The thirteenth entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is the truly bizarre and incredible The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). While a bit more of a hybrid of slasher, mystery, and comedy, Dr. Phibes still qualifies as an early film in the history of the slasher sub-genre. Famous organist and music theorist Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) was in a car accident four years ago that resulted in the death of his wife during surgery. Unable to speak and terribly burned, Phibes survived the crash. He secretly returns to London to take revenge on the surgeons and doctors that he feels are responsible for the death of his wife. Taking inspiration from the Ten Plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament, murders start occurring and Scotland Yard is eager to stop the killings. They team up with Dr. Visalius (Joseph Cotton), one of the surgeons that operated on Phibes’ wife, to end his reign of terror. Will they be successful?
The Abominable Dr. Phibes features a staggeringly beautiful production design that is filled to the brim with art deco inspirations and lavishly colorful set pieces. The costumes, the props, and the aggressively red blood of the film create an aesthetic that you will find incredibly captivating and engrossing. Dr. Phibes is truly a sight to behold and one that will definitely benefit from future viewings as you will absorb more of the startlingly rich details of the film.
Vincent Price is obviously the main draw of this film. His performance of Phibes is a campy and captivating delight that manages to be both incredibly entertaining but also bizarrely menacing. While he is clearly reveling in the evil of the film’s main character, he never takes his performance into the truly over-the-top area that can often accompany films that deal heavily with camp. Price, as always, is an absolute joy to watch in every frame that he is featured in.
The dark humor elements of the film also work well with the rather disturbing death sequences that Phibes stages. One particular death sequence that stands out is when a man is pinned to the wall by a unicorn statue and Scotland Yard has to turn his body to spiral it off of the statue’s horn. It’s the oddly comic moments like this that allow Dr. Phibes to transcend the traditional categorization of horror and become its own entity. It does feature multiple violent death sequences but it also incorporates a great deal of dark humor and camp into the mix.
Through its stunning images and production design, its lead performance that could not have been delivered by anyone other than Vincent Price, and its dramatic and bloody death sequences, The Abominable Dr. Phibes proves to be an essential Halloween viewing this spooky season.
Unfortunately, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is not currently on any streaming service. The Shout Factory blu-ray release of The Vincent Price Collection, of which this film is one of six featured, can be bought HERE and checked out from your local library.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another exciting entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!