Monday, March 4, 2024


Director: W.S. Van Dyke

Writers: Cyril Hume, Ivor Novello, based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Producer: Irving Thalberg

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O’Sullivan, Neil Hamilton, C. Aubrey Smith, Forrester Harvey, Doris Lloyd, Ivory Williams, (and uncredited cast) Jiggs (Cheetah the chimp), Ray Corrigan, Johnny Eck, Billy Curtis, Franz Balluck Eddie Buresh, Charles Becker, Joseph Herbst, Johnny Leal, Jack Leonard, Angelo Rossitto, Gus Wayne, Johnny Winters, Tanner (the lion) 

Explorers James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith) and Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) are leading an African safari to search for the legendary elephants’ graveyard full of valuable ivory tusks. Parker’s daughter Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) accompanies the expedition. The safari ascends a range of cliffs known as the Mutia Escarpment. Passing this boundary brings them into a remote jungle region filled with dangerous beasts. It is also home to a strange being; a savage white man called Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) living with a tribe of apes. Tarzan takes an immediate interest in the beautiful Jane Parker. 

The Flashback Fanatic movie review 

When Edgar Rice Burroughs had his 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes serialized in the pages of The All-Story pulp magazine, he laid a foundation for the 20th-century superhero genre. Here was a bizarre character endowed with incredible abilities by his upbringing with apes in a jungle environment. The ongoing series of Tarzan stories would pit the jungle lord against the strange civilizations and creatures of his wild African habitat as well as dangers from modern society. 

The enormous popularity of Tarzan resulted in the 1914 publication of Tarzan of the Apes in a hardcover edition. Soon other media were also making a home for the jungle man. Tarzan would be adapted for films, newspaper comic strips, radio programs, comic books, and television series. Tarzan has become one of the most famous fictional characters in the world. 

Tarzan’s first motion picture appearance was in 1918’s silent film Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln. More silent film adaptations would follow. Once the era of the talkies began, Hollywood’s most prestigious film studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, would produce the classic take on Tarzan in the wake of their successful 1931 jungle film, Trader Horn. Tarzan the Ape Man would not only employ Trader Horn’s director (W.S. Van Dyke) and scripter (Cyril Hume), it would also use African stock footage from that previous film. It is probably the success of these two films that established jungle adventure as a popular film genre for decades. 

The story of Tarzan the Ape Man takes the unusual approach of not providing any explanation for the Tarzan character. Our introduction to the hero is alongside the members of the Parker expedition. This provides a dramatically satisfying buildup to Tarzan’s first appearance. We relate to the Tarzan character with a sense of awe and mystery, as do the explorers venturing into his jungle home. Many in the audience were probably already familiar with the character’s origin as a human orphan raised by jungle apes. Tarzan’s background and presence in the African jungle is never explained or even surmised about in this film. The filmmakers may have assumed that the audience did not need that backstory rehashed. 

MGM was also contractually prohibited from using many story elements found in Burroughs’ original novel. Many disgruntled Tarzan fans don’t realize that MGM had the rights to do a film with the Tarzan character and not much else. Therefore, we have MGM’s very streamlined Tarzan narrative in this film. We don’t have any reasons provided for Tarzan living in the jungle, he is never brought back to civilization and educated, and he never learns of his birthright as an English nobleman. Since Tarzan the Ape Man became a big hit, MGM was content to stick with what worked and continue with their style of story and character. 

Burroughs is supposed to have been disappointed by the way Tarzan was portrayed throughout the Weissmuller films, yet MGM was not just making arbitrary, high-handed Hollywood changes; they were probably just playing it safe by the terms of the contract. Since their version worked at the box office, MGM was not about to mess with success. Hence, there was no eventual sophistication of their Tarzan character. 

The Burroughs purists are always nitpicking about the interpretation of the Tarzan character in the Johnny Weissmuller-starring films. I think that this first film is actually a respectful take on the Burroughs character. This is Tarzan’s first encounter with the white race and before he was taught to speak their language. In the subsequent film series, Weissmuller’s Tarzan would learn more English, but would always remain unsophisticated. This was simply a character trait that made him unique from all other movie heroes, endeared him to the public, and became entrenched in the Weissmuller portrayal. Rather than bemoan the alteration to the Burroughs source material, I appreciate these films for their escapist thrills and the heroic counterpoint to so-called civilization that Weissmuller’s Tarzan provides. 

Over the past century, the Tarzan character has been portrayed by a long succession of actors. Without a doubt, the most famous Tarzan of the movies is Johnny Weissmuller. The success of Weissmuller’s debut in MGM Pictures’ Tarzan the Ape Man led to his starring in a series of five MGM sequels and a further six-film series at RKO Radio Pictures. To the moviegoing public for 12 films over 17 years, Johnny Weissmuller was Tarzan. 

Despite the fact that by Weissmuller’s own admission he was no great actor, his performance as the jungle hero is very effective. Of course, as with any Tarzan actor, the celebrated Olympic swimming champion was chosen for the role because of his physique and athleticism. But Weissmuller not only looks right, he also behaves right. His Tarzan has no self-consciousness. Weissmuller’s raw earnestness without wild gesticulation makes his Tarzan seem perfectly natural. His performances would continue to improve in future installments of the series. 

This film also debuts the lovely Maureen O’Sullivan as the most endearing of all the movie mates of Tarzan. Her Jane is petite, sexy, spirited, and has the most charming giggle in cinema history. O’Sullivan would go on to co-star with Weissmuller in the rest of the MGM Tarzan films and cement her status as the Jane with the public. 

