The Abominable Dr. Phibes  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a 1971 horror film starring Vincent Price. Its stunning art deco sets, dark humor and "over the top" performance by Vincent Price has made the film and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again "camp" classics.



Anton Phibes, famous organist with doctorates in Music and Theology, was thought to have been killed in a car crash while rushing to the side of his ill wife, Victoria. He was in fact horribly disfigured in the accident, but survived only to discover his wife had died on the operating table. Phibes, convinced that his beloved wife was a victim of incompetent doctors, spends the next several years planning his vendetta against those who operated on his wife.

Inspector Trout suspects Phibes, but finds little support from Scotland Yard as Phibes is believed dead. Trout is also hindered by the incompetence of his police force. Eventually Dr. Vesalius, head of the team of doctors that operated on Phibes's wife, begins to believe inspector Trout is right and aids him in the hunt for Phibes.

Using various highly imaginative methods, Dr. Phibes kills seven doctors and a nurse with the help of his beautiful and silent female assistant Vulnavia (played by actress Virginia North). He has reserved the final punishment for Dr. Vesalius. He kidnaps the doctor's son and places him on a table on which a container full of acid is waiting to destroy the boy's face. A small key implanted near the boy's heart will free him, but Vesalius must perform the surgery within six minutes to get the key before the acid falls. The operation succeeds and the acid instead strikes Vulnavia.

Convinced he has accomplished his vendetta, Phibes retreats to a stone sarcophagus beside the embalmed body of his wife. As he drains out his own blood and replaces it with embalming fluid the coffin's inlaid stone lid slides into place, concealing them both in darkness. Trout and the police arrive and discover that Phibes has mysteriously disappeared. Trout and Vesalius recall that the "final curse" was darkness and they speculate that they will encounter Phibes again.

The Ten Plagues of Egypt

Dr. Phibes takes his inspiration for the murders from the Old Testament, specifically the Ten plagues of Egypt.

  1. Boils: Prof. Thornton is stung to death by bees (not shown, only referred to during the film)
  2. Bats: Dr. Dunwoody is mauled to death by bats
  3. Frogs: Dr. Hargreaves's throat is crushed by a mechanical mask of a frog
  4. Blood: Dr. Longstreet has all the blood drained out of his body
  5. Hail: Dr. Hedgepath is frozen to death by a machine spewing ice
  6. Rats: Dr. Kitaj crashes his plane when attacked by rats
  7. Beasts: Dr. Whitcombe is impaled by a brass unicorn head
  8. Locusts: Nurse Allen is eaten by locusts
  9. Death of the first born: Phibes kidnaps and attempts to kill Dr. Vesalius's son Lem
  10. Darkness: At the ambiguous ending of the film, Phibes drains the blood from his own body while injecting embalming fluid, apparently joining his wife in death.

Production notes

  • William Goldstein and James Whiton wrote the original screenplay. In a letter dated February 16, 1971, the Writers Guild Credit Arbitration Committee confirmed their 'Written By' credits.
  • Peter Cushing was the first choice for the role of Vesalius, but he turned the role down because of the serious illness of his wife.
  • In order for Joseph Cotten to know his cues, Phibes' dialogue was read aloud by a crew-member.
  • Cotten would grumble on the set that he had to remember and deliver lines, while Price's were all to be post-dubbed. Price responded, "Yes, but I still know them, Joe." (In fact, Price was well known in Hollywood for his ability to memorize all of the characters' lines in a given production, not just his own.)
  • Price commented that Cotten was uncomfortable doing these scenes, so he intentionally pulled a lot of faces to make him laugh.
  • Vincent Price went through hours of make up, which often had to be reapplied as he kept laughing.
  • The name "Vesalius" is a reference to Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish physician and founder of modern anatomy.
  • The film was followed by a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, in 1972. Several other possible sequels were planned, including Dr. Phibes in the Holy Land, The Brides of Phibes, Phibes Resurrectus and The Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes, but none were made.
  • Dr. Phibes' wife, played by 1970s model, Caroline Munro (who later appeared in such Hammer Horror fare as Dracula A.D. 1972 and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter), was excluded from the film's credits.



  • The film opens with War March of the Priests (Mendelssohn) flamboyantly played by Dr. Phibes on a grand organ.
  • The succession of murders is accompanied by period music including "Charmaine", "Darktown Strutters' Ball" (sung by Paul Frees), "You Stepped out of a Dream", "Close Your Eyes" and "Elmer's Tune".
  • End Title "Over the Rainbow" Instrumental. This is odd, as "Over The Rainbow" wasn't written until 1938, and this film is set in 1925.
  • The film also features a version of the Johnny Mercer hit "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" (sung by Scott Peters)
  • Punk and Goth pioneers, The Damned pay tribute to Dr Phibes on the track "13th Floor vendetta" from the 1980 "Black Album", The song opens with the lines " the organ plays to midnight on maldine Square tonight"
  • Italian Electronica band Overmamba released a song entitled "20th Century Monster", included in their debut album Crawl Out, whose lyrics are largely inspired by the Phibes movies. The song also features an organ accompaniment similar to Phibes's.
  • "Over the Rainbow" [End Title] Closes the second film Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) AIP/Orion/MGM with Vincent Price singing one verse.
  • Keith Moon, drummer with The Who, started watching the film the night before he died, but fell asleep due to the sedatives he was to take a fatal overdose of.


  • Original Tagline: (In a pun on the tagline for the movie Love Story) Love Means Never Having to Say You're Ugly.
  • Current (DVD) Tagline: Revenge Is The Best Medicine.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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