The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) - Plot Summary Poster


Showing all 4 items
Jump to:


  • Doctor, scientist, organist, and biblical scholar Anton Phibes seeks revenge on the nine doctors he considers responsible for the death of his wife.

  • Doctors are being murdered in bizarre manners - bats, bees, a killer frog mask, etc. - which represent the nine Biblical plagues of Egypt. The crimes are orchestrated by an organ-playing, demented madman (from his home base, replete with a clockwork orchestra and help from a beautiful, mute assistant). Detectives are stumped until they find that all the slain doctors once assisted a Dr. Vesalius on an unsuccessful operation involving the wife of organist Dr. Phibes, killed in a car crash upon learning of his wife's death. He couldn't be the culprit, could he?

  • It isn't until there are a handful of victims that Detective Inspector Harry Trout with Scotland Yard believes there is a serial killer on the loose, all the victims physicians and all having been killed in some gruesome, seemingly ritualistic manner somewhere they would have considered safe. The one connection the victims has to each other is to another physician, Dr. Vesalius, who is further able to narrow down the connection to one case, that of Victoria Phibes, Vesalius the chief surgeon with Mrs. Phibes having died on the operating room table. Her body was subsequently interred next to her husband, musicologist Dr. Anton Phibes, who, in rushing to the hospital upon learning that his wife was there, died in a fiery car crash en route, his body incinerated on the spot. With further evidence coming to light, Trout and Vesalius believe that all on the medical team on that case, including Dr. Vesalius, will be targets of the killer, whose method of murder is each of the Ten Plagues of Egypt in some form, with Vesalius most likely the last in being "the prize". As Trout and Vesalius try to stop the killer in knowing the targets and the method of killing, they still have to discover who the killer is, one incredulous thought upon which they are working being that Dr. Phibes is somehow orchestrating it all from the grave.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Opening scene with credits. An organ player, dressed entirely in glossy black hood and robes (resembling Death), rises upward from the floor at the top of a raised performance area, his red organ suggesting a wraith rising from Hell. The tune: "War March of the Priests" by Felix Mendelssohn.

    The song finishes and a wider shot reveals a flight of descending steps, with life-size wind-up musicians on either side. The black figure descends the steps, cranks the wind-up musicians into life, which play a waltz.

    A door opens, and from a bright room beyond steps forth a young, fashionable woman wearing a white, gold-rimmed sheer dress with matching headdress. The woman in white and the figure in black meet in the room's center over a designed glass floor. As they dance to the grand waltz, they pass a table in the back holding nearly a dozen life-size busts in white wax with hanging lights above them.

    The woman climbs the stairs to the balcony that surrounds at least one wall of the room, while the figure in black steps to a large suspended birdcage on a gold chain with a black cloth cover. He lowers the cage through a square hole in the floor where the woman, now below and dressed in a modern Russian garb (tall bushy black fur hat with gray sheer sleeves), buckles the cage on the black of a prestigious car. The figure in black enters the car, rolling up the window with a man's profile painted on the glass.

    Scene change. The bedroom of a wealthy man reading in bed. He finishes, turns out the light, and turns over for sleep. Outside, the elegant car quietly comes to a stop. As the man sleeps, the skylight opens, the birdcage is lowered, and the black cover is hoisted up, soon followed by the cage itself, showing a bottom trapdoor swinging open. The skylight is closed.

    The man awakens, hearing disturbing little sounds about his room. He looks 'round, sees nothing but then hears little squeaks and flutters. Shadows flutter past. Suddenly there are bats on his bed climbing towards his face, screeching. The man is terrified.

    The car returns to the mansion. The clockwork musicians kick into gear, playing "What Can I Say After I Say I'm Sorry?," with print upon the bass drum: "Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards." The figure in black enters the mansion while the woman closes up the car. The man in black switches off his musicians and sits at the organ, while the young woman appears on the balcony. As the man plays a contented tune on the organ, he and it sink back into the floor.

    Next morning, a butler approaches his master's bedroom, wheeling breakfast. He knocks, enters the room, and says "good morning, sir" (the first spoken words, ten minutes into the film). A bat lands on the breakfast plate. He looks about to see bats hanging all over the room, and his master dead, face slashed and riddled with blood. Horrified, he runs from the room.

    At the mansion, the dark figure hangs a pendant over one of the wax busts (matching the man just killed) and burns its face with fire.

