By the early 1970’s at the time of The Abominable Dr. Phibes ‘ release, its star Vincent Price had already established himself as the larger than life charismatic characters that he presented in the horror genre.
In many ways this film and his portrayal of the titular Dr. Phibes is a tongue in cheek profile of his on-screen caricature and he relishes in the camp, Phantom-esque presence from the moment he rises from the depths playing an organ with relish, accompanied by the animatronic band, Dr. Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards.
It’s this exuberance and the dark humour, accompanied by a strong cast that all play it straight, elevating the dark comedy to the fore and establishing the film as a cult in its own right.
The central theme is a simple one about revenge on behalf of Phibes who feels that the surgical team that were operating on his wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro) were responsible for malpractice.
Presumed dead from a fiery car accident, Phibes returns to carry out his dastardly plot using extreme measures that call upon the ten plagues of Egypt in order to satiate his vengeance.
These outlandish murders soon raise the interests of Scotland Yard headed by a typical bumbling Brit detective, Inspector Harry Trout (Peter Jeffrey) to track down the culprit.
His investigations lead him to deduce that a connection surrounds the medical staff who worked with Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten) and that there is inevitably someone out to kill him and his colleagues. The only trouble is that the prime suspect, Phibes, is supposedly dead.
All the performances are solid and on point, notably Terry Thomas as Dr. Longstreet and Aubrey Woods as the Goldsmith, who each hit their comedic notes perfectly.
The glory belongs to Price however, and part of the appeal to his character of Phibes is not only his deadly pursuit but also that he is no longer able to speak bar through his use of acoustic that allow his presence to be deliberately off-kilter, but you can also tell that he his having a lot of fun in his role.
There is a cracking ending too that plays to the hand of a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, once again directed by Robert Fuest (And Soon The Darkness), possibly a pre-ordained plan on part of the producers, especially knowing that further scripts were bandied around called Phibes Resurrectus, The Bride of Dr. Phibes, and The Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes, but unfortunately would not see fruition.
A shame as I would loved to have seen Price and Dr. Phibes enact more gloriously over-the-top grisly murders along the way.
- Saul Muerte