Thursday, October 29, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry Thomas.
Written by: James Whiton, William Goldstein.
Directed by: Robert Fuest.
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)




Even though there were Vincent Price Poe movies we didn’t look at this year, variety is the spice of life so we are venturing into other Price movies... And this film fits into some strange pattern: We went from Vampire Plague to the plague in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH to this film which opens both with vampire bats and a deadly masquerade party! This one which is certainly the strangest movie in our series due to the musical numbers. Yes, musical numbers. Sometimes with dancing.

Okay, it may not be as weird as what you are imagining now, because these are not big Busby Berkeley dance numbers with corpses or slasher victims dancing in formation - it’s just Vincent Price’s serial killer dude dancing with his lovely assistant or just playing a song on his organ while his band of life size mechanical musicians play along. All kings of good old tunes from the 1920s. Between the murders. Yes, that *is* still weird.

The great thing about those mechanical musicians is that it perfectly sets the stage for Phibes serial killings - which are often have a “automated” component and use contraptions and Rube Goldberg-like devices that kill people bby some form of remote control. Which makes this fun. And that’s the tone, here - fun murders. Fun scares. Just plain fun... and maybe the predecessor of the movie SEVEN.



1920s London: Dressed in a black hooded cape, Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) plays the organ in his own private concert hall, then grabs his baton and conducts his life size wind up band, The Clockwork Wizards, as they play. A door opens in the concert hall and his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) steps out and dances with Phibes... then dances down to the garage beneath the concert hall. Phibes lowers a black shrouded bird cage through a portal in the floor, and Vulnavia straps the cage onto the back of a beautiful vintage automobile and climbs inside, where she is joined by Phibes and they drive away into the night.



In his bedroom Dr. Dunwoody (Edward Burnham) turns off the light to sleep. The skylight of his bedroom opens and that black shrouded bird cage is lowered in to the room. The black shroud is removed with a string, then the cage is raised back out of the room: empty. The skylight closes.

Dr. Dunwoody hears a noise and awakens... sees something fluttering in his room. What could it be? A vampire bat! No, a dozen vampire bats! One lands on his bed and crawls up to his neck and...

Back home, Phibes enters the concert hall and sits at his organ, playing as the platform the organ is on descends to his bed chambers.

Dr. Dunwoody’s butler brings breakfast in the morning, “Good morning, sir.” But when he uncovers the breakfast a bat lands on the eggs and sausages. WTF? Where did that bat come from? He looks up and sees the dozen bats hanging upside down throughout the room... and Dunwoody’s bloody yet bloodless corpse on the bed.

In a room with nine wax statues, Phibes puts a gold chain with a symbol on its amulet around the neck of the one that looks like Dunwoody... then sets it afire.

Police at the scene of Dunwoody’s death. Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Inspector Tom Schenley (Norman Jones) discuss the completely weird case, and a previous strange case where another surgeon died - he was stung to death by hundreds of bees in his library until his entire body was covered with boils. Could there be a connection?

In his bedroom, Phibes dresses, putting on his clothes, his ears, his nose, his hair... WTF? The great thing about this film is that there is no massive information dump at the beginning where you are told everything, instead *everything* is mysterious and you get one little clue at a time. So we don’t know what happened to Phibes or even what he looks like before he puts on his face... we just know that he does put on his face. And at this point of the story, he has not spoken a word. Phibes at his organ and plays... and it ascends into the concert hall.



At a Masquerade Party, Phibes wears a bird mask and one of those gold chains as Dr. Hargreaves (Alex Scott) chats with him. Hargreaves hasn’t brought a mask - he seems to have been given the only invitation to omit that detail, but Phibes has brought along a spare - a toad mask that fits over the entire head. As Phibes clamps it on, a ratchet operated by a hidden clockworks begins to slowly move on the mask. Hargreaves enjoys the party for a while, until the mask begins to tighten... and he falls to the floor surrounded by guests with blood spewing out the frog’s mouth and eye holes. They are shocked.

Phibes puts a gold chain around the wax figure that looks like Hargreaves and sets it ablaze.

In his office at Scotland Yard, Inspector Trout tells the Chief that they have a rash of doctor’s deaths - strange. The Chief wants him to keep this from the press: Bats, Bees, Frogs? The papers would run all kinds of wild stories. The Chief believes that the three doctor’s deaths are not connected - “There’s some very strange people practicing medicine these days.”



