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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 <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 »
This is quite possibly the finest British horror-film ever made--except that it is entirely-true. The Flesh and the Fiends is nothing-less than a fairly truthful accounting of the original 'bodysnatchers,' Burke and Hare who resorted-to-murder after running-out of 'fresh' corpses for a Dr. Thomas Knox, of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a scandalous-story that would never have been possible were it not for antiquated religious-notions that it was unholy to disinter the dead--even if approved by the deceased and their survivors--for the purposes of medical-inquiry. Shot in an shadowy-expressionist black, there are few films that top this in the horror-canon. Hammer had some great films, but this is really the capper. Burke and Hare just wanted money to drink and whore. In the squalor of early-industrial Britain, there were precursors to Jack the Ripper, and Burke and Hare could have taught Jack a few-lessons.
Britain's early-industrial poverty spawned rampant-licentiousness, disease and violence. When human-life is considered worthless, you get a tendency for crime and murder of this type. Groan all-you-want, but these were the fruits of a form of gross economic-inequality that prevails today. And for those who don't know, Great Britain in the 1820s was the time of Charles Dickens. Dr. Knox was one of numerous aristocratic-doctors of his day who had to resort to the employ of bodysnatchers to obtain fresh-cadavers for his anatomical-research. Because of this, Flesh and the Fiends is also a tale of scientific-ethics--with a wrongheaded-ending! Dr. Knox was definitely aware at some point that Burke and Hare were murdering human-beings for money (this all paid-handsomely at the time), to provide him bodies. It doesn't get much darker than this. Would we even bat-an-eye today? In Houston (circa 1960s-1970s), the coroner's office was selling the cadavers of homeless Black men to the Department of Energy for radiation-experiments. Today, there are organized-crime groups who snatch-organs from the living and the dead for the highest-bidders! Egads, bodysnatching never-ended.The film: it was produced by a tiny independent English studio called 'Independents-International', and is regarded as their best-film.
Directed by Hammer-director John Gilling, it was also a minor-hit, and is easily one of Peter Cushing's best-performances. Also noteworthy, is Donald Pleascence's performance of the deadly Hare, which is very nuanced. Cushing's performance is also nuanced, illustrating the moral-dilemma that Knox must have felt utilizing the kind-of cadavers Burke and Hare provided him. How can you lose with a movie that has him and Peter Cushing?! Everything about The Flesh and the Fiends is convincing, even for such a low-budget thriller. The original-negatives of the film were located in the 1990s, so most of the editions on DVD are superb, and contain the 'Continental version' that has plenty of flesh (and fiends) on-display. What a wild-romp, and yet what a chilling-parable of the abuses-of-power in a rotten-era of human-history. It's sad how things aren't very different. You could do worse than to watch this on those cold, Autumn-nights. This is a movie for true horror-lovers who realize horror is of human-origin. Be-sure to check the Brooksfilm (Mel's old-company) version of this story, 'The Doctor and the Devils' (1985). It's pretty good, too, though not-as-good as this. When I saw it as a kid, I thought it was about Jack the Ripper!
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