Monsoon-A-Day ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ (1971)

Welcome to Monsoon-a-day.
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.

Day 70

 

As a film fan, there’s few things more satisfying than piecing together the puzzle of homage. When you see a visual flourish or a stylistic camera move or hear a very distinct song in a film and instantly realize that this is where your favorite film got it from is oddly gratifying. Tarantino is the best example of this. Love him or hate him, the man’s films are a collage of inspiration. Almost everything is either inspired by or lifted wholesale to help create his pastiche and since he pulls from some incredibly obscure places, it’s always fun to accidentally stumble across the film he borrowed from. It’s like going off the beaten path while hiking and discovering a tree with Ernest Hemingway’s name etched into it and realizing he made same decision to go left instead of right.

Homage connects film fans to film makers. Because just like those accursed remakes that are ruining Hollywood, it shines a light on films that might not get attention otherwise. How many people discovered Lady Snowblood or Zatoichi because of Kill Bill? How many checked out the original Django or The Legend of Nigger Charley because of Django Unchained? Homage keeps the forgotten alive.

So it’s always a delight to find a film that feels as though it inspired fucking everything. The Abominable Dr. Phibes is such a film. The definition of cult classic, Dr. Phibes has so many working parts, that it’s subplots are responsible for at least 2 major horror films and I would argue It’s style inspired The Phantom of The Paradise.

But as with every review I write, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dr. Phibes is about a Doctor/organ player/scientist/biblical scholar (seriously, the man has so many occupations, he make Buckaroo Banzai look like a lazy bum) who wants revenge for the nine doctors he feels are responsible for his wife’s death. That alone is a solid foundation for a decent horror/thriller but Dr. Phibes goes above and beyond that premise because it’s not really about why he’s killing these men but how.

Revenge is the easiest character motivation there is to write. It’s essentially a ‘get out of free card’ for any writer. You don’t need to do any heavy lifting when revenge is a motivation every audience member can relate to. The best revenge films are the ones that feel like a sort of catharsis for not only the protagonist but the audience. You’ve seen the shit they’ve put the main character through, so you’re eagerly waiting for them to get their comeuppance.

Dr. Phibes separates itself from the pack by skipping right over the inciting incident. In addition to skipping over the wifes death, it even skips over the first murder. This film has the structure that the film Law Abiding Citizen should’ve had. People are dying, you have no idea why and then the motivation changes the structure of the film. It intentionally keeps the audience in the dark till around the 40 minute mark and then the motivation is revealed and then your kind of rooting for Dr. Phibes to win.

I’m kind of dancing around the how of his revenge because it’s the best part of the film, so if I’ve sold you on the film, this is the part where I discuss spoilers. Don’t even watch the trailers. Just go in cold.

 

You might’ve read through Dr. Phibes’s occupations and thought one was a little more odd than the others. Doctor and scientist make sense together and everyone needs a hobby, so playing the organ makes as much sense as anything else but biblical scholar? That’s a strange addition. Why would that matter, you might be asking yourself. The film needs to give you that key piece of information for you to understand why he chooses his method of execution.

Dr. Phibes decides that, since there nine to blame, he should dispatch them using the ten plagues of Egypt. I guarantee you that this decision and they way he goes about his plan, is 100% the inspiration  behind David Fincher’s Seven. So just like that film, The fun of the film is trying to figure what plague/sin is next and how that will be used to kill someone. The plague of frogs is not even remotely what you’d think it would be and the plague of beasts is fucking hilarious.

Oh, I forgot to mention, Dr. Phibes is a comedy. It’s not screamingly obvious from the beginning but (Just like the setting. The film takes place in 1925) if you’re paying attention, you’ll figure it out. If not, the plague of beasts will definitely clue you into what this film is setting out to do.

It all culminates in the last doctor with the last plague and yet another inspiration. There’s no fucking way on God’s green earth, that Leigh Whannel and James Wan didn’t see this film before making Saw. The end of this film is literally one of the traps in Saw.

And this film does it better. There’s much higher stakes in this last challenge than every trap in any Saw film. Along with the incredible stakes, it’s actually designed to be a pyrrhic victory. No matter the outcome, the last doctor will not win.

Neither will Dr. Phibes.

For those of you that didn’t need to take remedial math (neither did I. I’m super smrt), you might be wondering who the last plague is designed for. I’ll give you two guesses but you’ll only one. Dr. Phibes saved the last plague of darkness for himself.

He hooks up a machine to replace his blood with embalming fluid and entombs himself with his beloved. It’s a beautiful ending that the sequel shits all over. But you gotta make do’s dolla billz son. I’m sorry.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is like that super weird smart guy in class that no one wants to hang out with but when there’s a group assignment, he’s the go to. He’ll get you the grade but then everyone will immediately ignore him once the project is done. The world needs to stop ignoring Dr. Phibes. It’s amazing.

Fuck. I forgot to mention the robots. There’s also robots in the film.