None stranger than Dr. Longstreet (Terry Thomas), who begins watching erotic videos of a woman dancing with a snakes as soon as his housekeeper Miss Frawley has left. His projector goes on the fritz, and when he looks up from fixing it... the beautiful Vulnavia (Dr. Phibes’ Assistant) is in the room. She sits him in a chairs and ties his arms to the arm rests with silken cords. Longstreet is no doubt thinking this will turn into 50 Shades Of Gray, when gray faced Phibes enters the room... and shoves a needle into his arm. A needle attached to a pint jar. Longstreet attempts to fight - clutching at the gold chain with the symbol medallion around Phibes’ neck and tearing it off... as his blood drains. And Vulnavia plays the violin. Soon 8 pint bottles are filled.

Inspector Tom has what might be a clue to this string of strange doctor deaths: at some point in time each of the doctors worked with a Dr. Visalius...



Inspector Trout arrives at Dr. Visalius’ (Joseph Cotton) house and finds him playing with an electric train while his teenaged son watches. “Do the names, Hargreaves, Thornton, and Dunwoody mean anything to you, sir?” Dr. Visalius knew all three, he had a conversation with Thornton only a few days ago. The phone rings, and it’s for Inspector Trout. After taking the call, Trout asks Visalius if he knew a Dr. Longstreet. “Knew?”

Yes, past tense.

At the crime scene - Inspector Trout interviews Longstreet’s housekeeper Miss Frawley, who heard violin playing in the street last night. It seemed strange at the time, but was beautiful music. She has never seen the necklace with the strange symbol on its amulet before, “It’s not mine and it’s certainly not his.”

Meanwhile, as Phibes prepares to use a blowtorch on Longstreet’s wax figure he realizes he has lost the necklace. His perfect crimes have accidentally left behind a clue. He hesitates for a moment... then torches the wax bust of Longstreet.

Trout interviews jeweler Goldsmith (John Laurie) who made the necklace with the strange amulet, who says it is one of a set of ten. Each had a different symbol. They were made for a lady. She paid in cash - now way to trace it, and she gave no name or address. A tall attractive young lady who didn’t speak much, but was fashionable. Goldsmith says he doesn’t know what the mark means, but he believes that it’s Hebrew.

Trout interviews a Rabbi (Hugh Griffith) who identifies the mark as the symbol for “Blood”... one of the Ten Curses visited upon the Pharaohs before Exodus. The Rabbi gives Trout (and us) a brief lesson in these Ten Curses: Boils, Bats, Frogs, Blood, Rats, Hail, Beasts, Locusts, Death Of The First Born, and then Darkness. Hey, something to look forward to!

Dr. Phibes plugs an electrical cable into a jack on the side of his neck and the other end of the cable is plugged into an old Victrola on a wheeled stand. Then he looks at a photo of his dead wife and tells her he will get revenge for her death. 9 people killed her and 9 shall die! His voice comes out the Victrola speaker - tinny and strange. So, Phibes not only has to put on his face before he goes out for the night, the only way he can speak is through this speaker. What the hell happened to him?

Dr. Vesalius has compiled a list of all of his recent surgeries for Inspector Trout: 1,200! Out of those, there are 37 cases where he worked with any two of the 4 victims... out of those there are 12 where he worked with 3 of the 4 dead... but only 1 where he worked with all 4. Victoria Regina Phibes. They were too late and she died. They called her husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, and he raced back... but his car drove off a cliff and he died. Burned to death. Only his ashes were recovered at the crash site. So it must be some other madman who is doing this... but who? Trout says he will provide police protection for the final five.

Phibes old automobile pulls up next to a country lake and parks, Vulnavia steps out and pops the hood, looking distraught, just as Dr. Hedgepath (David Hutcheson) drives by. He has his chauffeur pull over to see if the lady needs some help. The Chauffeur gets out, goes to the car and asks the attractive young lady if there is some problem with her car. That’s when Phibes kills the chauffeur, then carries a mechanical contraption to Dr. Hedgepath’s car. Vulnavia puts a music box with a dancer on the seat next to Dr. Hedgepath, who smiles at her, until she closes the door. Phibes puts his mechanical contraption between the front seats in the chauffeur’s section and...

