This week's entry on the newly named "Movie Monday" (I just really enjoy writing about these great, surprise movies that I happen to come across that might usually be overlooked or forgotten about, so I'm gonna try and do it once a week) is a little flick I came across by chance through Netflix called 'The Flesh and the Fiends." Produced by Triad Productions in 1960, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Knox, the 19th century doctor who values his search for scientific and anatomical knowledge over the morals involved when it comes to the methods used to procure the dead bodies he dissects and experiments on.
All of that, while a great set up, is only the catalyst to the real story, which is the true-life story of two scoundrels named Burke and Hare, "resurrectionists" who made their living delivering bodies to the good doctor--fresh bodies they took it upon themselves to kill--until they inevitably picked the wrong victim, and were caught and arrested for murder.
Cushing, of course, is fantastic as the cold, stoic Doctor Knox, but what struck me right off the bat about this movie was how stark and hard edged it is for a movie produced in 1960. Shot in black in white, the opening scene features a rather graphic scene of grave robbing that must have been quite shocking to the audiences of the time. What's great about it though is that it, along with the next scene of Knox's receipt of his goods, sets up right away that these bodies are nothing more than a means to a scientific end--a position that Burke and Hare use much to their monetary gain.
Very clearly made as a way to capitalize on the recent success of the Hammer Films horror formula of atmospheric 19th century, gothic, British monster stories, it actually manages to outdo Hammer in almost all aspects. The atmosphere is much denser, the shadows much thicker, the horror of the action much more effectively graphic in its depiction, and most of all--its monsters, unlike Frankenstein or Dracula, are real.
This was a great find, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the Hammer movies, or anyone just looking for a good, old horror movie to check out. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
*Quick note: if you get the dvd, watch the "Continental Version," not the "UK Version." For maybe the first and only time in movie history, the American version is the uncut version.
**Also, this is primarily an art blog, so I'm going to try and at least tangentially relate these reviews to art by finding a great poster image to go with them