October Horror Month
I love Vincent Price and this is one of my favourites, a tale of grossly dispropionate vengeance carried out by a monster with a twisted imagination and a great sense of style and humour.
An organ plays and it rises out of the floor of the stage and we see a figure in a hooded robe his arms waving wildly as he plays. The figure is Dr Anton Phibes (Vincent Price). He goes to his mechanical clockwork jazz band and switches them and they begin playing music. A tall attractive woman Vulnavia (Virginia North) appears framed in a doorway wearing a fancy white dress with feathers and art deco head gear. This fits in well with the art deco design of the ballroom. Phibes and Vulnavia dance for a while to the music. A bird cage covered in black velvet is lowered into a vintage car. Phibes gets in the back and the side windows have profile photographs of Phibes on them hiding him. Vulnavia has changed her costume to a skirt and blouse and a large fur hat and she gets in the driver seat.
Dr Dunwoody is in his bed sleeping. The velvet covered cage gets lowered into the room through a skylight ad the cover removed and the empty cage is pulled back up through the skylight. There’s a sound of fluttering wings and Dunwoody wakes to find a cute little fruit bat crawling up his chest dazed by drugs, sorry about that, it is a vicious bat that attacks and rips his face into shreds He is found dead the next morning by his butler. Phibes returns home and the clockwork jazz band a play a jaunty happy tune. He switches them off and plays the organ which takes down the lower level. He removes a golden amulet he wore around his neck and places it over a wax bust of Dunwoody then he melts the bust with a blowtorch. We can see that he has several other busts.
The police are baffled by what happened to Dunwoody. They found several bats and identified as them as a species of vampire bat from West Africa. Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) says he’s never seen anything like it. Sergeant Schenley (Norman Jones) says it reminds of a recent death of another surgeon who was stung to death by bees so it looked like he was covered in boils which is a strange thing to say.
Phibes puts on his face and gets ready to go out to a masquerade. A man at the party introduces himself as Dr Hargreaves and adds that he’s a psychiatrist or a headshrinker he adds as a joke. He asks for help with his frog mask which has a complicated catch mechanism. Phibes helps and Hargreaves heads up the stairs. But that catch mechanism is very complicated indeed and every second a gear turns and the mask shrinks crushing his skull and the mask fills with blood and he falls down the stairs dead. Phibes melts a bust of Hargreaves in his basement
Inspector Trout think that deaths of three doctors killed in elaborate ways is pattern worth investigating but his boss Crow doesn’t think so and he certainly doesn’t want him saying anything to the press about a maniac targeting doctors
Dr Longstreet (Terry Thomas) is in his home and his housekeeper has prepared his dinner before leaving for the night. Longstreet is impatient for her to leave because he’s received a can of film in the post and wants to watch it. In private nudge nudge wink wink. Once she’s gone he tacks up a white sheet to use as a screen and put the film into his hand-cranked projector while he enjoys a drink and watches a woman dancing around with a snake. He get interrupted by hi housekeeper who pops her head in before she leaves. She’s a bit puzzled by Longstreet’s projector set-up but she doesn’t really ask too many questions. After she has gone Longstreet settles back to watch his slightly dirty movie. His projector breaks down and when it startsup again the image is projected on the screen with Vulnavia above it and it looks like the body is Vulnavia’s for a moment. She removes the sheet and he doesn’t fight her as she ties him up to a chair. Longstreet is looking forward to something strange and kinky but he’s only half right. Phibes enters Longstreet gets worried as Phibes put needle into his vein and drain all of his blood into bottles left on a side table. It is a slow process and Longstreet remains conscious for most of it. Vulnavia plays a violin as Phibes fills the last bottle and cleans up. Back home Phibes melts the bust of Longstreet.
Sgt Schenley has found a connection between the victims to an eminent surgeon Dr Vesalius so Trout goes to speak to him and meets his teenage son Lem () who lets him because Vesalius (Joseph Cotten) is busy with his train set. Vesalius can’t think of connection between the men that is a motive for murder. Trout gets a call from station to tell him that Longstreet has been found dead. Trout heads down there and the elaborate nature of the death leaves him in no doubt that it’s the same killer. He talks to Longstreet’s housekeeper who remembers hearing a violin and car door closing. The police also found an amulet Phibes left behind.
Phibese doesn’t worry too much about the missing amulet and just goes ahead with his ritual of melting the wax bust of Longstreet. There’s a jeweller’s mark on the amulet so Trout goes to talk to the jeweller who said he made it for an attractive young woman who ordered a set of ten with different symbol on each and she paid for them in cash. Trout asks if he knows what the symbol is and he says it is the Hebrew symbol for blood. Trout talks to a rabbi (Hugh Griffith) who said the symbols are in the Tanach where it talks of the ten plagues of Egypt. The plagues are boils, bats, frogs, blood, rats, hail , beasts, locusts, death of the first born and finally darkness to end forever the sleep of man. The list is not quite the same as the ones I learned but it’s not like this is actual history.
Vesalius tells Trout he has worked through his records and he has found that he only worked with all of the victims on just one case, that of Victoria Regina Phibes. Trout wonders if there is a husband or relative that might be seeking vengeance but Vesalius tells him that her husband was burned to death in car crash rushing to be at her side.
Phibes has designed an elaborate speaking apparatus which he plugs into the side of his neck and his voice comes from speaker cone of a gramophone cone. He talks to shrine dedicated to his wife and speaks of his plan to avenge her death. He says, “9 killed you, 9 shall die, 9 eternities in doom.“
Now Trout knows about the link between the victims he can work out who is at risk and have them put under police protection. Schenley tells him that they know where the others are except for Dr Kitaj and Dr Hedgepath.
