A mad doctor exacts his revenge on the killers of his beloved wife!
Dr. Phibes (pronounced fibes) is a doctor of music, a virtuoso organ player, a brilliant, self-taught mechanical engineer and biblical scholar. He’s also dangerously insane and crippled by an automobile accident that scarred him and robbed him of his voice.
Set in the 1930s, the film opens with a lavish dance scene. A beautiful woman and hooded man waltz through the ballroom of a grand house while mechanical musicians play on. The film quickly changes moods as the first murder is committed. A cage full of vampire bats (really harmless fox bats) is lowered into a sleeping man’s room.
Death by bat is one of the more prosaic murders in this weird little film. They get progressively more inventive and even cartoonish as Scotland Yard attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery. Dr. Phibes and his mysterious assistant keep the police guessing as the attacks continue. I can’t really say more without giving away a good portion of the film.
It’s really hard to put into words just how bug house crazy this film is. From the beginning, The Abominable Dr. Phibes was intended as a campy sendup of detective films and mad scientist capers. Vincent Price films of the era have a well-deserved reputation for being oddities, but this one truly takes the prize. While the good guys are in the picture and there is sort of a story related to them; the whole thing revolves around Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes. He really is the antihero of this film and completely dominates the story.
The film is bright and colorful with surprisingly high production values, lavish sets, costumes and elaborate stunts abound in the film. Kooky killings are interspersed with elaborate dancing and musical numbers straight out of the golden age of musicals. The best way to describe it might be a James Bond film crossed with a Broadway musical.
The acting is good, with veterans such as Joseph Cotton, Vincent Price and Peter Jeffrey being standouts. Also notable is the lovely Virginia North as Phibes’ assistant. Due to his character’s injuries, Price spends a large portion of the film masked and bandaged, his voice pre-recorded and dubbed in without his lips moving. In spite of this handicap, he still dominates every scene he is in.
The first time I saw this film was at a Fright Night event at the local movie theater. I remember spending a good portion of the run time with my mouth open at the sheer craziness on the screen. The plot really makes very little sense, but it doesn’t matter due to the madcap craziness going on.
Verdict: 3.5 Gavels out of 5
If you’re a fan of the crazy, the kooky and the kitschy; Then Dr. Phibes is the film for you. Truly a cult classic. Available on DVD as a set with its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again.