The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Theatrical Poster
Directed by Robert Fuest
Produced by Executive Producer:
Samuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
Ronald S. Dunas
Louis M. Heyward
Written by James Whiton
William Goldstein
Robert Fuest
Starring Vincent Price
Joseph Cotten
Peter Jeffrey
Virginia North
Music by Basil Kirchin
Cinematography Norman Warwick
Editing by Tristam Cones
Distributed by United States:
American International Pictures
United Kingdom:
Anglo-EMI Film Distributors Ltd./MGM-EMI/American International England
Release date(s) (USA) May 18, 1971
Running time 94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

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



Anton Phibes, a famous organist with doctorates in Music and Theology was thought to have been killed in a car crash in 1921 while rushing to the side of his sick wife, Victoria. He in fact survived the crash but was horribly disfigured. He fashions himself a wig and lifelike mask to hide his injuries, and using his musical expertise creates a system whereby he can speak through a hose connecting his windpipe to a gramophone. When Phibes discovers that his wife had died on the operating table (on April 20, 1921) he is convinced that she was a victim of incompetent doctors, and spends several years planning a vendetta against those who operated on her, and begins killing them in 1925.

Inspector Trout suspects Phibes, but finds little support from Scotland Yard. 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, 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 (who is not really a surgeon; just a psychiatrist) head 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 Feb. 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 '70's 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.


Critical reception

Critic Christopher Null wrote of the film, "One of the '70s juiciest entries into the horror genre, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is Vincent Price at his campy best, a former doctor and concert organist (go figure that one out yourself) who is exacting revenge on the nine doctors he blames for botching his wife's surgery, which ended with her death. Through a series of tortuous means that would make a Bond villain green with envy, the hideous Phibes is matched by Joseph Cotten as the doc at the end of the road. A crazy script and an awesome score make this a true classic."[1]


  • 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)
  • The horror-punk band "The Misfits" has a song by the name of 'The Abominable Dr. Phibes'. It is a shortened version of the "Kryst the Conqueror" song 'Dr. Phibes Rises Again'. 'Kryst' was a post original Misfits band featuring brothers Jerry (long time member and bassist of the Misfits) and Doyle (guitarist). The extended song was rerecorded by the Misfits with Michale Graves singing, on the album "Cuts from the Crypt".
  • 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"
  • German deathrock band Madre del Vizio has songs named "Dr. Phibes" and "Il Retorno del Dr. Phibes".
  • German ska band The Busters released a song named "Dr. Phibes" on their 2004 album "Revolution Rock". It is an instrumental with the organ as the main instrument, including a long organ solo.
  • British heavy metal band Angel Witch released a song entitled "Dr. Phibes".
  • American deathcore band The Black Dahlia Murder have released a zip-up hoody featuring artwork inspired by the movie. The piece of merchandise is entitled simply 'Phibes.'
  • 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.
  • British Heavy Metal band Angel Witch included an instrumental titled "Dr. Phibes" on their "Loser" EP and the 1990 re-issue of their self-titled album.
  • "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.[2]
  • The shock rock band Murderdolls mentions Dr. Phibes as well as other notable horror film characters in the single, Dead in Hollywood, off of their first album Beyond the Valley of the Murderdolls.
  • The hard rock Supergroup "The Company Band" also wrote a song about the Dr. Phibes Movies, entitled "Love means never having to say you're ugly"!


  1. ^ Null, Christopher., film review, 2002. Last accessed: January 8, 2008.
  2. ^ Neill, Andy and Kent, Matthew (2002). Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958-1978. Friedman/Fairfax Publishing, London. ISBN 9781586635913.


  • Gerosa, Mario (2010). Robert Fuest e l'abominevole Dottor Phibes. Alessandria,: Edizioni Falsopiano. ISBN 9788889782132.. 

External links

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