Phibes is in his car parked at the side of road while Vulnavia stand by the car with dog on a lead and looks she’s looking for help with her car. Doctor Hedgepath’s car drives past and Hedgepath has his driver stop and go to help Vulnavia. When the driver bends over to examine the engine Phibes uses a Vulcan nerve pinchon him and knocks the man out. Vulnavia put a musical clockwork figure into Hedgepath’s car then Phibes puts in strange device. When the police find the doctor’s car the doctor has dead, frozen to death by hailstones created by Phibes’ machine.
While Vesalius is talking to his son the boy mentions the name Phibes and shows him old posters he bought from an old music collector called Darrow. Trout and Vesalius go to talk to Darrow who thinks Phibes is still alive. The police have more information on Phibes. Phibes has several degrees including both music and theology. He also left his entire estate to a mysterious young woman.
Trout and Vesalius go to the Phibes family tomb. Inside Phibes’ coffin they find ashes, which are only to be expected but as Trout says that only proves that someone burned to death in the car, not that it was Phibes. They open Victoria’s coffin and find her body is missing.
Police superintendent Waverley (John Cater) has been facing questions from the press who have found out about the maniac killing off surgeons (and a psychiatrist). Waverley demands that they get busy stopping any more murders. Schenley knows where Kitaj is and jumps in a car to get to him before Phibes does.
Phibes is on a hill with Vulnavia overlooking an airfield and they have a brass telescope on a tripod. The young sporty Dr Kitaj gets into his two-seater plane and taxis onto the runway. Schenley gets to airfield before Kitaj takes off but Kitaj’s plane is already picking up speed and he takes off. Phibes watches the plane soaring through the air while Vulnavia plays her violin. Rats appear in the cockpit, crawling all over Kitaj and biting him in the neck and face. His plane swoops this way and that and Kitaj screams as he loses control and the plane crashes.
Back hi shouse Phibes and Vulnavia drink have a drink to celebrate being so close to the completion of his plans. Because Phibes doesn’t have a working mouth he pours his drink through the side of his neck. The clockwork jazz band play music and they dance.
There only three people left of Phibes’ kill list. Nurse Allen is being closely guarded by the police at the hospital where she is on duty. Dr Whitcomb is in his private gentleman’s club and Trout and Schenley are there to escort to somewhere more secure. As they head for the door out of nowhere a brass unicorn hits Whitcomb in the chest and the horn goes right through his body killing him instantly. There a scene of very dark humour where they police are having to unscrew Whitcomb’s body from the wall and are discussing whether it has a left or a right-handed thread.
Superintendent Waverley is not happy that the police failed to prevent any of the murder even when get there before the killer. Trout is confident that they can protect Nurse Allen though he realises with the twisted genius of Phibes there no way to even know what form the attack will take.
It is an interesting problem Phibes faces, how to make plant-eating locusts into something that will kill a person. First he makes a sprout soup. He goes to the hospital dressed as a member of the kitchen staff. They pay so little attention that Phibes even travels in same lift as Trout as he escorts Nurse Allen to her bedroom in the hospital. She sees Vesalius and asks him if this is necessary and Vesalius tells her that her life is danger. He recommends that she takes a sleeping pill. Trout is confident that this time they will catch Phibes and says all criminals get caught out by their mistakes and Vesalius point out Phibes hasn’t made any.
In the room above Nurse Allen’s Phibes put plan of her body the floor to use as guide to choosing to where to drill and he drills a hole directly above her head. Phibes attaches a pipe to his jar of green soup and puts the other end of the pipe down hole over Allan’s head. Her head and face is covered in green goo yet she never woke up. Phibes now takes another pipe and attaches it to a jar of locusts and he sends locusts down another pipe.
Vesalius tells Trout that he’s sure Phibes is leaving him for last and he tries to work out what Phibes might mean by a plague of darkness. Vesalius has dismissed the death of the first-born applying to him since he has an older brother. Trout points out the obvious fact that it might not be Vesalius who is the target but his first-born son Lem. Trout sends men to check and the boy has already been taken. Trout goes to check on Nurse Allen and they find her covered in locusts that have eaten all her flesh.
Trout takes Vesalius back to his house and Phibes calls and tells Vesalius to come to Phibe’s house alone but Trout won’t let him go alone so Vesalius knocks him out and goes to Phibes’ house. Vesalius gets to Phibes’ place and plugs in to the speaker to greet him. Phibes tells Vesalius that his son will have a powerful acid drip on his face disfiguring and probably killing him. The operating table is held in place by a chain attached to halter padlocked across Lem’s neck and the key to the padlock has been surgically implanted next to Lem’s heart. While Vesalius operates to remove the key Phibes rants and taunts him. He rips off his mask to reveal how badly disfigured he is.
Phibes tells Vulnavia to destroy everything he has created. And she gets busy with an axe. Phibes then goes to his organ, descends to the lower level where the body of his wife waits in a coffin built for two and it even has telephone. Phibes a puts needle in his arm and his blood gets replaced with embalming as the coffin lid closes Vesalius manages to get the key out in time and unlocks the padlock, getting his son to safety. Vulnavia re-enters the room backwards followed by the two policemen. He is directly under the acid when it starts dripping out of the tubes and we don’t see the after effects.
Trout and Schenley go to the organ and press the keys until it takes them down to the lower level. The lights go out on the coffin lid and this is somehow the curse of darkness. Trout thinks Phibes has escaped them and the film ends to tune Somewhere Over Rainbow.