently capable of speech, her only utterance on-camera is an agonized scream as she dies.
  • Death by Disfigurement: Vulnavia is killed by a shower of acid falling on her face, making this rather literal. We don't see the results, but it's safe to say that her dead body won't be very pretty...
  • Death by Irony: Dr. Hargreaves (the crushing frog mask victim) said "I'm a head shrinker!".
  • Death Seeker: Phibes.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the whole movie, but specially in the last scenes. Dr. Vesalius failed in a surgery with a team of 9 doctors. Then Phibes reveals his disfigured face, scaring the crap out of him and makes him operate on his son, alone, while constantly reminding him about the acid and playing organ. It's just unfair.
  • Dramatic Unmask: When Phibes reveals his disfigured, skull-like face to Vesalius.
  • Good Is Dumb: Dr. Vesalius could've killed Phibes, then turned off the machine that would drop acid in his son, and then proceed to call the police. He even had a scalpel in his hand! The only reason for him to not do so seems to be this piece of dialogue:

Dr. Vesalius: Your wife no, Phibes, but you I will kill.
Dr. Phibes: But you can't, doctor. I'm already dead.

After the success of Phibes, the studio naturally greenlit a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again. This film sees Phibes rising again, and then heading to Egypt, because the river of immortality is buried underneath an ancient temple, and he's pretty sure he's figured out how to find it and bring Victoria back to life. Unfortunately for him, Adventurer Archaeologist Biederbeck is after it, too. So Phibes does the most logical thing he can: he kills all of Biederbeck's excavation crew in overly elaborate, desert-themed ways.


The sequel contains examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Adventurer Archaeologist
  • Back From the Dead: Phibes, of course, although to what extent he was really dead is a bit vague. Also, with no explanation, Vulnavia. If she's a robot, maybe this one's another copy or something.
    • The rather trippy scene in which she reappears suggests that she is a supernatural being of some sort.
  • The Bad Guy Wins
  • The Cameo: Peter Cushing and Terry-Thomas (who plays a different role this time).
  • Camp: Much more so than the first movie
  • Cute Mute: Vulnavia again.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Biederbeck
  • Large Ham
  • Lip Lock: Phibes still talks through electrical speakers.
  • Necromantic
  • A Nice Chianti: Although he has to drink it through the back of his neck...
  • Not So Different: Phibes gives a damn fine argument why Biederbeck isn't really any better than he is.
  • The Other Darrin: Vulnavia. Virginia North was pregnant and therefore unable to reprise the role. Valli Kemp was cast instead.
  • Rapid Aging: Biederbeck
  • Reality Subtext: This was the last film Price did for American International Pictures, who were planning on replacing him with Robert Quarry as their main horror star (it didn't go too well. You've barely ever heard of Quarry, right?). Some of the dislike between their characters is genuine.
    • Even more uncomfortable in Madhouse, where Price plays an iconic horror actor, and Quarry plays an exec who is deliberately trying to ruin his career.
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Biederbeck
  • Rule of Cool
  • Say My Name: After The Bad Guy Wins, all Biederbeck can do is yell "PHIIIIIIIIBES!"
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Sooooooomewheeeeere, over the raaaainbooow...
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Once again, Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey). He is even more useless than he was in the first film.
  • Theme Naming: Both Biederbeck and a minor character called Lombardo are named after bandleaders of the time.
  • Those Two Guys: Trout and Waverly
  • What Could Have Been: Various ideas for a third film were discussed, including Phibes protecting the eternal life secret from Nazis, Phibes fighting a group of Satanists led by the grandson of Vesalius, Phibes fighting another Satanist (Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasance were considered for the part, and there would have been a scene where Phibes puts butter on one guy and boils him like a lobster) in Greece and eventually ascending to a higher plane of existence. Victoria would be an active character in the third movie, and serve as her husband's Morality Pet. At least one of the scripts was to have given the Clockwork Wizards mechanical band the power of full movement, and have them engage in a street battle with a squad of armed policemen. Several scripts were written (including one titled Brides Of Phibes, which was planned to co-star Roddy Mc Dowall as Phibes' adversary), and a few of these met Price's approval, but his ailing health prevented their production.
  1. They're fruit bats, which are imposingly large but have cute faces.