The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The main character is Dr. Phibes, a car crash survivor whose wife tragically dies in the same terrible accident. Still alive although disfigured, he decides to cover his face with a mask and only speak through an amplifier. Moreover, in order to take revenge of the surgeons who according to him could have saved his wife, the man decides to become a serial killer taking inspiration from the Plagues of Egypt. In this new adventure he is helped by his beautiful mistress Vulnavia.

Despite the not very successful sequel “Dr. Phibes rises again”, this extraordinary movie is a masterpiece of its genre combining grotesque and grand-guignol[1].  Fuest’s movie is a mix of phantasmagorical set scenes and situations which can be related to Woolrich’s “The lady in black”, whose film transposition made by Truffaut is still unforgettable. Very theatrical and extremely claustrophobic, the work has its strength in the setting and in Vincent Price’s over the top acting. In fact, the actor gives to his character an evil charm seen through a twisted lens: Dr. Phibes is not funny but despite his cruelty he is able to make us feel empathetic, not because of his motivations but thanks to his way of presenting himself. The man’s monologues are audible through a record player are an example of the spirit of this unique movie. The scenes are often morbid but always depicted in an unrealistic way that make them ambiguously funny; this effect is possible because of the kitsch scenography and the out of line scenery. The visual language is on the edge between the allure of old school cinema and pop art; similarities on this side can be seen in movies such as “Modesty this Blaise” or “Satanik”. Anyway, in spite of the resemblance, “The abominable Dr. Phibes” can reach a higher level which can be noticed in a better care of details. The last scene before the finale is considered a little work of art full of suspense and sadism, especially when Dr. Phibes forces one of his victims to witness his child’s execution.
It is definitely a movie not to be missed.

[1] “Le Theatre de Grand-Guignol” was a theatre in the Pigallle area of Paris, which from its opening in 1897 to it closing in 1962, was specialised in naturalistic horror shows.

Translation by Lucia Pedrazzini (edited by Sabrina Macchi)

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Heiko H. Caimi
Author and screenwriter, he has been teaching Creative Writing since 1999. He collaborated with the Publisher Tranchida from 2007 to 2009 as a teacher at Forrester School, as a member of the management board and as an editor of the editorial board, as well as an author of the on-line magazines "Gluck59" and "Teneke". He has worked as a writer of short stories with Mondadori and GVE publishers and publishes short stories, articles, reviews and poems with various on-line magazines. He participated as a poet in the VII Annual Carovana dei Versi (Caravan of Verses) in 2012-2013, and some of his works have been be published in 2013 in an anthology by the publishing house Abrigliasciolta of Varese. He has taught courses on writing and screenwriting at the Egea Bookstore of Bocconi University in Milan, at I.I.S. A.Lunardi in Brescia in several libraries and associations in the district of Brescia and in some Swiss schools. A film for which he wrote the screenplay has been optioned twice. He worked as a writer in an international production ("Haiti Voodoo", 2011). A long time ago he played in several bands and collaborated on several short films. He currently lives and works in Brescia. Since 2002 he has been Chairman of Magnoliaitalia, and since 2013 he has been teacher and Conductor at the Writing Parlour in Brescia, a professional school for writers.