svg-menu
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES: The Precursor to SAW Turns 50, ATTACK THE BLOCK 2, SAW, And More
svg-facebook svg-twitter svg-email
The Bite #161
svg-facebook svg-twitter svg-email

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES: The Precursor to SAW Turns 50, ATTACK THE BLOCK 2, SAW, And More

May 18, 2021

In this Issue:


HORROR HISTORY

The Abominable Dr. Phibes: The Precursor to Saw Turns 50

By Meagan Navarro

I want to play a game. A broken yet innovative man shattered by medical carelessness orchestrates an elaborate plan for retribution. The man targets those he deems guilty, culminating in a lethal trap meant to test a doctor’s survival instincts for his family’s sake. During his pursuit of sadistic justice, aided by a female disciple and entertained by tuxedoed automatons, the police race against the clock to find the culprit behind the grisly deaths. With the theatrical arrival of Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the ninth entry of the popular Saw franchise, am I referring to terminally ill engineer John “Jigsaw” Kramer or famous concert organist Dr. Anton Phibes?

Better hurry up. Live or die, make your choice.

The twist here is that the above plot description could apply to both Saw and its predecessor of intricate social justice, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the latter, released initially on May 18, 1971. Beloved horror icon Vincent Price stars as the eponymous Dr. Phibes, a man motivated solely by love and loss. The once-promising musician suffered a car accident while racing home upon news of his wife’s death mid-surgery. Dr. Phibes survived, albeit disfigured and limited in vocal capacity, but presumed dead. That gave him the cover to create an extravagant revenge scheme against the nine medical professionals he blames for his loss. He structures it around the Plagues of Egypt, unleashing locusts, bats, and boils upon his victims through increasingly complex methods.

The climax sees Dr. Phibes finally confront the head doctor that presided over his wife’s case, Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotton). Vesalius rushes to Phibes’s estate to find his son anesthetized and shackled beneath a vat of acid. Phibes demonstrates with an x-ray that he’s implanted the key near the son’s heart, and the father will get only six minutes to surgically remove it before the acid drops. It’s a Grand Guignol ticking clock finale that makes it impossible to avoid drawing connections to Saw and its infamous Reverse Beartrap sequence.

Of course, despite the plot similarities, the two couldn’t be further removed in tone and style. Instead of grit and grime, Dr. Phibes prefers opulence and lavish spectacle. He dons rich robes, outmatched only by the ornate costuming of his mute assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). Phibes’ flair for the dramatic injected a campy, playful tone balanced the gruesome nature of his kills. Jigsaw took himself seriously, but Dr. Phibes made sure to pause his murderous spree here and there to dance with Vulvania or jam with his automaton Clockwork Wizards wind-up band.

The vibrant colors, lush set pieces, costuming, and whimsical undertones contribute to Dr. Phibes’ theatricality. Camp and operatic tendencies aside, Price and director Robert Fuest injected pathos that kept resonating. It’s a visual feast that’ll make you laugh, but Dr. Phibes’s unbridled rage and unwavering love for his wife permeates. That emotional backbone, a killer’s distinct appreciation for life, and twisted traps make The Abominable Dr. Phibes an enduring Saw-like originator ahead of its time.


Meagan Navarro is a freelance writer and the head critic for Bloody Disgusting. You can also find her work at Consequence, Fangoria, /Film, and anywhere else that will let her gush about her favorite subject, horror.


IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Image of the Week #161 - Godzilla Lady Dimitrescu

A Queen vs The King

In a world of strange crossover possibilities, a Resident Evil/Godzilla movie may very well be the strangest yet most interesting one we can think of, especially thanks to this fan poster created by BossLogic.


TINY BITES

ATTACK THE BLOCK 2, SAW, AND MORE

Neon Splatter’s got us intrigued with this list of seven films that deserve an original cut release.

Here’s a fascinating piece about how the setting of a horror film can induce dread in viewers.

Moses is back! Joe Cornish and John Boyega are teaming up to bring us Attack the Block 2.

Halloween has been broughten as the Bring It On series is cheerleading its way into a creepy mystery.

Journey into Venezuelan horror with Certified Forgotten’s look at The House at the End of Time.

Get your dice ready because Dungeons & Dragons’ Ravenloft is getting a new guide with nearly 40 different horror settings.

The popular podcast Horror Queers has teamed up with the Salem Horror Fest for Frightgown, a virtual pride festival that will support the Transgender Law Center.

There’s a new Dracula-inspired horror thriller comingfrom Screen Gems that will star F9 and Army of Thieves‘ Nathalie Emmanuel.

John Carpenter and Sandy King Carpenter are bringing their horror expertise to the podcast world with three new original shows.

With Spiral: From the Book of Saw out, CGM has a complete breakdown of the entire Saw series.

FANGORIA looked back at Slaxx director Elza Kephart’s directorial debut Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse in Love.


THINGS WE LOVE

Things We Love #161 - Alex Pardee Gimmickey

“Oh, boy!”

When it comes to corrupting the innocence of childhood characters, artist Alex Pardee’s work knows no bounds. Even Mickey Mouse has an eye out (not sorry) for this shirt. Snag yours here.


HEY, THAT’S US! – SHUDDER IN THE NEWS

Neil Marshall on ‘The Reckoning’ and How It Healed His Hellboy Heartache

‘Fried Barry’ Just Might Be the Most Insane Movie of the Year

Beat the heat this year with Shudder’s upcoming ‘Summer of Chills’

Exclusive PG: Psycho Goreman Clip – Welcome Back to the Land of the Living

Why George Romero’s The Amusement Park Was Lost For Over 40 Years


Explore Related Articles