    Back in the dead man's bedroom, Sgt. Tom Schenley, on ladder, removes a last bat from the skylight, while Police Inspector Trout pronounces it a strange business. Schenley recalls a similarly weird death involving another surgeon, stung by bees in his library, his face a mass of boils. Trout chides two officers about to carry the dead doctor out with his shredded face uncovered.

    At the mansion, two prosthetic ears and a nose sit on a dressing table. The formerly dark figure now dressed in white (face unseen), takes the nose, then the ears, then a light brown wig. The composed face of Dr. Anton Phibes is now seen (a colorful rendition of the black and white face painted on the car window. He sits at his organ with its red plastic panels, adjusts a few tabs, and begins to play. After a few measures, the organ and player begin to rise to the floor above.

    Party scene. Camera focuses closely on another pendant worn by Phibes, zooming out to see him in a tux and handing an elegant frog's head mask to Dr. Hargreaves, who didn't know the party was a masked affair. Phibes, masked as a bird of prey, speaks nary a word. Psychiatrist Dr. Hargreaves, introduces himself ("head shrinker," he chuckles) and asks for Phibes' help donning the mask with its fancy catch in back. Phibes obliges, which sets the mask's ever-tightening catch in motion. Phibes continues to be a dour, silent and watchful presence as Hargreaves joins the party. "Darktown Strutters' Ball" plays as the frog mask strangles the screaming doctor, who collapses and falls down a flight of stairs, blood squirting from the mouth of the frog mask.

    Back at the mansion and dressed in black, Phibes hangs his pendant over the next wax bust and blowtorches the face of Dr. Hargreaves, hot wax dripping on the pendant.

    At the police station, Chief Inspector Crow dismisses Trout's request for additional men to investigate the growing string of exotic doctor murders. Bat, bee and frog, indeed. The men are together only in not wanting the press involved. Crow declares there are very strange people practicing medicine these days.

    At the mansion, Phibes, with a cauldron boiling in the background, packs a medical bag.

    At the home of Dr. Longstreet, the doctor cuts a film reel from its wrapping. Mrs. Frawley, a housekeeper or companion of sorts, startles him by announcing her departure for an evening off, for which the doctor seems most eager.

    Phibes' car, with painted images of Phibes on the windows, pulls up outside.

    Dr. Longstreet runs his black and white film reel, gulping wine as he lusts over the image of a snake dancer. Mrs. Frawley's feet appearing below the screen interrupt his private enjoyment. She calls him naughty for not touching his supper yet. Asking about the screen blocking the doorway, Longstreet awkwardly explains it as a modern invention to block drafts. She leaves, dubious of his explanation.

    Shot of Phibes' car window (bearing Phibes' painted image).

    Back in Longstreet's study, the film reel leaves the spokes of the projector and its power cuts off. It starts up again to reveal Phibes' fashionable assistant dressed in white. Longstreet is absolutely transfixed. She stops him absent-mindedly cracking a lever in mid-air and seductively pushes him backwards into a chair, tying his wrists to it. Once secured, Phibes, dressed in black and wearing another pendant, switches on the room lights and enters, kneeling down to stare closely at Longstreet. The woman inserts a tube into a rubber-capped beaker as Phibes surgically cuts open Longstreet's sleeve before jabbing a needle into his arm. Longstreet struggles helplessly, managing only to tear the pendant from Phibe's neck.

    At police headquarters, Trout fumes before Sgt. Schenley over Crow's poo-pooing of the case. Schenley has successfully squashed interest of the press thus far, and has also turned up the fact that all three deceased doctors have worked with a Dr. Vesalius.

    Trout and Schenley visit the home of Dr. Vesalius, lead in by the doctor's teenage son. The boy is impressed that Det. Insp. Trout comes from Scotland Yard, but not the father, who busies himself with a model train set. Vesalius isn't fussed about the deaths of three doctors until Trout lists off their names (Hargreaves, Thornton and Dunwoody) - all close friends of Vesalius.

    Back in Longstreet's study, Phibes withdraws Longstreet's blood. As the sun rises, and the woman plays "Close Your Eyes" on her white violin, Phibes draws out every last drop. He packs up, leaving eight jars of Longstreet's bottled blood on the mantelpiece. He returns to take a second look at Longstreet's choice of art on the wall - a naked woman and naked child cleaving to a nude male wearing a red cape. Phibes gives Longstreet a last disapproving look and exits.

