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THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES - 4 Slimes
Rated PG-13
Copyright 1971 American International Pictures
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 3 June 2001

The Characters:  

  • Dr. Phibes - Vincent Price! A revenant intent on destroying the people who may or may not have been responsible for his wife's death. He is completely evil, but guess who you'll be cheering for during the whole film.
  • Victoria Phibes - Beautiful even in death, though her husband's penchant for talking to her silk screen image is creepy.
  • Vulnavia - Assists the abominable doctor and you might suspect she is his daughter (nope). Has her face burned off by acid.
  • Inspector Trout - One of Scotland Yard's finest officers and long suffering due to everyone mistaking him for another species of freshwater fish. Let me tell you, Englishmen are darn funny by default.
  • Dr. Vesalius - Surgeon who is frightfully adept at dissecting his own son. People are sure to talk after this movie is over.
  • The Victims - Man, I wouldn't want to be one of these individuals. Doomed! They're all doomed!

Buy It!

The Plot: 

Readers may have noticed, usually I do not like "artsy" films. This is due to the fact that often they are little more than "grand and visionary images" repeated over and over. So, keeping that in mind, some friends are surprised I regard this title as a nearly perfect black comedy. Look at the cast though, everyone plays their roles with deadly serious poise and the hero is a murderous genius! Not so much that we are intended to love Phibes as a character (and we are), but he is far too charismatic and inventive not to like.

Trout is investigating the curious deaths of a few doctors around London when he comes to the conclusion that something is amiss. The first two really do not peak his interest, even though one man was stung to death by a swarm of bees (boils) in his room and another ripped to shreds by bats. Might I remind you, these deaths occurred in the middle of London. Not precisely the sort of locale that supports populations of killer bees or genetically engineered bats. Work with me here, Flying Foxes are really too cute for the bloodthirsty part they play, but something scratched that man to death. Anyway, Pike - I mean Trout, realizes that foul business is afoot when one man has his skull crushed by a mechanical frog mask.

Victoria Phibes died during an operation (exactly what is not explained) and her grieving husband was presumed dead after his car drove off a cliff and burned. Unfortunately for the doctors, the man either has the greatest immune system ever known or is an undead avenger (I'm partial to the latter explanation myself). Biding his time, he devised a fiendish plan to kill anyone involved with Victoria's death. Nothing simple like a knife or bullet either. Phibes will visit a deadly plague, derived from what Moses called down upon the Pharaoh, on each and every person.

We, the audience, are privy to the extraordinary lengths Dr. Phibes is going to for revenge. Whether he is intensely playing the pipe organ that dominates the grand ballroom of his hideout or gracefully dancing with Vulnavia, the man has style. Nobody else is there to see, save the incredible clockwork musicians playing music, so the performances solely gratify Phibes' strange tastes.

Probably the most chilling end is that of Dr. Longstreet. Lulled into a dreamy state by Vulnavia, he allows himself to be bound to a chair. Then Phibes walks in and fixes the old horny coot with a reproachful stare (I love the look he gives the victims) before inserting a large needle into the man's arm. Attached to the tube is a pint jar and the glass container begins to fill as Phibes slowly works the pump. He artfully drains every single drop of blood from the poor man, leaving him a gray husk and placing all eight pints on the mantel. I've watched hundreds of slasher flicks and few scenes have ever really deserved a second thought. Watching a man's blood being leisurely pumped from his body made my hair stand on end.

Gruesome as it may be, the last victim's end provides Trout with a much-needed clue. Phibes had a set of pendants specially made; each has a Hebrew symbol representing one of the plagues. He wears the respective pendant when executing each sentence and lost the one for blood during Longstreet's initial thrashing. Between visiting a jeweler and a Rabbi, the inspector is able to start piecing things together. Fat lot of good it will do.

Impressive powers of deduction (actually he or one of his servants spent hours sorting through folders) enable Vesalius to volunteer that all the deceased were involved in the failed surgery on Victoria Phibes. Despite knowing this, two more are killed before the authorities get the remainder under police protection. Still no good; Trout and another inspector actually open the door for number seven when a brass unicorn head (beasts) is catapulted across the street, skewering him. Then there's the problem of removing the victim from the wall, resulting in a scene that really cracks me up.

