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Abominable Dr. Phibes, The, Vulnavia (Virginia North)

Site Rating: 60%
(ratings: 5)
Writeup Rating: 93%
(ratings: 6)
Film: Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)
Deceased Character: Vulnavia (Virginia North)
Archetype: Baddy (Minor)
Killed with: Acid

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Written by Old Bluffer 7th Dec 2006

Vulnavia is the most mysterious character in a film populated with bizarre and memorable figures.
She is an austerely beautiful woman who never speaks, and floats around the film elegantly assisting Dr Phibes in his murders. She also has a fantastical wardrobe, meaning that in every scene we are treated to another of her costumes.
Who she is, and why she is helping the mad doctor, we are never told - but she adds a touch of otherworldly beauty to the film, through such devices as playing haunting tunes on a white violin whilst another of Phibes' victims dies.

It is then, something of a shame that her clogs get popped...

Dr. Anton Phibes (q.v.) is about to take his final prophetic "9 eternities in doom"/"ten plagues" revenge upon the doctors who fatally fumbled his wife's operation.
He intends to do this by means of the "First Born" plague, which translates into killing Dr. Vesalius's son, Lem [it should be pointed out that Vesalius and Inspector Trout knew of the "first born" clue, but discount it because Vesalius' elder brother was already dead. The fact they don't even consider Vesalius' son as a possible target is of course ludicrous, but consistent with the film as a whole!]

Anyway, his method of killing this rather pansy-like teenager (whose red slippers are just wrong!) is in the form of a commendably elaborate trap.

"You will see your son, under conditions that may bring back memories to you, Doctor. You need not be alarmed, he's already been anaesthetized."

These ominous words reveal that he has chained the unconcious Lem to an operating table below a complex spiral glass tube device, designed to drip acid onto the boy's face after six minutes.

He then tells Vesalius that the key to unlock the chains has been inserted within Lem's body, dangerously close to his heart. [The implication is that Phibes has placed the key there himself, which would mean he has an expert knowledge of surgery, and should therefore be rather more sympathetic to the surgical team that failed to save his wife - but then I suppose there wouldn't be much of a film!]

Vesalius is therefore left to perform a difficult surgery on his only son, whilst Phibes provides a helpful running commentary, all delivered via a silver gramophone connected to his voice box.
"Work faster, Doctor! The acid is descending! My wife existed only six minutes on the operating table, and then she was dead. You murdered her!"

This death trap is even more fitting still, as Phibes warns the doctor : "Perhaps your hands will shake and he, too, will die under your knife. A few remaining minutes are all you have. Because when the acid reaches him, he will have a face like mine!"
He then peels off his latex mask to reveal a hideously burned and mangled visage [incidentally, this explains why Phibes' lips don't move when he uses his voice box - his face throughout the movie is actually false].

It should be noted at this point, that whilst the Acid Death Trap is great in theory, you need to use your imagination a bit when actually looking at it, as there are any number of ways that Vesalius could save his son without slicing him up. For example, he could deflect the dripping acid with the surgical tray, the bed itself doesn't look all that firmly bolted down, etc etc!

Whilst all of this is going on, the wonderful Vulnavia has been tasked with "detroying everything Phibes has ever built". She tries her best to do this bless her, but her choice of an axe isn't really that great so she only achieves mild vandalism at best. She does hack up Phibe's "Clockwork Wizards" animatronic orchestral band quite nicely though.
She then returns to the operating theatre to assist Vesalius, who has managed to extract the key and unlock his son with seconds to spare.

At this point, Inspector Trout bursts into the room and as everyone jostles around, Vulnavia inadvertently steps underneath the trap and acid flows down, melting and killing her within seconds.

Although this is all rather shocking, one would still like to think that Dr Vesalius would be stitching up his son after the heart surgery, but he seems completely oblivious now that he has the key!

Old Bluffer's Rewrite:
I was actually expecting there to be a nice twist at the end of this scene. I was hoping that Phibes had tricked Vesalius by providing the wrong key for the locks. This would have left Vesalius with only one choice once he realised - he would have had to throw his own body over his son, and suffer the acid himself. This would have satisfied Phibes' desire for revenge in a splendid way.

Old Bluffer Uncharacteristically Showing His Romantic Side
As noted, I was rather taken with Vulnavia, and still wonder who she was. Apparently the original script suggested she was one of Phibes' clockwork automatons, but this idea was later discarded.
I'd like to think that perhaps she was indeed Phibes' finest creation though (certainly a vast improvement on the creepy Clockwork Wizards!), but that his desire for revenge prevented him from returning her love. She does everything he asks of her in the movie, and seems to genuinely be trying to please him in scenes such as when the dance together. So, for me, she is a Galatea type figure, doomed to love a madman.

Thanks to Mr Briggs for originally submitting this death

3 categories : Death Trap, Acid, Accidental

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Other Death Reviews for Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)

Dr. Dunwoody (Edward Burnham)
Dr. Hargreaves (Alex Scott)
Dr. Hedgepath (David Hutcheson)
Dr. Kitaj (Peter Gilmore)
Dr. Longstreet (Terry Thomas)
Dr. Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufmann)
Nurse Allen (Nancy Travers)
Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price)
Vulnavia (Virginia North)

Last Updated: 2nd Jun 2008
Number of views for this review since 30th May 2008: 10186
This review has 4 comments. Reply to the comments
Comment 1 by 'Matt' (reply to this comment)
Where's Cheating Death? She appears fully intact and alive in sequel 'Dr. Phibes Rises Again' (however, she was played by Valli Kemp in that installment).
Comment 2 by 'Mr. Briggs Inc.' (reply to this comment)
I always thought she was a robot (this is never explained) or Phibes daughter, although the former would give more explanation as to how she reapppeared.

You do realize I also submitted this, it just took longer.
Comment 3 by 'old bluffer' (reply to this comment)
Of course I realise you submitted it, you are credited below the review!
Comment 4 by 'CoinFlip' (reply to this comment)
I agree Matt. She WAS alive in the sequel, and had no tracing of being burned by acid.:confused: