Freddie Francis was appalled to learn that producer Mel Brooks originally intended to use none of Dylan Thomas's original screenplay, but wanted simply another horror movie about Burke and Hare. Francis insisted on going back to the Thomas script as far as possible, although certain revisions were made by Ronald Harwood. See more »
Dr Thomas Rock is an unorthodox anatomist who runs Edinburgh's School of Anatomy in the 1800s. Although his associates of the trade see his work as outrageous, as he discards tradition framework of the medical establishment. To encourage such knowledge and to dig a little deeper into his work Rock receives corpses from grave-robbers to make up for the few he only receives. Things take a turn for the worst when the slum of Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom find out there's good money in the job, and go one step further by providing on every occasion a 'fresh' corpse for the unconcerned doctor.
I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed by this Mel Brooks produced Gothic take on the true exploits of the infamous grave robbers of the 19th century, Burke and Hare. I believe Val Lewton's "The Body Snatcher (1945)" and "The Flesh and the Fiends (1959)" to be far superior, especially the way they seem to grab you and take you along for the ride. On this effort, I just couldn't get totally involved. The depressingly glum story was shaped off the late Dylan Thomas' rather old screenplay and is very similar to "The Flesh and the Fiends" in plot devices. The cerebrally literate script has plenty layers to work around with and genuinely makes some interesting observations on characters' behavioural habits, social status and the moral high ground of science. With the latter, we've heard it all before, but somewhat it still compels. Although some of sub-plots don't seem to gel and feel rather empty or under written (like the romance between Twiggy and Julian Sands and the affair between Rock's sister and wife). There's a dankly realistic and more an old-fashioned view within its martial and visual craftsmanship.
Directed Freddie Francis competently illustrates the picture with great aplomb and creates a solid period setting that resembles something out of Hammer studios. There's a nitty gritty vibe drummed up on the grimy sets by such gruesome perversion and dread. Where it lingers on it successfully. The dynamic factor of directing the actors and story seemed a little lacking, despite a suspenseful climax and hearty conclusion. This can be really attributed to John Morris' score, which really hangs there in such an mournfully haunting fashion. Focal photography was atmospherically well-etched by Gerry Turpin and Norman Warwick. Now what a cast! Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Julian Sands, Twiggy, Stephen Rea and Patrick Stewart. A convincing Dalton is excellent as the work heavily sterile and egotistical Dr Rock. The undoubtedly superb Pryce and Rea are truly disquieting as the scummy lowlifes turned cold-blooded killers, Fallon and Broom. There's a wicked morbid sense of humour running through most of their dialogues. A classy Sands, is simply too one-note and a tailor made Twiggy is quite strong in her part as a prostitute.
A hot and cold fable that I only wished it could keep me engaged throughout the whole experience, rather than in patches. Well-made and acted, but bleakly weary and flat.
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