Inspector Tom reports to Trout: Everyone of the remaining potential victims have police protection except one - Dr. Kitaj, who seems to be out of the country. He flies his own plane, so it is difficult to know where he is at any time. After Dr. Phibes’ death, his bank accounts were transferred from Switzerland to an account in London, then the account was liquidated and taken as cash by an attractive young woman. Very odd.



Crime scene - Trout and Tom at Dr. Hedgepath’s car parked near the lake... A police officer found the dead chauffeur, but the man he was driving is still in the car. The officer did not even open the door - to preserve evidence, of course. Trout goes to the car and the windows are completely frozen over. Um, it’s spring. It’s about as sunny as a day in the English countryside gets. How can the windows be *frozen*? He tries to open the door - it’s frozen shut! He finally gets it open and see Hedgepath *frozen solid* in the back seat! The curse of hail *inside the car*!

Dr. Vesalius follows up on his own clue he came across while talking to his teenaged son - Dr. Phibes was a famous organist, and the local sheet music salesman Mr. Darrow (John Laurie) knew him... and claims that he is *still* a customer, even after his death. What? How is that possible?

Trout and Vesalius go to Mr. & Mrs. Phibes crypt. Inside, two coffins. One has fresh roses on top. They open Anton Phibes’ coffin and inside find... a box with ashes. Trout says all that this proves is that *someone* was incinerated in that accident, but not necessarily Dr. Anton Phibes. Maybe his chauffeur? They open Mrs. Phibes coffin and... it’s empty!

Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia drive to an airfield owned by the London Aeroplane Club, where Dr. Kitaj (Peter Gilmore) hops in his airplane and goes through the steps involved in starting up a biplane. Meanwhile Inspector Tom races in his car to warn Dr. Kitaj that he is in danger. Kitaj get the plane going and taxis down the field... Tom chasing in his car. But Dr. Kitaj takes off...

On a hill near the airfield Phibes watches the plane take off through a telescope as Vulnavia plays the violin.



In the plane, Dr. Kitaj is attacked by a hundred hungry rats! They bite him all over... and he loses control of the plane. It crashes. Which allows Tom to finally catch up with it.

Phibes dances with Vulnavia in celebration. He drinks a glass of champagne... through a hole in the other side of his neck. What the hell is under Phibes’ face when he takes it off at night?

Inspectors Trout and Tom hustle Dr. Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufmann) off to a safehouse in the country where they can protect him 24/7. Whitcombe says he needs to return to London in a few days to tend to his patients. They assure him it will only take a few days to figure out who this killer is and capture him. As they prepare to leave Dr. Whitcombe’s building, a brass unicorn statue blasts through the doors and pierces him - screwing his body to the entry hall wall behind him. Trout and Tom must twist Whitcombe’s body around to unscrew it from the wall. The Curse Of Beasts.



Dr. Phibes puts the golden necklace with the amulet on the wax bust of Whitcome and sets it on fire. Then plays his organ and looks at photographs of his dead wife projected on the wall in a slide show. Within 24 hours his work will be finished.

Inspector Trout tells the chief that the brass unicorn was *fired from a catapult* into Dr. Whitcombe. Marvelous shot. Trout gets dressed down for not solving this case, and always showing up to prevent the next victim’s death moments after it has already occurred. His timing is terrible. Trout thinks he’s getting closer to preventing a murder, since they were actually with this last victim when he was killed.

Phibes has a wheelbarrow full of *brussell sprouts* and dumps them into a cauldron attached to what seems to be a still... and begins distilling green goop.

Inspector Trout has the hospital where soon-to-be-victim #8 Nurse Allen (Susan Travers) is working surrounded by police. Police cars. Policemen. Plain clothes officers. Undercover officers. There is no way in or out of the hospital, except maybe by balloon. Dr. Vesalius is also in the hospital, and he tries to calm down Nurse Allen who doesn’t want all of the police officers meddling in her life. The two get onto an elevator where an orderly with a cart stands in the corner... but we recognize him as Phibes. Vesalius explains to Nurse Allen that a man is trying to kill her and all of these police are just here for her protection.