As the audience might notice, the protagonist is ingeniously cruel. He honestly believes these doctors and the nurse are responsible for his beloved's death. Phibes spends a great deal of time talking to her image and even wears latex facial features over his burned visage, thereby appearing more or less normal. Okay, so he must speak through a phonograph (attached to him by cable). What of it? He ingests food and drink via the back of his neck too! In fact, while brewing up a special batch of Brussels sprout syrup (egad, imagine that on pancakes), he tastes the concoction. Disgusting slurping sounds result, causing my imagination to speculate: what sort of orifice was located on the back of this man's neck? Considering the tongue's roll in that sense, how does he taste anything?

Now, about that mind-boggling health syrup; it is used to facilitate the nurse's murder. She is a little distraught and sent to bed with a sleeping pill. Unbeknownst to the officer standing guard outside her door, the villain has entered the room above and drilled a hole through the ceiling. He then applies a liberal coating of Brussels sprout syrup to the comatose woman before goading a number of famished locusts down the pipe. Hehehe! Someone who has been sedated might not wake up if a few wood chips fall, but having their nose and mouth filled with that disgusting molasses should rouse them. Let alone when the hungry hoppers start eating their face off!

The police are nearly beside themselves, but at least they have Dr. Vesalius where nobody can get to him and... ...oh no! The ninth plague was death of the firstborn and Vesalius Jr. is at home alone! Phibes has struck again, but this time he devised a way to torture the surgeon and test his mettle. Vesalius must remove a key lodged near his son's heart before a deadly shower of acid rains down from above. While the father rushes to split his child open the abominable organist descends into a crypt where his wife awaits. Fittingly, Dr. Phibes saved the last plague (darkness) for himself.

I'm at a loss to explain why the protagonist is such a charming character. Vincent Price being one of my favorite actors probably has a lot to do with it; add to that the dedication and imagination he displays and we have a winner. And this is a person visiting grisly ends upon nearly a dozen people who very likely do not deserve them. Victoria died on the operating table while an obviously experienced group was trying to save her life. Did one of the surgeons tug on something they shouldn't have? Since Phibes does appear to be a revenant (although I have a disturbing theory about Vulnavia that pops up in the sequel), this appears to prove her life was unfairly cut short. We cannot tell for certain.

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Dr. Freex and myself are have a mini roundtable this weekened! Enjoy a double shot of Vincent Price on both sites and you will soon find yourself slavering for more. More. MORE!
The Bad Movie Report: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Badmovies.org: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The Bad Movie Report: Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Badmovies.org: Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Women can change quickly when they want to.
  • Fruit bats are, strangely enough, carnivorous.
  • In the old days watching a porn film would get your arm tired; no matter what.
  • The Vulcan Nerve Pinch is common knowledge.
  • Never stand directly in front of a high velocity snow cone machine.
  • Most small plane crashes are caused by rat infestations.
  • Having to drink champagne though a hole in the back of your neck sort of ruins the debonair image.
  • At one point Egypt was beset by a plague of unicorns.
  • Locusts can eat fifty times their own body weight - in human flesh!

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • Opening Credits - What films did Samuel Z. Arkoff not produce?
  • 13 mins - Every time I start playing an organ in the middle of the night my neighbors call the police on me...
  • 26 mins - Oops!
  • 30 mins - Would you give somebody, who is that freaky looking, a sharp instrument and tell them to circumcise your son?
  • 48 mins - He burned to death so they just went ahead and cremated him? Is this practical or ironic?
  • 58 mins - Hehehe! Look at those feet go around! A perfect example of rigor mortis instantaneous.
  • 63 mins - Okay, obviously only a madman would carefully inspect Brussels sprouts for quality.
  • 67 mins - I wonder who finally came up with the idea of filling those with air.
  • 86 mins - RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST EVERYTHING IN THE ROOM!

Quotes: 

  • Trout: "Oh, don't take him out like that! At least cover his face up...what's left of it."
  • Phibes: "Nine killed you, nine shall die! Nine eternities in doom!"

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

FileDialog
Green Music Note phibes1.wav Trout's Boss: "Anyway, medical men die every day."
Trout: "I'm aware of that sir."
Trout's Boss: "Good. They're composed of the same flesh and blood as you and I."
Trout: "I'm aware of that too sir. I happen to have seen rather a lot of their flesh and blood in the past few days."
Green Music Note phibes2.wav Trout: "Somebody is using these ancient biblical curses to kill everyone associated with the Phibes' operation. But, I mean: the husband's dead, there's no children, it all happened ages ago - so who the hell are we looking for?"
Green Music Note phibes3.wav Trout's Boss: "A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen."
Green Music Note phibes4.wav Phibes taunting Dr. Vesalius.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 

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 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipphibes1.mpg - 3.0m
Trout thought that this doctor would be safe once he was in protective custody. He didn't plan on Phibes chucking a brass unicorn head across the street.

Incoming!

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Comments:Write CommentPages: [1] 2 3 ... 5
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #1. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by Steve
Both Phibes movies are good, with Price playing one of his best roles. Those clockwork musicians - very freaky. If you like the Phibes' have a look at "Theatre Of Blood". Price plays a Shakespearean ham (Edward Lionheart)who fakes his own suicide so he can gain bloody (but inventive)revenge on beastly theatre critics. He uses the methods of murder described in the play he was appearing in at the time of the bad review he received. It's ace.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #2. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by BoyScoutKevin
Not one of my favorites, though one of Price's. There are compensating features, though. Namely, Terry-Thomas, he of the pencil thin moustache and gap between the teeth--which is used to good effect, when he voiced the character of Sir Hiss in Disney's "Robin Hood." Perhaps, best known as the Englishman (typecasting) in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." And, if I remember correctly, the novelization of the screenplay solved the problem with the locusts, with the nurse being eaten by ants, and the locusts, being used as a red herring. Which makes more sense. As locusts are herbivores, or plant eaters, while ants are omnivores, or they will eat eat almost anything, including human flesh. Enjoy
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #3. Posted on June 04, 2001, 12:25:12 PM by Paul Westbrook
I find this to be the definitive Price film. As the mad genius Phibes, Price brings to the screen an all new persona of genuine evil, and malicious intent. This rates as my favorite Vincent Price movie, and is a horror classic with originality, with a touch of dark comedic overtones. One I highly recommend.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #4. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Blake Walker
Hi, I saw both movies back to back when I was eleven or twelve years old on cable.  Must say that Vincent Price played the role of Dr. Phibes to the hilt (some of the cruel biblical death scenes even give me chills today).  Anyway, I'd recommend them to anyone who enjoys well made, classic horror films.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #5. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Joe L.
This certainly is a superior horror picture (indeed, black comedy might be the more accurate category), and must rank as one of Vinnie the P.'s best films overall.  What style! What panache!  Terry Thomas is a hoot, of course, and Joseph Cotten makes a worthy adversary to dear, departed Dr. Phibes.  And yes, I'd love to see what your take would be on THEATRE OF BLOOD, another darkly comic romp.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #6. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by L.E. Brewington
I had never seen this movie until I read the review. There is no possible way I could ever take it seriously (as if that would have been possible anyway, I mean you can see the strings holding up the carnivorous fruit bats) But it Kicks Ass! Vulnavia stole that movie right out from under Price. "Did you write down FASHIONABLE, inspector Trout?" My husband walked around for hours afterwards with a phone cord stuck in his collar talking like poor Anton. I still haven't absorbed the whole wax sculpture thing yet, though.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #7. Posted on April 10, 2005, 12:03:17 PM by Luke Bannon
It was this film that turned me into a big fan of Vincent Price, and I would like to personally thank Andrew, as it was on your site that I first heard of it. Thanks again man.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Reply #8. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Jeff Dworkin
I've always loved the high level campiness of the whole production.  One note:  those are LIMES not Brussels Sprouts!  He made a thick lime syrup that he drizzles over her face ....
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