    Vesalius finds the death of his colleagues hard to believe. The phone rings for Trout, informing him of Longstreet's death, making it Vesalius' fourth colleague to have been murdered in an exotic manner.

    Questioning Mrs. Frawley, Trout finds her report of hearing a violin or cello at 2:30 AM astonishing and incredible, but Schenley's presentation of the broken pendant gives Trout a clue he can, at last, pursue.

    Back at the mansion and ready to burn another wax face, Phibes realizes his pendant is missing.

    Trout dismisses Mrs. Frawley. Trout and Schenley look at Longstreet, drained dry as a bone.

    Phibes torches Longstreet's wax image without pity.

    Visiting the goldsmith who made the pendant, Trout learns it's part of a set of ten, each unique and ordered by a lady who didn't talk much and paid in cash - tall, attractive, young and fashionable. As Insp. Pike - no, that's Trout - leaves, the goldsmith hastens him back to add that the pendant symbols are Hebrew, which noticeably perks up Trout's interest.

    Visiting a rabbi, Trout learns the Hebrew symbol is part of list of ten curses visited upon the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Starting with boils, bats, frogs and blood, the list continues with rats, hail, beasts, locusts, deaths of the first-born, and finally darkness "to end forever the sleep of Man."

    With incense burning in his hidden basement chamber, Phibes attaches a cable from a gold phonograph audio horn into the left side of his neck. He then speaks (first time in this film) to an enlarged photograph of a young woman, with his mouth never moving as he sits before her shrine expressing his love.

    Having gone over his medical history, Vesalius presents Trout his findings: He served 1200 medical cases. Discounting cases over five-years-old (due to Dr. Dunwoody's term of involvement), thirty-six cases involved any two of the four slain doctors, a scant dozen where any three were involved, but only one involving all four. Trout reads the file: Victoria Regina Phibes, whom the doctors were too late to help.

    Back in his basement sanctuary, Phibes tells the photograph that nine killed her, nine shall die - "nine eternities in doom."

    Trout continues going over the case file. Victoria died, and her husband Anton died in a fiery car crash, incinerated while racing back to be at her side, both now interred in the family vault. They were childless - so who's left to use the ancient plagues of Egypt to commit grizzly retributions?

    On a back road bordered by a calm river, the door to Phibes' car opens. The fashionable woman, dressed in black with a black fur hat, walks a Grayhound (seen nowhere else in the film). As a car approaches, the dog disappears and the woman peers into her car's engine. The man in the car, a gentleman, instructs his chauffeur to help the lady out. As the chauffeur greets the lady, Phibes' car door opens unnoticed. Straightaway, the chauffeur is rendered unconscious at a touch from Phibes. Phibes takes a lightweight machine from his vehicle, and the woman steps over the fallen chauffeur.

    Hearing "Elmer's Tune" playing outside his car, the slightly feeble gentleman tries looking out his window. The opposite door opens, and the woman places the moving music box figurine inside, soon followed by Phibes and his machine. The physical appearance of both Phibes and victim - jowly, mustached, side-burned, black suited, white dress shirted, gray-eyed - are similar, and they regard each other for a moment.

    Over coffee, the police discuss the remaining plagues and their placement of guards around all five surviving surgical team members, save Dr. Kitaj, whom they haven't yet located. The money from Phibes' Switzerland account was transferred to England two years ago and withdrawn in cash by a tall attractive woman who rarely spoke a word. Matching the goldsmith's description, Trout is keen upon meeting HER.

    At the mansion, the fashionable woman finishes sweeping as the clockwork pianist plays, and a recorded voice sings "One for My Baby and One More for the Road."

    It's night. The inspectors reach the muddy backroad where Dr. Hedgepath's car and unconscious chauffeur have been found. With difficulty, Trout opens the car door, frozen solid. Likewise Dr. Hedgepath inside. It's the curse of hail. The constable points out the lightweight machine, connected to the car's running engine to deliver a -100° blast of arctic hail

    Back at the wax busts, Phibes torches the likeness of Dr. Hedgepath, with its wax dripping on the pendant.

    At home, Dr. Vesalius plays chess with his son but his troubled mind is elsewhere, and he sends his son to bed. His son hopes to share a "super" music piece he's come across through Old Darrow at the music shop, who remembers all the great organists - Bridges, Drew and Phibes. Now Dad's interest is up, and he picks up the music score his son leaves behind.

