“Abominable Dr. Phibes” is my favorite Vincent Price movie. Price plays Dr. Anton Phibes, a zombie-like concert organist who mourns the loss of his wife as he seeks revenge on the doctors he holds responsible for his failed operation. To give his kills a creative twist, Phibes draws inspiration from the Ten Plagues of Egypt, which means yes, there will be locusts. It treats the murder as scenery, which adds a welcome element of theatricality to the film. Scares are a slow build. You don’t expect to see Phibes in the closet with a knife; he’s too sophisticated for that. Instead, he arrives at the future crime scene early, arranges his murder, then watches from the sidelines – the ultimate voyeur.
With a supporting cast including Joseph Cotten and Terry-Thomas, “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” mixes camp, dark humor and genuine scares to create the ultimate standard for a midnight movie. Due to the revenge structure, the film functions as a series of vignettes rather than a traditional narrative. Sure, Scotland Yard is “on the case”, but really their scenes are just included to give us a break between the murders.
Instead of one last girl, we spend most of our time living from Phibes’ point of view. It’s one of the only monster movies I can think of where our killer is also the main character. His love for his dead wife also creates an emotional bond between Phibes and the audience, which makes him an untraditional villain. Am I rooting for Dr. Phibes? Yes, I think I am.