Edinburgh surgeon Dr. Robert Knox requires cadavers for his research into the functioning of the human body; local ne'er-do-wells Burke and Hare find ways to provide him with fresh ...
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Edinburgh surgeon Dr. Robert Knox requires cadavers for his research into the functioning of the human body; local ne'er-do-wells Burke and Hare find ways to provide him with fresh specimens... Written by
Mark Doran <email@example.com>
This film is an adaptation of the story of real-life killers William Burke and William Hare who, around 1827 in Edinburgh, Scotland, did provide more than a dozen "fresh" corpses to the anatomist Dr. Knox. See more »
The late '50s was one of the most important periods in the evolution of horror cinema - especially the British horror film, which was undergoing a radical new wave of gory Technicolour entries such as Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy. Two men who were thrust into super-stardom thanks to these movies were Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, perhaps the finest horror actors ever to grace the genre. The Flesh And The Fiends (a.k.a Mania) is a 1959 chiller, shot in black and white, with Cushing in the main role. The black and white photography harks back to the style of the older horror films from the '30s and '40s, but the story is quite disturbing and includes some pretty grisly scenes more in line with the contemporary hunger for explicit blood and guts. And, while Christopher Lee might for once be missing as Cushing's co-star, Donald Pleasance proves himself to be a wonderfully adept replacement.
In 19th Century Edinburgh, a respected lecturer in anatomy, Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing), goes about his work and outwardly seems to be the perfect gentleman. However, he keeps a dark and disgusting secret from his niece Martha (June Laverick) and her lover Dr. Mitchell (Dermot Walsh). Knox secretly buys corpses from a pair of unscrupulous local grave-robbers named Burke (George Rose) and Hare (Donald Pleasance). With these dead bodies, Knox carries out secret anatomical studies. Burke and Hare, realising that they're onto a lucrative line of business, begin to murder victims rather than simply digging up the bodies of the already-dead so that they can keep the doctor stocked with corpses. This spate of murders doesn't seem to concern Knox too much, even though he suspects that Burke and Hare are the culprits.... so engrossed is he in his experiments that he is happy to turn a blind eye. Eventually Burke and Hare are captured for their crimes, the latter testifying against his accomplice to save his skin (though he is later pursued and blinded by a hateful mob), while - most disturbing of all - the cruel and calculating Dr. Knox is ultimately pardoned for his own part in the affair.
The Flesh And The Fiends is a very impressive horror film, in which Knox is shown to be the real monster by the way he uses his wealth and intellect to exploit the impoverished Burke and Hare. While Burke and Hare's motive is merely to make money, Knox manipulatively allows them to shoulder all the risk by carrying out the grave-robbing and murders that will get him his corpses. The scenes of squalor and filth are very powerfully captured, and the scenes showing dead bodies being dragged from their earthy graves are extremely provocative for the time. Cushing is outstanding as usual, and Rose and Pleasance make a genuinely creepy pair of resurrectionists. Though it might not be the gore-fest that modern audiences seem to demand, The Flesh And The Fiends is a gruesome treat for those who remember what old-style horror flicks were all about.
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