    At the music shop, Vesalius picks through old posters to find one on Phibes, dated 1904, and tries to engage dotty, old Mr. Darrow in a conversation about him.

    Phibes plays "War March of the Priests" once again at his organ.

    Back home with Trout, Vesalius shares his experience of meeting Old Darrow, who can hardly see and seemed to insist that Phibes was still his patron. Trout now wants to visit the Phibes mausoleum.

    Trout and Vesalius enter a graveyard, with the attendant declaring under his breath that the worms will have these two fools soon enough. Trout reveals that Phibes had degrees in music and theology. Vesalius says it neatly explains Phibes' knowledge of the Egyptian plagues, which Trout hadn't yet connected.

    Back at the mansion, Phibes sits at his organ, his back to the room. The woman approaches him, dressed in orange and bearing flowers. She gives him the bouquet and he (and organ) descend.

    The graveyard attendant opens the Phibes mausoleum for Trout and Vesalius. Vesalius asks if anyone ever visits the place. The attendant says no but Trout spots a bouquet of roses on Victoria's burial vault, still with scent. The attendant swiftly but quietly slips away. Removing the vault and coffin lids reveals a small wooden box housing Anton Phibes' ashes. Dissatisfied, Trout speculates that the ashes of the incinerated car crash body might have been that of a chauffeur. Phibes may have survived and returned to London, which could explain Old Marrow thinking Phibes was still around. At Vesalius' suggestion they check out Victoria's body. Her coffin is surprisingly empty.

    Phibes, back at his wife's shrine, espouses words of love and devotion, promising that they'll soon hold their two precious hearts in single time.

    Daytime. Sgt. Schenley races along a rural road. Back at the police station, Trout confirms to Chief Inspector Crow that Schenley is heading to meet the elusive Dr. Kitaj. Superintendent Waverley blusters in, confronting Crow while dismissing Trout's presence, to impress everyone what a ticking political time bomb they're in (especially for himself), demanding everyone get out there and bring the affronting madman in.

    The fashionable lady, dressed again in her black garb with matching black fur hat, exits Phibes' parked car. Sgt. Schenley races past a few brick buildings. Phibes finally exits his car to join his aide and a telescope atop a hill.

    Dr. Kitaj drives up across open ground to the hanger of the London Aeroplane Club. A youngish man, he whistles as he meets up with Harry, his mechanic, then enters his plane. Sgt. Schenley closes in. Phibes, playing with a wild flower, grins for the first time while his aide plays her white violin and Kitaj's plane readies for takeoff. Schenley arrives just as the plane heads downfield. He racing to catch up, but the plane achieves liftoff. Phibes watches - cold, dour and waiting. Unable to do else, Schenley watches Kitaj's plane as well.

    With the plane well aloft, rats break out, apparently targeting Dr. Kitaj for meat. Both Schenley and Phibes watch the plane go out of control and - with Kitaj covered in rat bites - crash. Phibes swivels his telescope and applauds. He walks over to his aide and applauds her playing, too ("All I Do Is Dream of You").

    Soon after, Trout berates Schenley for not driving faster. Schenley counters that he was at times going over ninety miles an hour and that the car he picked up at Scotland Yard was the fastest he could find and "damn nearly exploded" on the journey. With a couple oil seals broken, it's going to need service. Superintendent Waverley suddenly appears, loudly asking Pike - uh, Trout - why his car's been moved. Trout and Schenley both realize what trouble they're in but each refrain from offering details. After inquiries about the Phibes case (and getting Trout's name wrong again), Waverley drives off. Before Trout and Schenley can discuss anything further, Waverley's car can be heard giving up the ghost off camera.

    Dr. Phibes prepares for a romantic interlude with his aide, lowering a backdrop painting of elegant people at a party. A banner on another backdrop proclaims it Le Casino De Monte Carlo. A fixed spotlight illuminates the woman, dressed in pale blue and lavender, seated at the room's only table, with a rose adornment and a bottle of champagne chilling. Dr. Phibes approaches and pours them each a glass. They clink glasses, and Phibes drinks from the right side of his neck. Gulping sounds can be heard. The woman watches, sipping her own champagne as Phibes finishes. They return their empty glasses to the table, clasp hands and dance. He returns her to the table before the clinking clockwork musicians reach the end of their dreamy, romantic rendition of "You Stepped Out of a Dream."

