City Heat is a movie from the ’80s about the ’30s, two great fur fashion decades that film that go great together. Here we have a couple of movies from the ’70s about the ’20s. The films in question would be a couple of low-budget camp horror films featuring Vincent Price as a guy who really holds a grudge well. Welcome to 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes and 1972’s sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again.
Dr. Phibes – The Films
Price plays the titular doctor, who in the first film enacts some very complex revenge on the doctors and nurse whom he blames for his wife’s failed care after a car accident 4 years previously. In the sequel, he does the same thing against the people who stole his resurrection scrolls and burned his house down. In both cases, his ultimate goal is the return of his well-preserved dead wife, and in both cases, he is assisted in his multifarious murder plots by the voiceless Vulnavia.
Dr. Phibes – The Furs
Vulnavia and her signature outfit provide the lion’s share of the furs in the films. This outfit is a lovely black cape, blouse, boots, gloves, and a full black fox hat. A version of this costume is seen in both the first film and the sequel. It’s not the only fur, though. Vulnavia appears once in The Abominable Dr. Phibes in the negative of her usual outfit, a white mink jacket and fur hat. Dr. Phibes Rises Again features more than just Vulnavia in furs. Fiona Lewis plays the love interest of one of the doctor’s foes, and she appears in a couple of full foxes.
In The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Vulnavia is played by Virginia North in her final film role. Miss North appeared in another film notable for fur, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The first appearance of Vulnavia in her signature hat is as chauffeur to Phibes.
Vulnavia’s white fur outfit appears later as she calmly assists the good Doctor in another homicide.
Virginia North had experience as a model, which served her well for this role since she had no lines, and retained the appearance of cool detachment throughout.
Chauffeur, murder accomplice, dog walker… Vulnavia does it all and looks great doing it. Here she wears a black cape to complement the fox hat.
The nature of the character is never explained, and theories include her being a clockwork android who pauses for a smoke break.
And breaks the 4th wall from time to time.
Vulnavia appears to die at the end of the first film and Phibes entombs himself, victorious in his endeavors. It’s a horror movie franchise, and the antagonist always comes back for the sequel. 1972’s equally campy low-budget affair features more than just Vulnavia in fur. Here we have Fiona Lewis, as the main squeeze of the Doctor’s foe in Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Miss Lewis not only has a full fox wrap but accents with a bit of a short cigarette holder.
While they chat, Vulnavia has returned and is up to her usual, calm, cool, and collected homicidal tricks. Her black fox hat and matching black cape/boot/glove ensemble are sadly not seen so much in the sequel. Quite literally, in this case, as someone turned the “day-for-night” filter way up, making it difficult to even see the hat.
The silver fox and black fox sequences are inter-cut, allowing us to admire both at once.
Though the stylish fox hat returned, the head supporting it did not. If you’re comparing closeups and thinking, “Hey, wait just one gosh-darned second here!” you’re right, that’s not Virginia North; that’s Valli Kemp. Miss North could not don the black fox hat once more as she was pregnant when the sequel began rolling.
Valli Kemp had even fewer credits to her name, though her ability to stand and look very beautiful catapulted her to being Miss Australia of 1970 and subsequent runner up for Miss World of the same year. Here she and Miss Lewis pass on the deck of an ocean liner bound for Egypt, with Miss Kemp sadly not as warm.
I would nitpick about it still being the 20’s, and this pretty full white fox jacket was, perhaps, a tad anachronistic, but I don’t really care. I’d nitpick more it was worn by Fiona Lewis and not Valli Kemp, who would have done it more justice.
The horror genre doesn’t generally serve up a lot of furs, so this was a pleasant exception to the rule. Though I grant Vulnavia’s signature outfit is a little light on fur. Still, the fox hat is great, and in combination with the rest of the outfit, it is an excellent look for the character of a calm, detached-yet-stylish assassin. Yes, ideally the cape would have been black fox as well, that would have nailed it perfectly.
One gallery for both films, updated March, 2022, with HD images and a supercut of fur from the 1st film: