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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 »
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 »
The Continental version included on the Image DVD contains alternate topless takes of clothed scenes in the UK theatrical release and also restores some cuts for violence that were made by the BBFC. The differences are as follows:
In a tavern scene with Burke and Hare, a female extra allows her blouse to slip revealing her breasts while B&H are talking (in the UK print the blouse doesn't slip)
When Billie Whitelaw takes John Cairney up to her room she has a brief conversation at the foot of the stairs with a woman by an open door. In the UK print this woman is clothed - In the continental print her breasts are exposed.
The murder of the old woman is slightly differently edited and more explicit in the Continental print (additional close-ups of her being smothered by Hare's hand).
When Cairney goes into the brothel and confronts Whitelaw various of the extras are topless in the continental version (but clothed in the UK print). The Continental print also features a couple of unique shots preceding this of topless revelry.
The murder of Daft Jamie is slightly extended and more violent
The Continental version has a close-up of Burke's face when he is hanged which is missing from the UK print (presumably a BBFC cut).
Macabre story of coffins and corpses...this is great stuff!
The Flesh and the Fiends is similar, in a lot of ways, to the Val Lewton produced Robert Wise film, The Body Snatcher, but for some reason; this one has flown further under the radar. It's odd, because despite the greatness of the other film; The Flesh and the Fiends is a lot better, and has the added malevolence of being based on a true-life story. The film takes place in Edinburgh, and director John Gilling does an excellent job of ensuring that the city looks as foreboding as possible, and the perfect home for a story as macabre as this one. The film follows the idea of having to break eggs to make an omelette, and sees Doctor Robert Knox buying corpses from a couple of murderous grave robbers in order for him to have subjects, from which new surgical procedures can be ascertained. The real stars of the show, however, are the graverobbers themselves; Burke and Hare. They begin their careers by simply taking bodies from graves; but once they realise how lucrative the business of selling cadavers is, they soon resort to making a few corpses of their own...
The biggest name in the cast is the one belonging to the great Peter Cushing. Cushing has shown throughout his career that he is capable of a number of different roles, and his role here is one of the best he's had. He gets to sink his teeth into the character of Doctor Knox. In fact, this man isn't a world away from Cushing's world-beating turn as Doctor Frankenstein in Hammer's classic series, which explains why Cushing is so good at it. George Rose and Donald Pleasance give the film its extra dimension in the roles of the graverobbers. Rose is good, but it's Pleasance who really stands out in this film. Seeing him in a role like this is actually quite heartbreaking; as here we see how great he can be, rendering his roles in films like Halloween even more of a waste of time. The plot plays out from a number of different angles, ensuring that there's always enough going on around the central plot to ensure that the film never dries up and becomes boring. It's strange that a film of this quality could fly straight under the radar; but somehow it has. However, copies of this are out there; and it definitely is well worth tracking down!
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