    Schenley and Trout go over plans for the surviving surgical team members, placing guards around Dr. Vesalius and Nurse Allen while setting about taking Dr. Whitcombe off to the country for a few days.

    Scene jumps to a men's club where Trout and Schenley escort Dr. Whitcombe out. The doctor is irritable at being removed from his patients for too long a time, but recognizes the royal treatment he's getting from the police. As Schenley takes Whitcombe's leather duffel bag, he and Trout open the double doors, whereby a whooshing sound heralds the head of a brass unicorn piercing Whitcombe's torso and nailing him to a thick, free-standing wooden wall, instantly killing him.

    As the police unscrew Dr. Whitcombe and the unicorn head from the wall, an old gentleman loudly demands their consideration for quiet.

    Dr. Phibes puts another medallion around another wax bust before blowtorching its face. His aide, dressed in pink, moves elegantly about the room, catching Phibes' attention briefly.

    At Scotland Yard, Trout expresses incredulity over the unicorn head (its horn stained in blood) being cast in brass. Schenley adds that it appears to have been catapulted from across the street.

    Dr. Phibes sits at his organ, watching images of his deceased wife projected overhead. Soft organ music plays. (Supposedly he's playing, but his movements say he isn't.) Phibes, aided by his audio cable, speaks lovingly to his wife's image (taking a few lines from John Donne's poem "The Good-Morrow"). He declares to his wife's image that his work will be finished in the next twenty-four hours, whereby he'll rejoin his her in her setting forever.

    At Scotland Yard, Waverley berates Crow for engaging seventy men in a search for a man who was once buried. Trout happens by, and Waverley berates them both for making no difference whatsoever in arriving ahead of a crime for a change. Trout excuses himself for the lavatory, which Waverley declares highly appropriate.

    Followed by his aide (wearing her black fur hat again), Phibes wheels a brass wheelbarrow filled with Brussels sprouts up a board over his steps to the balcony. His aide watches him, then turns to watch the film audience.

    In his laboratory, Phibes monitors the Brussels sprouts dropping through a large plastic tube into a large, bubbling cooking pot. The woman, now dressed in yellow with her hair done up, enters with a small amount of more Brussels sprouts in a small serving basket. Phibes picks through them, discarding some but adding others to his cooking pot. A large cylinder holds an agitated amount of clear green liquid derived from the cooking pot. Phibes discards more of his assistant's Brussels sprouts before holding one and nodding approvingly.

    It's evening, as Trout and Schenley pull up and enter a hospital. A policeman reports nothing to report.

    In the lab, Phibes checks his cooking efforts, dipping his gloved finger into the brew and then sipping it through his neck. Sip. Swallow. It's good.

    Checking his map of the hospital grounds, Trout expresses confidence in his security measures to keep Nurse Allen alive, loosing a little steam in saying that only by dropping in by balloon could Phibes thwart his efforts - realizing upon utterance that the inventive Phibes could do just that. Dr. Vesalius asks what if Phibes is already in the hospital. Trout hopes he is, because he'll never get back out.

    Nurse Allen meets them, asking Dr. Vesalius of his involvement with men taking over her life by disallowing her to leave the hospital. She's distressed over being forced to stay in a guarded room for the next twenty-four hours. They enter the elevator, where (to the audience) it seems Dr. Phibes, dressed as an orderly with his back to them, stands over two large metal containers. Vesalius and Allen remain quite, not wanting to share their discussion with a mere orderly. As they exit at the next floor, the orderly turns and it is, indeed, Dr. Phibes. Vesalius and Allen exit the elevator, whereby Dr. Vesalius resumes his explanation of protecting her from a madman wanting to kill her. Phibes steps to the frosted glass of the elevator door and shuts the inner gate to continue on up to the next floor.

    Shocked at the news, Nurse Allen doesn't know how she'll be about to sleep. Dr. Vesalius suggests she take a sleeping pill. Allen retorts with a disapproving goodnight, and the policeman standing guard locks her in her room.

    On the floor above, Phibes wheels his containers into an unused room directly over Nurse Allen's. He plugs in a lamp and unfurls a life-size cartoonish drawing of a naked woman.

