The Flesh and The Fiends - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Flesh and The Fiends Reviews

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July 3, 2016
The Flesh and the Fiends (aka "Mania", "The Psycho Killers", and "The Fiendish Ghouls")
Starring: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, and George Rose
Director: John Gilling

In 1827, sociopathic drunkards Burke (Rose) and Hare (Pleasence) strike it rich by selling recently deceased bodies to the esteemed doctor and medical instructor Dr. Robert Knox (Cushing). Knox, frustrated by his inability to acquire bodies in good shape for dissection turns a blind eye to where his new study subjects may be coming from, while Burke and Hare are murder their way through Edinburgh's poor and homeless. They get sloppy and greedy... and when they kill one of Dr. Knox's students, things go from bad to worse.

Based on real-life events surrounding a doctor who actually did do quite a bit to advance the science of anatomy, and two murderous men who helped him do it, "The Flesh and the Fiends" isn't quite a horror film--despite the many lurid titles it's been presented under over the years--although the real-life events it describes are pretty horrible, but instead a well-acted drama about how a fundementally good man with a righteous goal can become tainted by evil if he lets obsession and ambition blind him to moral right and wrong.

The film is particularly interesting because Peter Cushing is plays Dr. Knox, a character who has a lot in common with Baron Frankenstein; both men believe they alone know how to advance medical science and everyone else is too limited in vision and drive to acheive. (There's even a scene in "The Flesh and the Fiends" that is very similar to one in "The Revenge of Frankenstein"--in both cases, the doctors are ordered to appear before Medical Councils bent on disgracing them. In both cases, the summoned doctor refuses to bow before them.)

There are two key differences between Knox and Frankenstein as portrayed by Cushing. Frankenstein always has a superior air about him and nothing (NOTHING!) ever truly harms his ego or sense of self. Knox, on the other hand, while arrogant and sure that he Knows What Is Right, always has a slightly sad and lonely air about him--he stands alone and he isn't quite sure why. The scene where Knox manages to see himself as the world has come to see him is one of the most striking moments in the film, and it's one that Cushing pulls off spectacularly... and really underscores that he is playing two very different characters despite the many similarities.

Aside from Cushing, Pleasence and Rose are great as the infamous serial killers, Burke and Hare. The rest of the cast does a good job as well, and the musical score is above average for a movie of this kind, from this period in British cinema.

So, with all that raving, why only a Six-Tomato Rating?

First of all, there's the look of the film. With the exception of scenes where an angry mob is chasing Burke and Hare after their murderous deeds come to light, Gilling doesn't take advantage of the fact that he is shooting in black-and-white. Most scenes are varying shades of gray where some stark lighting contrasts would have upped the drama significantly and made the movie far more interesting visually.

Second, there isn't enough exploration of Knox and his family. His daughter and her fiance are introduced and both characters play small parts in the film. They are very decent people, and through them we get the sence that Knox is a decent person too, but we don't get enough of this. If we saw more of Knox's "private life" away from the lecture hall and the basement where he purchases corpses from Burke and Hare, his fall and redemption would be that much more impactful. One less barroom scene and one more scene of Knox interacting with the daughter would have done wonders for the film, I think.

Nonetheless, "The Flesh and the Fiends" is a film that's worth seeing for fans of the Golden Age of the British thriller. Fans of Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence will also be able to enjoy these two actors giving fine performances.
Super Reviewer
½ July 3, 2016
"Coffins Looted! Cadavers Dissected!"

Nice bit of macabre horror from England's Shepperton Studios. (Based on the real life exploits of William Burke, William Hare and Dr. Robert Knox.)
February 25, 2014
Reminds me of one of the Hammer Frankenstein films with Cushing as the doctor. This film though is more a drama and less a horror, based on historical cases.
Though interesting and educational the entertainment factor is rather low.
Acceptable late night fare for the horror aficionado.
½ August 6, 2013
Directed by John Gilling (The Plague of the Zombies (1966), The Reptile (1966) and The Mummy's Shroud (1967)), this horror was written by Gilling and Leon Griffiths (who later created Minder) and it retells the story of the crimes of Burke and Hare whose exploits were written as The Body Snatchers by Robert Louis Stevenson, although this focuses more on the man they did business with, but this is a very effective and moody film with a good cast. In Edinburgh in the 1820's, Dr. Robert Knox (Peter Cushing) does medical research for classes of students, for this he requires cadavers, but the bodies that come in are of dubious quality. Local wheeler-dealers William Burke (George Rose) and William Hare (Donald Pleasence) come up with a way to provide Dr. Knox with bodies, fresh ones too. At Burke's house, they kill the lodgers and give them to Knox to cut up for his students, but someone notices people going missing. Plus, Knox's colleague Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell (Dermot Walsh) becomes suspicious at how many corpses Knox seems to be getting when other doctors are struggling to get any. It all seems very mysterious, but Burke and Hare slip up and after barmaid Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw) is killed, that's one too many. It has some good moments, and it's a very effective film shot in a stark black and white, but it shows what a good actor Cushing was, and even if this was made on the cheap, it manages to do quite a bit with so little, and it's quite heavy going for it's day too. But, it's a good history lesson of medical history, something which Cushing researched for the part.
October 17, 2012
Awright exploration of the Burke and Hare story, with many different character subplots slowly weaving together into this movie. Very cleverly done for the most part, the problem is, the filmmakers just kept going when a logical conclusion existed and just went on and on, Still quite interesting though.,
June 1, 2012
nowdays it seems mediocre
October 16, 2011
nowdays it seems mediocre
December 7, 2010
A similar theme to Fisher's Frankenstein, helped by the presence of thel great Peter Cushing. Gilling's film is a solid thriller which paint very well the mood of Victorian's England.
Super Reviewer
½ November 23, 2010
This is a pretty good attempt at a "body snatcher" flick, but it could be a lot better. Cushing plays a creepy looking guy, but that's not enough for a good horror movie.
August 4, 2010
The directing was good and the acting by Peter Cushing and both the murderer's in this film is impeccable. The scene where both murderers are killing an old drunk woman especially demonstrates their great acting.