Phibes rolls his cart into a room, unrolls a lifesize drawing of a naked woman on a bed onto the floor and positions it exactly where a bed would be if this room were furnished. Pulls out a drill and drills through the drawing’s head into the floor... through the ceiling of the room below where Nurse Allen sleeps. He carefully dribbles his brussell sprout syrup through the hole and onto her face as she sleeps... then unleashes a jar of *massive* locust through the hole. The locust go for the brussell sprout syrup on her face and...

Inspector Trout and Dr. Vesalius sit in the hospital - the two last potential victims are in the same place and under extreme police protection. Nothing to worry about. They discuss the remaining causes of death - locust, darkness, and death of the first born sons - and Dr. Vesalius says his older brother passed away years ago, so no chance of first born sons being his fate... and then Inspector Trout yells for police cars to speed to Dr. Vesalius’ house and make sure his teenage son is protected. They never thought of that! Vesalius goes with Inspector Tom to his house to make sure is son is okay.

Phibes puts the last of the locusts through the hole by hand, then looks through the hole at Nurse Allen...

When Inspector Tom and Dr. Vesalius get to his house, they discover the back door has been forced open and his son is gone. Inspector Tom races back to the hospital to tell Trout.



Inspector Trout tells Tom they’ve obviously been guarding the wrong potential victim, so they will give one final check on Nurse Allen and then go to Vesalius’ house and process it for clues. The police officer posted at the Nurse’s quarters is still there - no one has come in or out. They knock on the door, no answer. They open the door... and inside find Nurse Allen *covered in locusts* which have *eaten away her face*!

Phibes burns the wax bust of Nurse Allen.

Inspector Trout tells Dr. Vesalius they’re doing everything they can to find his son. The phone rings and when Vesalius picks it up - organ music. Then Phibes strange electronic voice says: “Nine killed her. Nine shall die. Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom! The organ plays until midnight, the large house in Muldeen Square, come alone.” Vesalius wants to go alone, Trout insists that he come along. Vesalius says he must make a phone call first, then knocks out Trout with the phone and leaves.



Dr. Vesalius pulls up at the large house and rings the bell. Vulnavia answers the door, and leads him to Phibes. “I have killed 9 times in my life, Vesalius, how many deaths can be attributed to you?” Hey, Surgeons don’t murder people, they just make mistakes. It’s different... unless the mistake killed someone you love. Vesalius demands to see his son, pleads to see his son. Phibes says he will see his son - in a way that may bring back memories. Through the glass floor of the ballroom Vesalius sees his son on an operating table below!

Trout wakes up, takes a drink to give him courage, and heads to Phibes’ house.

Phibes tells Vesalius that his son’s neck is locked onto the operating table, and the key has been inserted into his son’s body next to his heart. There is an X-Ray showing this. To free his son he must perform an operation and remove the key. One slip and he will kill his own son! Oh, and there’s a ticking clock - there is a Rube Goldberg device that will release acid onto his son’s head in exactly 6 minutes. Starting... Now! Dr. Vesalius puts on his gloves and gets to work!



Phibes tells Vulnavia to destroy all of the evidence then turns to Dr. Vesalius and explains that Phibes’ wife lived only 6 minutes on the operating table, so his son has only six minutes. Phibes removes his *face* to show Dr. Vesalius what was left of him after he was burned in that car accident - basically just a skull! Yikes!

Trout and several policemen arrive at Phibes’ house.

With 30 seconds left, Dr. Veslaius removes the key from next to his son’s heart and quickly unlocks the padlock and moves his son out of the path of the acid drop as it drips down... onto Vulnavia!



Phibes is putting his face back on as Trout and the other police search the house for him. Then Trout spots the organ rising from the depths. They try to figure out how it can be lowered, as downstairs Phibes moves to his bed... where his dead (and embalmed) wife lays. He lays next to her, hooks up his arm to an IV that replaces his blood with embalming fluid and presses a button which brings the canopy down over the bed - darkness and the 10th death. By the time Trout and the police get there, no sign of Phibes. The end.

Or is it? The problem with killing your serial killer at the end is that if your film is a big hit like PHIBES was, they will want a sequel, right? So tomorrow we’ll look at that sequel which co-stars the great Robert Quarry (COUNT YORGA) who was also in one of my films as well as Peter Cushing... and which may be the predecessor of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!!!!

- Bill



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