    On a lower floor, Trout supposes Phibes will eventually be stopped by simple human error. Vesalius disagrees. Phibes has had years to hide and plot. If they can throw off his maniacal precision, they might have a chance of stopping him by his own inflexible standards.

    Phibes drops a drill point between the eyes of the cartoon woman laid upon the bare wooden floor and begins to drill by hand. Camera shot from Nurse Allen's room shows drill coming through ceiling. Phibes brushes wood chips aside to peer through hole and see Nurse Allen sleeping, a few fresh wood chips in her hair. His curse of the pharaohs pendant swings from his neck. He attaches a black rubber tube to his first canister and sticks the other, smaller, clear plastic end in the hole cut into the floor. (Violin music begins to play "Charmaine.") Green Brussels sprout broth drips over and runs down Nurse Allen's white globe night table light. As Phibes' aim gets better, the slimy broth drizzles over Nurse Allen's hand and face. Camera shows the tube above running out of juice, and another shot of Nurse Allen, still asleep, shows her face entirely coated in green slime.

    Phibes removes the tube and gazes down, satisfied. He rises to lift the cover off the second canister, which contains rattling locusts. He attaches another black tube to this and to the hole in the floor. A perfect fit. A midsection of clear glass shows the insects marching down the tube with Phibes looking on, excited. He taps the glass to gets the last of the bugs down the tube.

    Trout and Vesalius sit below, pondering over the final three curses. It could be Vesalius' turn this night as well, but Dr. Vesalius believes Phibes is saving something for him for last. That should mean the mysterious curse of darkness. Trout wonders about the death of the first-born, which Vesalius says shouldn't affect him because his elder brother already died. A horrible thought strikes Trout: what about Dr. Vesalius' first-born (Lem). Alarmed, Trout sends Sgt. Schenley to take two cars to the Vesalius home along with the doctor and report back.

    A few floors up, Phibes pokes the last bug through the hole.

    At the Vesalius home, a camera pans the living room, catching a smiling photograph of young Lem in happier times. Dr. Vesalius paces the room while Sgt. Schenley stands in the doorway. The tone is somber. A reflection on the photograph shows Dr. Vesalius gazing at his son's face. He picks up the portrait to gaze at his son more closely while Schenley walks over to gauge Vesalius' state of mind. Schenley then heads out swiftly.

    At the back of the house, a patrolman reports the back door hanging off, the lock forced, and looks of a struggle upstairs. "The lad's been taken all right." Schenley heads back to join Trout, instructing the patrolman to stay with Dr. Vesalius. The patrolman looks sadly down at the son's model airplane he holds. "Poor little devil."

    Schenley, now back at the hospital, runs inside to report the boy's gone with no sign of Phibes. Trout decides to check on Nurse Allen before he and Schenley head off together for the Vesalius home. They enter the elevator.

    Trout knocks on the Nurse Allen's door, twice. No response either time. That's. not good, and he tells the guard to open it...slowly. Cautiously Trout and Schenley enter to find Nurse Allen's head reduced to a skull, devoid of flesh, picked clean by locusts still prodding about for scraps, a green juice stain on the pillow, and her dark gray hair robbed of color.

    Back at the mansion and wearing his greasy black robes, Phibes blowtorches the wax likeness of Nurse Allen.

    Trout and Schenley stand aghast over Nurse Allen.

    Phibes, at his wife's shrine once more (and changed into off-white robes), speaks of soon being with her in eternal paradise.

    At the Vesalius home, Trout tries to reassure Vesalius that the police are doing everything they can, and suggests a little brandy might help.

    Phibes, sitting angrily at his organ with his audio cable still in his neck, dials a phone mounted on his organ, his wife's photograph on the dial.

    Phone rings at the Vesalius home. Vesalius picks up.

    Phibes flips all his tabs and plays a bunch of held-down notes.

    "Who's there?!" demands Vesalius.

    Sneering and angry, Phibes hangs up.

    Cut off, Vesalius hangs up and looks over to Trout. Trout, having watched, looks back to the brandy. The phone rings again. Trout looks to the extension near him, and Vesalius picks up immediately. Phibes speaks. "Nine killed her, nine shall die." As Vesalius asks the caller if he's Phibes, Trout picks up the extension and listens in. Vesalius tells Phibes he must see him. He tries to maintain composure but then loses it, demanding to know where his son is. Phibes responds by saying "The organ plays till midnight, the large house in Muldeen Square, come alone." Phibes hangs up. Vesalius does too. So does Trout.

    Vesalius announces he's going alone, hoping to trade is life for his son's, but Trout forbids it. The police will be with him, whether Vesalius likes it or not, sorry. Seeing no way out of it, Vesalius asks to make a quick phone call, which Trout allows, but it's a ruse. Vesalius uses the metallic phone to knock Trout unconscious. Vesalius apologizes and heads out.

    Back at the mansion ballroom, Phibes' assistant wears a garment of red and gold, including a headdress reminiscent of a sundew plant, with red extensions tipped with red jelly or gemstones. She stands with arms outstretched as Phibes rises up on his organ, red organ backing red dress. As the organ stops, she slowly descends the steps towards the golden gramophone horn below and turns it outward. (Phibes appears to be playing, but the music is foremost a guitar with cello and a pair of unified male and female singers.) A camera close-up of the woman's neck adornment shows it to resemble an assortment of writhing gold snakes.

    Outside, Vesalius arrives. The woman lets him in.

    Phibes, at his golden horn, plugs in. The two men meet for the first time across opposite ends of the designed glass floor with the burnt wax figures in the background. Phibes greets Vesalius graciously but announces that his son will die at midnight. Phibes will have killed nine times in his lifetime but asks Vesalius how many murders can be attributed to him. "None," says Vesalius. "I never killed your wife!" "No?" questions Phibes, and declares he has no faith in doctors. For example, he himself was told by doctors, after his crash, that he would never speak again but were proved wrong by Phibes, using his own knowledge of music and acoustics to recreate his voice. Vesalius says he doesn't need reminding of Phibes' ingenuity and, stepping forward, re-demands to know the whereabouts of his son. Phibes steps forward as well, causing Vesalius to fearfully back away, and reveals that Vesalius will see his son under circumstances that may trigger memories.

    Lights in a room beneath the glass floor fade up. There rests Vesalius's son, unconscious, under a lavender covering that exposes only his face and center of his chest (and bare feet and arms, seen later on). The boy is restrained to a wheeled table by a metal neck brace, aluminum in appearance, that seems secured to the floor by chains. Vesalius touches the floor: so near and yet so far.

    Phibes gives the son (already anesthetized) the same chance at survival that his wife had under Vesalius' knife. "You're wife, no, Phibes, but you I will kill." "You can't, doctor. I am already dead," says Phibes.

    The red-dressed assistant leads Vesalius through a hole in the floor down to the room below.

    Trout awakens in Vesalius' home, drinks the brandy then calls for the sergeant.

    Phibes unplugs his audio cable from the golden horn and plugs it into the floor along the framing of the glass design. He asks if Vesalius can hear him. In the makeshift surgical room below, Vesalius can. Phibes points out an x-ray of the son's rib cage, showing a tiny key lodged close to the boy's heart that will unlock the restraining halter around his neck. Phibes positions a contraption with a coiling tube to a round hole in the glass floor. Vesalius needs the key to unlock the halter and remove the boy from his fixed position, his face directly below the coil contraption. Acid will soon be released into the tube, where it will creep down and reach the outlet over the boy's face in exactly six minutes. Vesalius, with the woman's help, prepares for surgery. Phibes releases the red-colored acid and watches its progress in the tube. The woman puts a surgical on Vesalius, and he asks her to please hurry.

    Phibes continues watching the acid descend, almost playfully. Vesalius begins to cut into his son (not directly shown). Phibes leaves the acid contraption, unplugs his cable from the floor and descends into the surgical room.

    A car, presumably with Trout and police inside, hurries down an alley towards Phibes' mansion.

    Phibes enters the surgery room where Vesalius works diligently. "For God's sake," utters Vesalius, at which Phibes proclaims to have God on his side. Better for Vesalius to put his faith in his own skilled hands, he says. Phibes directs Vesalius to look above at the acid heading for his son. Phibes turns to his fashionable assistant and addresses her by name for the first time. "Vulnavia, my work is nearly finished. Go, now. Destroy all I have created." She leaves and Phibes orders the doctor to work faster, enjoying the added, torturous pressure this puts on him. Phibes' wife only existed six minutes on Vesalius' operating table. Vesalius murdered her, but Phibes has given Vesalius "a second chance" (to redeem himself, supposedly) by saving his son in the same six-minute time frame.