Overall, all the cast did a good job and the story is very interesting. I just wish it had let itself wrap a bit more on some things at the end. Some things really aren't explained very well and it felt like the kind of movie you would want explanations from. We can assume what happened but we can't be sure, why is one of the murderer's let free of charge? Why do people end up clapping at Peter Cushing after knowing all the evil he has done?

Maybe if it had reflected on those things a bit more I could have been entirely satisfied. But I do recommend this film for those interested on the Vicent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing horrors.
Super Reviewer
½ July 12, 2010
Enjoyable little romp, though the fact that it's based on a true story makes it all the more interesting. It's sort of a cross between Frankenstein and Sweeny Todd.

Now I have to check out the John Landis version (Burke and Hare) which stars Simon Pegg & Andy Serkis in the title roles and has Tim Curry as the infamous doctor! That coud be fun!
½ March 23, 2010
Excellent gothic horror with a tremendous, sensitive performance by Peter Cushing as the misunderstood Dr Robert Knox, the Edinburgh surgeon who purchased cadavers from Williams Burke and Hare. Donald Pleasence is particularly sinister as Hare. The portrayals of the debauched Edinburgh slums are somewhat twee, but the scenes of angry mobs are dark and gritty while also referencing the Universal era horrors. George Woodbridge appears in a fairly large role as a bumbling, bombastic surgeon and rival of Knox. In fact the supporting cast, comprising George Rose, Renee Houston, Billie Whitelaw and Melvyn Hayes as Daft Jamie, whose gruesome murder scene is particularly memorable, are very good.
½ October 28, 2009
not horror per say, but a very good story. Burke & Hare are both good, and Peter Cushing could do the drama with one eye closed. the opening is rather wonderful.
½ October 23, 2009
Donald Pleasence is such a weasley rat bastard in this. And I am always pre-disposed to enjoying a Peter Cushing film. A fun little dark flick.
½ July 25, 2009
I just love Peter Cushing.......really.
½ May 5, 2009
It's not really a horror film as its marketed. The idea of grave robbers selling dad bodies to doctors who will use them for medical purposes while turning a blind eye to how the bodies were acquired is an interesting subject. Peter Cushing is great as usual as is Donald Pleasance. If it takes place in Edinburgh, why are the two graverobbers Irish? I also found that the movie spends its last fifteen minutes or so going on this unnecessary tangent about humanity and the Hippocratic Oath.
January 30, 2009
It's a 16:9 dvd and i have a small TV...good b&w. have lotsa fun. It's a great version of the story of Dr. Knox, a well respected Doctor and Professor of anathomy who needs (fresh, if it's possible) corpses for his studies. A couple of 'Genlemens' Burke and Hare (great Donald P.) they start a good cooperation with him...and they provide many bodies for the doc.
When psycotic villains will murder Christopher and Mary (a sad love story, effectly) and a kid, they are discovered from police and punished. Burke is hanged (haha great irony before hangin') . Smarter Hare escapes from hangin' but he will have a right punishment from local underdogs.
Knox hasn't condemned by the Court for the murders but he understands he closed an eye (...left eye) about crimes of burke and hare just to satisfy his proud, his ego.
Knox got the lesson of humilty.
It is a dr. Frankenstein-a-like movie and that's good, of course.
January 8, 2009
belle démonstration. Magnifique !
½ December 4, 2008
Classic black & white horror flick. Even had an angry mob with torches & all at the end. Another classic performance by Peter Cushing as well.
July 5, 2008
I remembered it being better. It's a bit dated and talky, but Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence make up for the shortcomings.
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