Based on the true story of 19th century grave robbers and murderers, Burke and Hare.
This is my review of a classic favorite, The Flesh and the Fiends (aka: The Fiendish Ghouls, aka: Mania!).
Starring: Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasence
Directed by: John Gilling
Ratings: Internet Movie Data Base; 7.1/10 …Rotten Tomatoes; 69%
Our Rating; 9/10
The Flesh and the Fiends (aka; “The Fiendish Ghouls” 1960). The viewer is immediately grabbed by the grim setting of a graveyard and suspenseful music being played as two men are digging up a body and hoisting it out of it’s grave!
We are struck with how real it all looks.
The body in question is to be sold to Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing). A brilliant anatomist who will apparently go to any lengths to broaden the medical world’s knowledge of the human body.
A Devious Pair Indeed
It’s in a tavern brimming with a lot of noisy activity, drunkenness and even topless lasses (in 1960!) that we first meet Burk and Hare. They are as thick as thieves together. A regular pair of opportunistic villains who feed off of one another with their thoughts and plans.
It is the crafty Hare however who dominates and leads the more docile Burke.
William Burke is not a complete scrounger though, having a “missus” and even owning a run down lodging house. It is through it that the two are given their first notion of making a tidy profit when an elderly boarder dies owing Burke rent money.
It’s William Hare’s idea to sell the body to Dr. Knox in order to recover the money owed and to do the poor body a “kindly service”.
A Macabre Alliance
They meet Dr. Knox for the first time…It is a brilliant contrast between the two worlds of the distinguished surgeon and the lowly con-men.
This first unfortunate event triggers the devious Hare’s greedy imagination and with an immediate taste for money now, he finds their next opportunity in those who are still living!
An elderly lady is plied with drink and “kindly” escorted back to the lodging house. Once there it’s Burks job to “take care of her” as Hare watches, nervously imitating the others’ murderous actions and dancing about excitedly. His character is again highlighted by the reaction to a common rat with which Burke teases with glee.
Their next victim is a woman of the streets who has just broken off a relationship with a pupil of Dr. Knox in a side plot to the film. Her murder causes her ex-lover to himself become a victim, after his suspicions of Burk and Hare lead him to his demise.
A young simpleton is the final one to come under the pairs’ frenzied endeavor’s before they are finally observed and pursued by an angry mob!
Now.., I’ve been pursued by some angry mob’s in my time, but nothing compared to this one! …It’s huge!
This film just oozes class the entire way through! From the incredible characters and superb acting to the numerous side plots and substance. Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance, George Rose, Renee Houston and Billie Whitelaw, they are all magnificent and seem to play their roles effortlessly.
The character study between the two infamous fiends is, I think, the highlight. But it’s also the abundant characters and goings-on which add so much weight to a very discerning telling of real subject matter…
Hope you liked this review of The Flesh and the Fiends. Would love to read your thoughts and opinions if you leave them in the space below.