Edinburgh, 1827. Two Irish immigrants hit upon the idea of selling the bodies of the recently deceased to eminent surgeon Dr. Robert Knox. Dr. Knox, knowing that experimental vivisection is the only way for medicine to mak... more »e progress, forms an uneasy alliance with the self-styled body snatchers. But when their supply of corpses runs out, they decide to murder for their inventory. Knox, who has turned a blind eye, is forced to defend himself with all of his skill and intelligence as everyone closes in, condemning his controversial actions.« less
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 08/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although my true field of interest remains the silent film (see my other reviews), I just cannot pass up the opportunity to say something about this movie which has been one of my favorites for many years. I first saw it on television back in the 1960's and it has been with me ever since. Despite the lurid title and packaging THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS is not really a horror film. It is a historical drama with horrific overtones. The movie is based on the lives of Burke and Hare, graverobbers in 1828 Edinburgh, who began to murder people in order to supply the local medical school with fresh corpses to dissect.
Robert Louis Stevenson based his story THE BODY SNATCHER (which was made into a film in 1943 by Val Lewton starring Boris Karloff) on their exploits. Filmmakers Robert Baker and Monty Berman mounted this project in 1959 hoping to cash in on the burgeoning horror boom created by Hammer Films. They hired Peter Cushing plus a host of character actors to bring the story to life. Special mention should be made of the vivid performances given by George Rose as Burke and Donald Pleasance as Hare. It is really their movie. The film also features Billie Whitelaw in a colorful early role. Like PSYCHO which it predates, THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. is also a psychological thriller (it was called MANIA in the U.S.). It even eliminates its young protagonists halfway through the film. I wonder if Hitchcock was familiar with it?
John Gilling, the director and co-writer, would move on to Hammer after the success of this film where he would make THE REPTILE and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. FLESH is well acted, tightly directed, and in the Continental version (also available on this DVD) extremely daring in its use of nudity. An influential film that was ahead of its time, it has only been available in substandard public domain copies up until now. Thanks to Image Entertainment for making it available at last in a beautiful print made from the camera negative. As the film approaches its 50th anniversary, the power of its brutal imagery has not diminished."
A true thriller blessed with amazing performances
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 03/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Flesh and the Fiends is a thoroughly enjoyable horror thriller. With the impeccable Peter Cushing, sporting a disturbingly droopy left eyelid, playing the misguided Dr. Knox, Donald Pleasance giving an awe-inspiring performance as half of the murdering duo of Burke and Hare, and plenty of illegal traffic in dead bodies, this movie can hardly do less than succeed admirably. Dr. Knox is an instructor at a medical school in Edinburgh during the 1820s. The number of bodies available for dissection by his students, limited to the bodies of executed criminals, is much too low to satisfy him, so he turns to alternative means of acquiring specimens for study. He has no problem paying grave robbers for corpses, so long as they are fresh enough to be useful; in fact, he openly admits the improper solicitation of corpses, much to the dismay of the leading surgeons in town. Eventually, two shiftless vagabonds by the name of Burke and Hare come to realize that traffic in corpses offers them an unusual economic opportunity. When a lodger in Burke's apartment house passes away, he and Hare box her up and trade her in for several guineas. Since the doctor wants the freshest corpses possible, they set out to give him what he wants by murdering individuals and bringing them in almost immediately. Things start to go wrong when the pair murders the sweetheart of one of Dr. Knox's students, yet Knox remains steadfast in his dealings with the loathsome creatures. Murder will out, of course, and Knox must eventually face the music for his actions. This movie, while very good, is by no means perfect. June Laverick gets second billing in her role as Knox's niece, yet her character really serves no purpose at all in the story. Knox's assistant, beset early on with doubts and fears over Knox's acceptance of suspicious corpses, is never fleshed out and ends up behaving somewhat strangely in my opinion. Most of all, the ending (not the real climax, but the ending itself) is just plain weird and makes little sense to me in the context of the story.Peter Cushing is always fantastic, but the real star of this movie is Donald Pleasance. Even though I knew the future Dr. Loomis from Halloween was in the movie, I quite frankly did not actually recognize him initially. His portrayal of Hare is simply incredible. His calm, assured manner is rarely breached, even in the midst of potential trouble, and his droll manner of explaining his dastardly activities makes of him one of the best truly evil villains I have ever encountered. He is almost capable of convincing anyone, especially his partner, that killing each victim is actually a kindness, for that person will surely be of more use on a dissecting table than he/she is in life. It's thrilling to watch this master criminal mind at work. The Flesh and the Fiends has been unduly neglected over the years and has itself suffered the noxious wounds of the dissection table of the censors. It was quite graphic for its time (1959): one of the first scenes features a pale corpse being dragged out of a grave by its head, then the murders of Hare and Burke are shown more realistically than one might expect from a film of this particular era. Its bitingly realistic presentation of early 18th century life, complete with rowdy barrooms and miserable living quarters, along with its moments of unusually graphic violence, give the film a superb believability factor. In fact, the basic story of Burke and Hare is indeed a true one, which makes the horror qualities of this film even more affective than they already are. For years, this movie has only been available in edited form, bearing the title of Mania in the U.S.; it has also been pawned off with the titles The Fiendish Ghouls as well as The Psycho Killers. The complete, 97-minute version of the movie is the one you want, so don't accept a copy of Mania and deny yourself six minutes of delightfully horrific entertainment. Despite the weird ending, this movie ranks among the best horror films of the 1950s and 1960s and stands as much, much more than a mere precursor for the later Hammer films starring the inimitable Peter Cushing."
Flesh and the Fiends
Dr. Freeman | Perry, Iowa United States | 01/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Another marverlous performance by Peter Cushing as a doctor whose visions overshadow morality. This may be the best role Donald Pleasance ever had. Fresh bodies being more in demand and worth more in cash, Pleasance (Hare) and his partner Burke decide to "manufacture" a few bodies. The DVD contains the U.K. version and the more violent and adult (nudity) Continental version. If you like the Hammer Horror films, you will love this movie."
I am Peter Cushings number one FAN.
J. Tompkins | BERKS ENGLAND | 01/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is one of my favourite Peter Cushing films.Thank you for giving me the chance to watch it. I have been looking for a while and found it on Amazon.The film for me has a very spooky atmosphere, and all the cast were superb. Also it is a fact based film."
The flesh and the fiends aka mania
the dark | las vegas,nv usa | 11/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"all way round fantastic! Cushing as his usual a-1 performance, donald pleasence outstanding, the two leads and the rest of cast two thumbs up!these type's of films are so enjoyable they belong in a time capsule. They sure don't make'em like this anymore."