THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959) Reviews and overview



“The director does a decent job of creating 19th century Edinburgh with dark alleys, seedy pubs and squalid houses. There’s also a very nasty underlying vibe here, not only for the fact that is a true story but in the manner in which it’s all presented. Seeing a young retarded boy strangled to death in a pigsty is still unsettling today.” Popcorn Pictures

“It is a picture of subtle horror with moments of outright brutality which ends up being thoroughly entertaining, if not a little disconcerting. The Flesh and the Fiends is a true underrated classic of the genre.” The Telltale Mind

“Exemplary performances highlight this superior chronicle of the West Port murders, complemented by confident direction from Gilling. Cushing is a standout as the clinical Dr Knox – a paradigm of control – and Pleasence is delightfully sinister as Hare.” The Terror Trap

“The films highlights are undoubtedly the murder scenes were Gilling, the action director, is in his element. The murder of Esme Cameron’s gin-sot Aggie is a fine example of Gilling’s work, with Burke suffocating the old woman while Hare dances are grotesque jig. The scene juxtaposes casual brutality with black humour…” John Hamilton, X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970

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Choice dialogue:

Martha: “I exercised a woman’s privilege. I changed my mind.”

“Excuse me, sir, there are two gentlemen here with a stiff.”

Doctor Knox (Peter Cushing): “Is the feeding of worms more sacred than the pursuit of truth?”

William Hare (Donald Pleasence): “This one’s as fresh as a new cut cabbage.”



Cast and characters:

Peter Cushing … Doctor Robert Knox
June Laverick … Martha Knox
Donald Pleasence … William Hare
George Rose … William Burke
Renee Houston … Helen Burke
Dermot Walsh … Doctor Geoffrey Mitchell
Billie Whitelaw … Mary Patterson
John Cairney … Chris Jackson
Melvyn Hayes … Daft Jamie
June Powell … Maggie O’Hara
Andrew Faulds … Inspector McCulloch
Philip Leaver … Doctor Elliott
George Woodbridge … Doctor Ferguson
Garard Green … Doctor Andrews
Esma Cannon … Aggie
Geoffrey Tyrrell … Old Davey
George Bishop … Blind Man
Beckett Bould … Old Angus (as Becket Bould)
George Street … Publican
Michael Balfour … Drunken Sailor
Steven Scott … Grave Robber (as Stephen Scott)
Raf De La Torre … Grave Robber
Steven Berkoff … Medical Student (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England in May 1959

Technical details:

94 minutes (uncut) | 93 minutes (cut)
Black and white
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1 – Dylascope
Audio: Mono (Westrex)

Film Facts:

Some crowd scenes were reused footage from David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948).

Some image credits: The Telltale Mind


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