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Robert S. Baker,
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 »
"The Flesh And The Fiends" of 1960 (other sources say 1959) is a grim, creepy, terrifying and often sad masterpiece of British Horror cinema, that no lover of the genre could possibly afford to miss. John Gilling's film is based on the true case of William Burke and William Hare who supplied the surgeon Dr. Robert Knox with fresh corpses in Edinburgh of the 1820s. The film has a very creepy, chilling Gothic atmosphere, and yet it accomplishes to seem frighteningly real. The story is incredibly macabre, and what makes it even more frightening is the fact that the morbid events in this film actually took place. In Edinburgh of the 1820s, the Medical University is supplied with too little corpses to properly instruct its students. Determined to provide the best possible conditions for research, the ambitious and brilliant Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing) engages corpse-snatchers to supply his University with fresh bodies. Two of the grave robbers, William Hare (Donald Pleasence) and William Burke (George Rose), however, have their very particular methods to bring in corpses that are especially fresh...
Aditionally to the terrifying and fascinating story and the gloomy atmosphere, "The Flesh And The Fiends" also profits from a brilliant cast. The great Peter Cushing, was doubtlessly one of the most remarkable and brilliant actors the World of Horror has ever seen (and ever will see), and he is once again excellent in the role of the dedicated scientist - a role that is familiar to Cushing, who is probably most famous for his portrayal of Baron Victor Frankenstein in the Hammer films. Dr. Knox is not a bad man as such, but his obsession for the good cause makes him forget most of his scruples. The arguably greatest performance in this film, however, comes from Donald Pleasence (another favorite actor of mine), who delivers an ingenious portrayal of evil as the unscrupulous Willaim Hare. Equally great is George Rose in the role of the more simple-minded part of the murderous duo, William Burke. The great black and white cinematography provides a gloomy general mood. The cinematographic style of the film is often compared to earlier Horror classics of the 1940s rather than to those of the late 50s and early 60s, and one can see why. The film's theme, however, and the uncompromising manner it is brought to screen, is unspeakably macabre for its time. The film provides terrifying Horror as well as tragic Drama and a very realistic insight in early 19th century society. I guess I am not standing alone when i declare Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence two of my favorite actors. "The Flesh And The Fiends" is arguably the most brilliant film in either man's career, which is saying quite something regarding the variety of ingenious films Cushing ("Dracula", "The Curse Of Frankenstein", "Horror Express" etc.) and Pleasence ("Phenomena", "Prince Of Darkness") have been part of. Along with another Historical Horror masterpiece, Michael Reeves' "Witchfinder General" (starring Vincent Price), "The Flesh And The Fiends" is probably the most mature, serious and sophisticated British Horror film ever brought to screen, and an absolute priority for every Horror lover to see. 10/10
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