"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?
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. And, indeed, the casting of Price as a vengeful and disfigured burn victim.
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.
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 (launched through his window from across the street), a contracting, crushing frog mask, and adorable flesh-eating batsnote They're fruit bats, which are imposingly large but have cute faces..
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!".
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.
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.
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.
What Could Have Been: Peter Cushing as Dr. Vesalius. He turned the role down because of the serious illness of his wife. He got a cameo in the sequel though. And, you know, given that they ended up with Joseph Cotten, it's not a total loss.
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.
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.
Unexplained Recovery: Vulvania seems to have come through okay from getting drenched in acid at the end of the first film.
For that matter, it's not explained how Phibes himself ever survived having all his blood replaced with embalming fluid.
What Could Have Been: Various ideas for a third film were discussed, including 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.
What the Hell, Hero?: Biederbeck is repeatedly called out on his utter disregard for all the deaths happening around him. The writers have realized, by this point, that we're all rooting for Phibes anyway, so why bother pretending his nemesis is at all likable?
You Look Familiar: Hugh Griffith and Terry-Thomas, who'd appeared in the original film, return here as different characters.