Film: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
"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, medicine 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?
Contains examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming:
- A Running Gag is that people keep getting Trout's name wrong and calling him after other types of fish.
- Also various characters pronouncing 'Phibes' as 'FIH-bees', which someone else corrects them on.
- Everybody needs to be corrected on how to pronounce Kitaj (It's Kit-eye)
- 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.
- Complexity Addiction
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Phibes' techniques for killing off his enemies involve such varied methods as impaling a man on a brass unicorn's horn (launched through his window from across the street), a contracting, crushing frog mask, and adorable flesh-eating batsnote .
- 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.
- More basic than that: the movie gives no indication that Dr. Vesalius and his team were negligent in any way, or committed any sort of malpractice. Phibes is just looking for someone to punish for his wife's death.
- 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.
- Another possible reason is his belief that Phibes has planned for contingencies, as witness this piece of dialogue:
Dr. Vesalius (to Trout): Human error won't stop him. He's had years to hide, to plot this damnable thing.
- Even before, Dr. Vesalius was not the brighest person when he suggested for nurse Allen to take a sleeping pill. She could have survived if she was awake.
- Gotta Kill Them All
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Dr. Whitcombe. With a brass unicorn head.
- Kill It with Ice: Dr. Hedgepath is frozen to death with an ice-spewing machine.
- Large Ham: All through mime, yet.
- Lip Lock: Completely averted; Phibes' throat is too damaged for normal speech, so he communicates by plugging himself into outlets and then - with science - speaking through them. Which is to say, Vincent Price acts his character in mime, and then supplies voiceover later. This made his only dialogue scene a bit tricky for Joseph Cotten, who didn't always know when to start speaking.
- Love Makes You Evil
- Murderous Mask: Dr. Hargreaves is done in by a mechanically constricting frog mask that crushes his skull.
- Nec Romantic
- A Nice Chianti: Although he has to drink it through the back of his neck...
- Not That Kind of Doctor: Phibes has his doctorates in theology and music.
- Though he does know enough about surgery to safely cut open a boy's chest and plant a key inside him.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: As a virtuoso organist, Phibes naturally loves to play his theatre organ in his lair.
- Pimped-Out Dress: Some of Vulnavia's dresses.
- Poetic Serial Killer
- Police Are Useless: Well, except for Trout, and even he is powerless to prevent most of the deaths despite figuring out Phibes' modus operandi fairly early on.
- Posters Always Lie: The poster implies that a romance between the disfigured Phibes and Vulnavia is a major part of the plot. It's not part of the plot at all.
- Posters Always Spoil: Phibes' disfigured face was supposed to be The Reveal. It's right there at the top of the screen.
- Pretty in Mink: Vulnavia has a white fur coat and hat.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The whole plot.
- The Roaring Twenties
- Rule of Cool: Bats and locusts eat people when Doctor Phibes says they do, dammit!
- Rule of Funny: Instant rigor mortis makes unscrewing someone from a wall that much goofier.
- Scotland Yard
- Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: Both films have a very dry sense of humor, are well aware of Phibes' epic hamminess, and generally don't take themselves all that seriously.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: One of the victims dies rather horribly at a fancy-dress party to the strains of "The Darktown Strutter's Ball".
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey).
- Talking to the Dead: Phibes keeps his dead wife's body preserved and frequently speaks to her.
- Thanatos Gambit: Phibes prepares to join his wife in death once his vengeance is accomplished.
- Theme Serial Killer: Dr. Phibes used the 10 plagues of Egypt to carry out his revenge.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Vulnavia dons a different outfit in every one of her scenes.
- Villain Protagonist
- Wicked Cultured
- Woman in White: Vulnavia's first appearance.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Phibes.
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
Darius 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.
Dr. Phibes rises again contains examples of: