August 11, 2007

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Title: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Year: 1971
Cast: Vincent Price, Virginia North, Peter Jefferey

"Love means never having to say you're ugly"- What a tag line! As I have reiterated over and again in these pages, the 60s and 70s were, to my mind, the campiest time of the movies. And "..Abominable.." is not the least of the campiest best of the era. Its barking mad, with Vincent Price consistently maintaining a Shakespearean dignity, which is perhaps key to the enduring success of the movie.

I found some cool posters which I wanted to preserve on this blog:

The movie opens with Inspector Trout (Peter Jefferey) investigating some curious, successive deaths of a few doctors around London.
The deaths have nothing in common except that they were all violent, unnatural, and of doctors who knew each other. You as the viewer know better, because you see this beautiful woman (Virginia North) lurking around:What makes little sense is that not only is Vulnavia (that's her name, which you only get to know about 10 minutes before the movie ends) speaks not a single word in this movie, but appears in distracting mod outfits, as the henchman (henchwoman?) to Dr. Phibes (Price).

Backtrack to 4 years ago. Dr. Phibes was happily married. However, Mrs. Phibes was in a terrible accident while Dr. Phibes was in Switzerland. She was rushed to the hospital, where 8 surgeons (8!!!) and 1 nurse unsuccessfully tried to save her. Dr. Phibes (not a medical doctor, but a PhD in music and theatre from the Sorbonne, no less) rushed over from Switzerland to merry old England, but in his haste had a bit of an accident himself: Dr. Phibes pretends to be dead and is supposedly interred in the family tomb along with his wife. Of course he has actually been faking his own death, and turns out to be remarkably resourceful and self-reliant in the face of his sorrow. Being horribly disfigured by his accident, Phibes cannot eat normally, and has a tube running through his neck, which he uses to speak and eat! In addition, he acquires Vulnavia as his aforementioned henchwoman (no hanky-panky however is ever noted), builds a superb underground den with a fluorescent red pipe organ (see above), wears velvet capes and Shakespearean garb of that sort, and has a running projection of his wife's photos along with a alter to her at which he regularly mouths poetry and the like: But let us not mistake Dr. Phibes as your garden-variety mourning widower. He also has 9 fantastic paper-mache busts of the 8 doctors and nurse, whom he believes basely murdered his wife. He uses the 10 biblical plagues, derived from what Moses called down upon the Pharaoh, on each of the 9 offenders. He begins to methodically murder his offenders one by one, leaving cool Hebrew symbols signifying each plague at the death site, and then goes back to his den to burn each bust as a representation of the offender's demise.

Here are some examples of the successive murders. One is performed with the help of Vulnavia typing up one lustful doctor and then injecting out all his blood: Another murder is brought about by filling a plane that a doctor is flying with huge rats, who then proceed to eat the doctor: The nurse is killed with locusts:So 8 of the 9 die, with Inspector Trout edging closer and closer in his hunt for Dr. Phibes, while being harangued by his superior officer. Phibes in turn keeps himself entertained in between murders by playing his piano, listening to Vulnavia play the violin, dancing the fox trot with her and watching her parade around his den in cool costumes:
The 9th murder rolls around, and is a bit complex, involving the plague of the death of the eldest son. The 9th doctor is made to operate on his son, in whose heart Dr. Phibes has embedded a key (HOW?!!!). The 9th doc must get the key out in 6 minutes and release his son from the chains which bind him. If he fails, acid will fall from the ceiling and kill his son. Since this is the last one, Phibes considers his job done. He removes himself to the depths of his den and commits suicide (so you think) using the 10th plague of darkness by interring himself alive in his wife's grave: he believes his neglect was complicit in her death. We watch as he pumps out his blood and replaces it with embalming fluid. Trout and the police burst into his den just in time to save doc#9 being killed by Vulanvia, who dies in the acid shower meant for #9's son. Trout cannot find Phibes' body, and so the door is left open for another movie (which in fact did happen with "Dr. Phibes Rises Again," in 1972).

This movie is a lot of fun. There is sufficient humor from Trout and even Phibes to keep the levity flowing, and you almost look froward to the next murder. Even when Price repulses you with the gruesome murders he commits, he charms with the utter seriousness he carries out his act. It fulfills every expectation- watch it if you can find a copy!

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