    Upstairs, Vulnavia activates the clockwork musicians into playing "A Hundred Years from Today." She tarries at the acid machine (with the red liquid reaching all the way to floor level by now) then walks on to a gold-colored axe embedded in the dance floor.

    Downstairs, Phibes enjoys taunting Vesalius about not saving his son in time. The son will not only die but "have a face like mine," he says. Vesalius looks up as Phibes tears off his prosthetics to reveal a horrific face, the eyes intact but the front barely covered by ruined flesh, teeth permanently exposed and fused together, and a skull mostly (top, back and sides) exposed. Vesalius turns back to his son, and Phibes slowly backs out of the room, exiting.

    Phibes walks through the ballroom as Vulnavia continues to hack at things (the wax busts, the canvas painting). Phibes sits at his organ as the clockwork musicians continue to play.

    Vesalius, still working, sweats.

    Vulnavia slashes the canvas painting, and now Phibes warms up the organ for one more performance of "War March of the Priests."

    Hearing this from below, Vesalius looks up. His son, still unconscious and oblivious to the horrors around him, lies peacefully.

    As Phibes plays, drowning out the clockwork musicians, he has a grand time, twice glancing back at Vulnavia's handiwork at the canvas.

    Vesalius looks up to see the acid beginning to fill a transparent lower dish above his son's head. Vulnavia continues to chop. Phibes and organ begin their descent.

    Trout, Schenley and several policemen pull up out front.

    As Vulnavia continues to chop, Trout and Schenley poke their heads through tears in the canvas, unaware their heads appear atop drawings of party-going bodies.

    Vesalius continues the surgery and sees, by the container above, that he has thirty seconds left. With the acid rising to the ends of tubes that will drip down at nearly half a dozen points over a small area, Vesalius finally extracts the key, but now his hands ARE shaking and he can barely fit the key in the lock. He does, however, and releases his son from his fixed position.

    Others enter. Trout and Schenley have cornered Vulnavia in the surgical room, with her threatening them with her axe. Unfortunately, she's forgotten about the acid that she now stands under. The acid (having turned a honey color) comes through the eighteen tubes. She screams (the first time in the film her voice is heard). Camera only shows the glass surgical table and chemical steam. She collapses and Trout looks away, sickened. Vesalius says they'll need an ambulance for them (Vulnavia and the son).

    Back in his private basement chamber, Phibes steadily recreates his face with prosthetics.

    Vesalius, joining Trout and Schenley, returns to the ballroom. Officers are dispatched to bring the boy up and prepare for the ambulance arrival. Wondering aloud where Phibes went, the organ almost silently rises from below, drawing their attention. The three men ascend the steps to it. Trout warns Vesalius against touching it himself as it may be a trap of some sort. Trout swats a tab nervously to see if there's a reaction.

    Below, Phibes, finished recreating his face, walks to the other side of the room and raises his right arm. As he unbuttons his sleeve, a light comes on, revealing his wife laid out. Phibes steps into this sunken bed of sorts, with a mirror angled to reflect her as if in a standing position. He lies next to her and jabs a hypodermic needle into his arm. A plastic tube shows blood taken from Phibes spurting out into the first of several empty beakers. Next to them are three beakers marked Embalming Fluid. As the blood flows into an empty beaker, yellow embalming fluid leaves the other. Dr. Phibes rests comfortably and seemingly goes unconscious. The camera moves to the mirror at their feet. It suddenly moves, revealing itself to be a lid with an outer relief design of the sun, Earth and moon, with the moon casting the Earth in a total eclipse.

    As the lid lowers automatically, Trout, Schenley and Vesalius lower downward on the organ, which grandly plays the conclusion of "War March of the Priests" on its own. Having reached Dr. Phibes inner sanctum, the men are confused. Where's Phibes? It's the final curse, darkness, which means to forever end the peaceful sleep of these three men. They turn to leave, and lights dim on Phibes' final resting place, leaving only the sun design illuminated. A thunderclap is heard (more for the sake of the viewing audience than the characters).

    End credits roll to the melody of "Over the Rainbow." As the song reaches it's trumpeted conclusion, the trumpet fails to finish, with the last note replaced unsatisfactorily by a piano. Phibes' wicked chuckle is heard, and the meaning is clear: Just as the song isn't really finished, neither is Dr. Phibes.

See also

Taglines | Synopsis | Plot Keywords | Parents Guide

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed