The Abominable Dr. Phibes Review

I have to say that this film was not as good as I thought it would be. Now granted, it’s not like I was expecting a masterpiece or anything but for the most part you could say that I was getting my sights set on a decently fun horror flick. Instead it taps into that Hammers Productions kind of feel with the deaths being more on the disturbing side and the film’s dark comedy is so dark that it goes all the way around into being rather gritty.

The movie starts with Phibes nearly dying after finding out that his wife’s operation did not go well and she was taken out of the picture. He has now sworn revenge against all of the doctors who were in on this. He doesn’t care to hear if it was an accident or anything like that. He says they directly murdered his wife and so now he is going to get even by inflicting them with the 10 plagues from the Bible. No stone will be left unturned in his quest so can the cops stop him in time or is this going to be game over for everyone?

Detective Trout is on the case but if the name itself wasn’t a giveaway then I can safely say that you’ll deduce within a few minutes that he is out of his league. Don’t get me wrong, Trout means well and he seems like a good guy but Phibes is always a million steps ahead of him. Trout can’t plan more than one step at a time and even gets punched out by the guy he is guarding near the end of the film. It’s like if you had Watson without Sherlock Holmes. Sure, he means well but he probably is not going to take the win in the more difficult cases.

He shares the main character slot with Vesalius who was the head surgeon and naturally the one that Phibes leaves for last. It’s certainly handy to be last because you have more time to prep. Personally I think escaping the country may have been the best bet with his son. It may not stop Phibes but it will certainly delay him right? The guy is also rather old so you just have to stay ahead of him for a few years until he is too old to pursue. It’s an expensive plan but I think Vesalius can pull it off.

Either way Vesalius is a decent main character. He does his best to apologize for Phibes’ wife but of course it really was an accident and that’s hard to really convince Phibes of. The challenge of having to do the same surgery again with his son in the balance is an interesting way to end the film. I thought that was a good way to give Vesalius a fighting chance even if Phibes was fully prepared to rig the game. I liked the parallel there.

This is really where my positives start to fade though. I liked Trout and Vesalius plus the writing was fairly good. It’s got that old film charm which is always nice. The movie also isn’t that long so it ends quickly but what gets the film down is just how grim the deaths can be as I mentioned before. You’ve got Phibes mainly murdering with insects and such as that’s how a lot of the plagues worked. You’ve got tubes with them filled in so the victim has no escape and other such mechanics. Nobody has a peaceful death at all here. It’s a shame since most of them did seem like ordinary folks who didn’t mean any harm and were just in the worst spot possible.

Phibes also doesn’t make for a great villain. He’s fairly generic as one of those mad scientist types but additionally he can’t even talk normally anymore so you don’t get the usual Price dialogue that would have been a lot of fun here. It definitely limits what the film can really do which is a shame. I think that would have added something to the dynamic. It probably wouldn’t have saved the film to be honest but every bit helps right?

His assistant Vulnavia doesn’t have a lot to do but in a way just the fact that she is assisting him with all of this tells you all that you need to know. She’s completely complicit with all of the murders and is even eager to help him the whole time. In the second film she would go on to have more development but as it stands she is just a nameless minion for the most part.

The movie’s ending is suitably dramatic. I thought that was fairly good at least and things don’t end on a sour note. Ultimately the movie just should have leaned into the humor part more. Even though this is part dark humor, I thought all of the deaths were too grisly to really be funny at all. I would not have even guessed that this was part comedy. The sequel leans into it more but this one you would almost think just played it straight as a horror film where everyone is bumped off one by one. It’s surprisingly intense considering how old the film is as well.

Overall, You definitely want to avoid Dr. Phibes. He really makes sure to take care of each of the doctors so you feel bad as you see how futile their situation is. At least he can’t catch everyone but the characters all have good reason to be upset with Trout as well. Naturally you should blame the actual murderer first but Trout wasn’t super helpful. Some of the victims were skeptical of the whole thing and have themselves to blame too so there’s a lot to go around. It’s really quite something how someone super old and broken down like Phibes is able to take everyone out. Shows what a good plan along with the element of surprise can do to even up the score. I’ll have a review up for the sequel pretty soon and we’ll see how that one fared against this one.

Overall 2/10

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