Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Yucky Movies of October: The Flesh And The Fiends

4) The Flesh And The Fiends

The Flesh And The Fiends is a creepy black and white horror take on the Burke and Hare bodysnatching murders starring Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, and Billie Whitelaw. In the late 1820s, Burke and Hare played first body snatchers, then murders, to supply a medical school with fresh cadavers to dissect. Enterprising capitalism, no doubt. Though there's a compression of the time frame of real events, on the whole it hews to the facts pretty closely.

There's some moody atmosphere, downright unsettling corpses, and excellent performances. It's really more a historical thriller than a horror film, though the matter at hand is pretty ghastly. Donald Pleasence is amazing as Hare, a reminder of what a good actor he was, even if he was well known for doing anything for a paycheck. I know Whitelaw mostly from her later roles, so her rawboned, youthful beauty is something of a shock. Cushing's Doctor Knox (a real person, and a real monster in my opinion) is just as condescending and elitist as you could imagine such a man would have to be. How much he knew about the provenance of the bodies he bought in real life, I don't know, but I hope he was more in deep denial than total collusion. Through the course of the film up to the last five minutes, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was unsettling me about his appearance, but using make up to create a heavy left eyelid was a subtle external gesture towards the deformed man inside that really worked for me.

A real quality gem of a film, I'd heard of this one though never seen it before now. Seek it out as it's definitely worth a look.

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