This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
We haven’t had a major horror actor with a real flair for old-fashioned campy melodrama ever since Vincent Price died, and there was never a better vehicle for him than the Doctor Phibes movies. Set in a baroquely art deco version of the inter-war period, these were two entries in Price’s long list of films he starred in for Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson’s American International Pictures. But rather than teaming up with long-standing collaborator Roger Corman this time, Price was directed by Robert Fuest, a director with a singular visual imagination (which would later lead to him trying to make a film adaptation of The Final Programme and failing hilariously) that crafted some of the most colourful imagery the horror genre has ever seen.
The Abominable Doctor Phibes
For his first appearance, we catch up with Dr. Anton Phibes as he treats us to an organ recital – but he’s got more than music on his mind. After a surgical procedure on his wife was botched, his car was found crashed and burned and it was assumed he has died in his rush to get to her after learning of her fate. Not so! In a mansion somewhere in London the doctor has converted his pastel ballroom into a staging ground for an elaborate ritual of revenge. Working in concert with his unspeaking assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North), he seeks out each of the nine surgeons who so badly failed his wife, and kills them one by one utilising methods inspired by the ten plagues of Egypt – in a manner obliquely related to their medical specialisation, if he can manage it.