The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a 1971 British comedy horror film directed by Robert Fuest, written by William Goldstein and James Whiton, and starring Vincent Price and Joseph Cotten. Its art deco sets, dark humour and performance by Price have made the film and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again cult classics. The film also features Terry-Thomas and Hugh Griffith, with an uncredited Caroline Munro appearing in still photographs as Phibes’s wife.
The film follows the title character, Anton Phibes, who blames the medical team that attended to his wife for her death four years prior and sets out to exact vengeance on each one. Phibes is inspired in his murderous spree by the Ten Plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament.
The story begins in London, England where Dr. Anton Phibes a famous concert organist and expert in theology and music is thought to have been killed in a car crash in 1921. His beloved wife, Victoria, died during an operation not long before the car crash. Phibes survived the crash, but he was horribly scarred and left unable to speak. He remakes his face with prosthetics and uses his knowledge of acoustics to regain his voice. Resurfacing in 1925, Phibes believes his wife was a victim of incompetence on the part of the members of her medical team, and he begins elaborate plans to kill those he believes are guilty.
Aided in his quest for vengeance by his beautiful and silent female assistant Vulnavia, Phibes uses the ten plagues of Egypt as his inspiration, wearing an amulet with Hebrew letters corresponding with each plague as he conducts the murders. After three doctors have been killed, Inspector Trout, a detective from Scotland Yard, learns that they all had worked under the direction of Dr. Vesalius, who tells him the deceased had been on his team when treating Victoria, as were four other doctors and one nurse. Another murder takes place, and Trout suspects that Dr. Phibes is still alive. Trout and Dr. Vesalius go to the Phibes mausoleum at Highgate Cemetery. They find a box of ashes in Dr. Phibes’ coffin, but Trout decides they are probably the remains of Phibes’ chauffeur. Victoria’s coffin is found to be empty.
The police are unable to prevent Phibes from killing the remaining medical team members, except for Dr. Vesalius himself. Phibes kidnaps the doctor’s son Lem, then calls Vesalius and tells him to come alone to his mansion on Maldene Square if he wants to save his son. Trout advises against it, but Vesalius knocks the inspector unconscious, then races to Phibes’ mansion, where he confronts him. Vesalius finds his son under anesthesia and prepped for surgery. Phibes has implanted a small key near the boy’s heart that will unlock his restraints and Vesalius has to surgically remove the key within six minutes (the same time Victoria was on the operating table) to release his son before acid from a container above Lem’s head is released and destroys his face. Vesalius succeeds and moves the table out of the way. However, Vulnavia, who has been ordered to destroy Phibes’ mechanical creations, is surprised by Trout and his assistant; backing away, she is sprayed with the acid and apparently killed.
Convinced that he has accomplished his vendetta, Phibes retreats to the basement to inter himself in a stone sarcophagus containing the embalmed body of his wife. He drains out his own blood and replaces it with embalming fluid as the coffin’s inlaid stone lid slides into place, completely concealing it. Trout and the police arrive and realize that Phibes is no where to be found. Trout and Vesalius recall that the “final curse” was darkness, and they speculate that they will encounter Phibes again.