Director: Robert Fuest
Music: Basil Kirchin
Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Terry-Thomas, Peter Jeffrey, Derek Godfrey
Don’t cry upon God, Dr. Vesalius. He is on my side! He led me, showed me the way in my quest for vengeance.
Unfortunately due to my not being born until 1972 I was unable to attend a movie theatre viewing of this absolute classic Vincent Price tongue in cheek horror film. Like so many of what most would consider to be B-Movies, though I call classics, I caught this on a Saturday Night midnight horror show on a local television station. Years later I would catch this multiple times on TBS’s Super Scary Saturday with Al Lewis as host, portraying Granpa Munster!
American International Pictures really knocked it out of the park with this film. We film geeks were given the gift of the great Vincent Price in his heyday as obsessed genius, Dr. Anton Phibes, determined to visit representations of the nine plagues from the Bible on those he deems responsible for the death of his wife! Add to the mix the always fantastic Joseph Cotten as Dr. Vesalius and some of the absolute greatest British character actors of the time, throw in a dash of black humor, stir in some rather grisly deaths, and I’ll guarantee you’ll have an instant masterpiece on your hands!
We are first introduced to Dr. Phibes, he holds doctorates in Theology and Music as we later learn, playing the War March of the Priests on his extravagant pipe organ as it slowly raises up from below ground. As he finishes his torturous playing he winds up and mocks conducting the band of automaton musicians of his own construction, Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards, before being joined by his silent and beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). The pair waltz around the room, neither saying a word to each other, until they break off their dance and Phibes lowers a covered cage through the floor to Vulnavia below, she apparently can move around and change outfits very quickly, where she secures it tightly to the back of a waiting automobile. What is inside the cage and what fate does it hold for Dr. Dunwoody? That would be telling…but rest assured there are seven more of the Plagues of Egypt that Phibes is waiting to bestow on the the Doctors and one Nurse who were present in the room when his wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro though she was excluded from the film’s credits), perished under the knife during an emergency operation.
But what are the Ten Plagues?
9. Death of the first born
Soon Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) is on the case and when he finds out the link between the deceased Doctors, thanks to Dr. Vesalius who was head surgeon, he begins to suspect that Anton Phibes is his culprit. His superiors refute this as Dr. Anton Phibes was believed killed in a fiery car crash as he was trying desperately to get to his ailing wife’s side. We find out that when Anton, who of course survived the crash, learned of her demise he was confident that her death was the result of incompetence on the part of her Doctors and spends the next years planning his glorious revenge.
The good Inspector with the eventual aid of Dr. Vesalius must now race against time to try to protect Dr. Phibes’s targeted prey from their gruesome deaths.
The music, which is now available on Itunes by the way, is a mix of big band and classical music with haunting themes by Basil Kirchin. The movie was popular enough to spawn a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again and rumor has it that there were many more movies planned with titles like Dr. Phibes in the Holy Land, the Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes, and the Brides of Phibes.
I’m generally an easy sell when it comes to Vincent Price horror films but I must bestow five pumpkins out of five to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, I believe that everyone who cares about classic horror will agree with me.