They Call Him Doctor Love: An Overview of the Romantic Comedies, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again
What do women want?
Dr. Phibes knows. That’s what makes him…the Love Doctor.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again were made in 1971 and 1972, respectively … just a few years after the swingin’ Sixties. After a decade of pulse-pounding, rutting frenzy, the world was ready to return to a stylized, romantic interpretation of love.
Often you will find the Phibes epics shelved by mistake as “Horror” in video stores – probably because they starred Vincent Price, who did a little work in horror here and there. But truly these movies really belong in the romantic comedy section, along with The Pajama Game, The Seven-Year Itch, The Girl Can’t Help It, and King Kong Vs. Godzilla.
The Phibes movies concern a classic ménage a trois, the three participants being: 1.) Dr. Anton Phibes – a disfigured concert organist who wears wigs and fake features to hide his grotesque appearance, 2.) Victoria Phibes – his wife, a dead lady with a penchant for frilly nightgowns, and 3.) Vulnavia – a mute henchwoman.
In the first movie, we learn that Victoria had died on the operating table, and Dr. Phibes was involved in a flaming car crash shortly thereafter. The accident left him with a scorched, skull-like face. He has stolen his wife’s body from the family mortuary and keeps it preserved in his hidden lair. You’ve got to take an instant liking to an impetuous Romeo like that
Dr. Phibes decides to kill everyone who assisted in his wife’s fatal surgery. Each murder is based on one of the Biblical curses visited upon Pharaoh. And so the merriment begins! One doctor is love-nibbled by a horde of amorous bats, unleashed by Phibes. Another physician is stung to death by a hive of playful bees. At a masquerade, yet another doctor is decapitated by a mechanical frog mask. Talk about giving head!
Gerbil fans will think they’re in vermin heaven when Phibes serves up a load of rats for one lucky physician. Another medic is speared by a statuette of a unicorn – feeling horny, doc? More doctors and even a nurse all receive Phibes’ brand of tender loving care – and before you know it, we’re into the sequel.
Phibes had placed himself in a hidden crypt with Victoria at the end of the first film. He wakes up from suspended animation and calls forth Vulnavia from ‘the other side.’ His henchwoman had died at the end of the first movie, but apparently is easier to revive than Phibes’ wife.
Phibes now must take Victoria to an Egyptian tomb, where he can resurrect her via the waters of the River of Life. But a scholar named Biederbeck has taken Phibes’ papyrus map to the tomb. Phibes retrieves the papyrus, in the process bumping off a husky manservant – who, while making a call, is skewered by a miniature serpent-spear fired from the receiver. The last word in phone sex!
Phibes and Vulnavia take a ship to Egypt with Victoria stashed away in the cargo hold. The Love Boat has set sail, and Biederbeck and his colleagues are also onboard. Soon Phibes puts a stranglehold on one of Biederbeck’s friends and introduces him to the joys of erotic asphyxiation.
Once in Egypt, Phibes, Vulnavia and Victoria retire to an underground love-nest that Phibes had constructed near the tomb years earlier. Biederbeck and his explorers set up camp, not knowing that Phibes is in the vicinity. One by one, the explorers bite the dust – or in this case, sand.
Nature-lover Phibes makes sure the creatures of the desert are well-fed. One explorer gets up-close and personal with a ravenous hawk, and another gets an all-over body massage from some capering scorpions.
The love doctor has a few kinky toys in his goody-bag. One explorer, snoozing in a sleeping bag, becomes entangled in the comfy embrace of a portable man-compactor. Another explorer receives a relaxing facial from a high-power sandblaster.
The action roars to a thundering climax in the hidden chambers of the tomb, where Biederbeck, Phibes, Victoria, and Vulnavia all meet their ultimate destiny. The only thing missing is a final scene a la The Dating Game, with Phibes and the gang lined up to blow kisses to the audience.
And there you have it. Dr. Phibes: the man, the myth, the magic, the murder. May Phibes always be a shining star in the firmament of the romantic comedy genre with his two fine movies, and however many more the future may hold. May his film legacy continue, through remakes, sequels, remakes of sequels and sequels to remakes, on and on through time, until at last the sun collapses and becomes a black hole, drawing our solar system into a swirling vortex of silence, darkness and death.