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 ... See full summary »
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 »
Dr. Robert Knox:
Before commencing this morning's lecture, let us consider the Oath of Hippocrates, the sacred oath of our profession: "I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone."
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The Dyaliscope logo in the main titles misspells the widescreen process as "Dylascope". See more »
"We make no apologies to the dead....It is all true"
With this seemly arrogant but honest message showing on the screen, the film opens at a dark Edinburgh cemetery where two vicious figures lift a cadaver from its grave... "The Flesh and the Fiends" tells the true story of William Burke and William Hare, corpse-suppliers to the ambitious surgeon and university professor Dr. Robert Knox. From what I've read in factual biographies and works of reference (yes, I find this stuff so intriguing that I study it on the side), the screenplay is rather accurate and faithful when it comes to the basic re-telling of the murder cases. Burke and Hare's modus operandi as well as their negotiations with Dr. Knox really were this clumsy and unscrupulous while Knox damn well knew about the suspicious methods of the two, but he couldn't care less as long the study-objects he received were fresh and supplied regularly. I reckon that writer/director John Gilling then added some fictional elements to his film, like the characterizations of the main roles, since Hare's persona is almost blackly comical and Dr. Knox' attitude is stubborn and typically obnoxious like nearly every scientist in horror cinema. Still, the escalation of the tragedy is truthfully illustrated with Burke and Hare getting into the body-snatching business coincidentally at first, but quickly specializing in it because of the good cash money and eventually even converting to murder in order to deliver the most 'quality'.
"The Flesh and the Fiends" isn't just a great historical film, it also is a praiseworthy horror achievement with a uniquely grim atmosphere and very convincing acting performances. John Gilling terrifically revives a 19th century Edinburgh with its low-perspective inhabitants (drunks, beggars and thieves...) and ominous bars and alleys. The murders are very mean and cold-heartedly illustrated (the death of a young unintelligent boy, strangled amid squealing pigs is particularly unsettling) which probably makes this film the most disturbing of the entire 50's decade. Peter Cushing is excellent in the for him familiar role of brilliant doctor but it especially are Donald Pleasance (hypocrite and self-centered) and George Rose (a simple-minded killer) who impress as Hare and Burke. The supportive roles are somewhat stiff and they bring forward redundant sub plots, like the romantic interactions between Knox' daughter Martha and her doctor-lover Geoffrey. The typically Scottish accents are a joy to listen to and the eerie black and white photography emphases the already very chilling tone. This movie is still incomprehensibly underrated and unknown. Maybe because it's not a Hammer production or maybe because the substance was considered controversial for a long period of time. Fact remains that this old shocker is far better than most contemporary horror gems and everybody who has an interest in the obscure should urgently check it out!
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