PLOT: A former doctor, Anton Phibes lost everything after a car crash claimed his face, and more importantly, his beloved wife. After several of his colleagues attempted to save Mrs. Phibes but couldn't, Dr. Phibes vowed a most complex and horrific vengeance against them.
REVIEW: One of Halloween's greatest heroes, Vincent Price, stars as a deformed, vengeance-seeking madman in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, a gleefully demented UK horror-comedy that is shockingly underrated. Not only does it feature a performance from Price that is both subtle and full tilt bonkers at the same time, it has some of the most deliciously grotesque murders ever committed to film. When was the last time you saw a pilot eaten alive by rats while he's flying the plane? Think SAW, but with 70s panache and dry British wit. I don't want to shame anyone, but no horror movie fan should be without this crazy little ditty in their library.
The story of a doctor wreaking havoc on the lives of his colleagues - all of whom he deems responsible for his wife's death - could have been a standard-issue affair in the hands of uninterested hacks. Happily, DR. PHIBES is anything but routine; directed by Robert Fuest (who helmed several episodes of the classic UK spy show "The Avengers") and produced by veteran schlockmeisters James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff (founders of American International Studios), the film is as funny as it is creepy; you can tell the creative team had a blast making it. You see, Dr. Phibes doesn't just kill his enemies in ordinary fashion; he's decided to off them all with Biblical plagues. That means rats, bats, locusts and more unholy terrors are ingeniously sprung upon the unwitting parties, and the results are nothing less than marvelous to behold. You might just find yourself gagging afterward, but would you really have it any other way?
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time Price has played a nutter with a twisted visage and revenge on his mind; HOUSE OF WAX is the movie that made him a horror star, and those attributes can be applied to his character in that as well. But Dr. Phibes is a different sort of fellow. His face completely melted after a car accident, which also claimed the life of his wife, Phibes has slathered on a prosthetic mug that more or less resembles the one he owned previously. Only problem is, he can't use his mouth, so he talks in a kind of nasal monotone thanks to a contraption that utilizes a loudspeaker and a tube through his throat. Most of the time, Price doesn't speak at all, but uses his blank but frightfully alive face to convey Phibes' fury, delight and sadness. (Phibes has a very nasty sense of humor.) It's such a fun performance to watch, one that makes you realize that while he's best known for throwing subtlety out the window, Price was an accomplished thespian capable of so much more than hamming it up. Don't get me wrong, though, he hams it up plenty, and as always it's brilliant to watch - as is THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.
BEST TNA: Phibes has found himself an assistant called Vulnavia, played by Virginia North, and she's quite a dish. No, she doesn't show much skin, but the deadly beauty seeks only to serve her master, and there's definitely something to be said for that.
BEST GORE BIT: This is a toughie, since the film contains no less than six spectacular death sequences. My favorite moment, however, might be the one where a man, wearing a mask given to him by Phibes, suddenly finds that it's tightening ever so quickly around his neck… until the inevitable happens. Again, if you thought SAW came up with this kind of stuff, DR. PHIBES will show you the way.
HALLOWEEN DRINKING GAME: Take a pull off your favorite bottle every time…
- Someone dies in hideous fashion
- Dr. Phibes plays the organ - when he's not off murdering, he's relaxing with a tune or two
- The clueless detectives on the case make a sly British pun. You're going to be shitfaced after this one, I assure you.