In regards to the change of Jane’s surname from Porter of the novels to Parker and her nationality being changed from American to English, that is probably due to some more legal gobbledygook in the contracted adaptation rights that MGM had with Edgar Rice Burroughs. Apparently, the character was changed enough to ensure it was different from the Jane of Burroughs’ stories. 

C. Aubrey Smith plays Jane’s father and trading post operator James Parker. Smith had been an English character actor with a long résumé of stage and film appearances. He has us immediately on his side as we see his affectionate and humorous interaction with Jane when they reunite before embarking on their safari. 

Neil Hamilton is best known to the boob tube generation as Commissioner Gordon in the Batman television series (1966-68). As James Parker’s young partner Harry Holt, he is understandably immediately smitten with O’Sullivan’s Jane Parker. He seems like a stand-up sort of guy and shows smarts and nerve in some tense situations. One expects that Holt will be set up as a contentious plot point in a love triangle with Jane and Tarzan, but that angle is never really exploited. However, we are left to wonder if a bit of jealousy on Holt’s part results in some of his trigger-happy behavior. 

The film takes its time establishing its African setting and introducing us to the characters of James Parker, Jane Parker, and Harry Holt. Once their safari begins, they encounter one danger after another while being teased by Tarzan’s presence. The jungle man’s eerie and powerful cry is first heard from a distance and eventually dispels a threat from jungle beasts. That Tarzan yell is probably the most famous movie sound effect ever. There has been much speculation (and probably plenty of disinformation) about just how that mighty yodel was created, but it is perfect. 

Once Tarzan makes the scene, things stay varied and interesting. Between the bouts of ape-man action, there are playful and intimate moments between Tarzan and Jane as they get acquainted. This is all building up to sex that is proposed without dialogue; only O’Sullivan’s sensitivity and Weissmuller’s simplicity and body language are needed to tell us what happens next. 

Other pre-Code highlights are of the grisly kind. There are rampaging hippos seemingly conspiring with the voracious crocodiles to make the river run red with safari-member munchies. The nightmarish climax features a hostile tribe of dwarfs lowering their captured victims one-by-one into a pit containing a huge, gorilla monster. 

MGM’s Tarzan the Ape Man set a high bar for adventure films, and Tarzan films in particular. Hollywood’s grandest film studio spent plenty of money to lavish a lot of action, violence, effects, exotic animals, and expansive jungle sets on this first installment in their iconic series. Their follow-up, Tarzan and His Mate (1934), was probably the best Tarzan film ever made. It was a tough act to follow for competing Tarzan productions of the 1930s and ever since. The Weissmuller-starring Tarzan films were a major factor in the character’s lasting rank as a world-famous pop culture hero.

Sunday, February 18, 2024


Director: Terence Fisher

Writers: Jimmy Sangster adapting Barré Lyndon’s play The Man in Half Moon Street

Producer: Michael Carreras

Cast: Anton Diffring, Hazel Court, Christopher Lee, Arnold Marlé, Delphi Lawrence, Francis de Wolff, (and uncredited cast) Renee Cunliffe, Denis Shaw, John Harrison, Michael Ripper, Marie Burke, Gerda Larsen, Charles Lloyd-Pack, Ronald Adam, Ian Hewitson, Louis Matto, Frederick Rawlings, Barry Shawzin, Lockwood West, Fred Stroud, John Timberlake, Middleton Woods 

In the year 1890, Dr. Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring) operates a Paris, France medical clinic. He has maintained his youth by receiving a parathyroid gland transplant every ten years. This secret process has allowed Bonnet to reach the age of 104 years, while still appearing to be in his mid-thirties. Bonnet will resort to murder to obtain the needed gland when fresh cadavers are unavailable. His elderly colleague, Dr. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marlé), assisted Bonnet in the discovery of this eternal youth technique. For decades Weiss has been secretly performing the periodic transplant operations on Bonnet. A recent stroke has rendered Weiss’ right hand useless for performing surgery. As his ten-year cycle is about to expire, Bonnet resorts to increasingly desperate means to prolong his life. 

The Flashback Fanatic movie review 

In the 1950s Britain’s Hammer Film Productions had achieved international success revisiting the classic horror characters that America’s Universal Pictures had made icons in the ’30s and ’40s. Hammer stressed Gothic romanticism by usually placing their trend-setting films in 19th-century Europe. These movies were a refreshing contrast to the contemporary, sci-fi frights that had become the predominant form of ’50s film horror. 

For The Man Who Could Cheat Death, the established Hammer style remained as they found a new source for adaptation. This film was based on the Barré Lyndon play The Man in Half Moon Street, which had earlier been made into a 1945 American film by Paramount Pictures. Frequent Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster wrote the screenplay and their go-to-guy for Gothic horror, Terence Fisher, directed. 

Mad science movies are usually morality plays about the nasty consequences of man playing God. But beyond the often-evil means employed by the scientist and his or her comeuppance, these films are just as fixated on thrills and chills as other stories about vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. In The Man Who Could Cheat Death, the moral considerations of the mad science involved and its consequences are elaborated upon more than in the usual Frankenstein-styled horror film. 

It must be said that this film has earned its “talky” reputation. It spends plenty of time with its lead character, Dr. Georges Bonnet, having to secretly arrange for his eternal youth maintenance and trying to convince his now-elderly accomplice, Dr. Ludwig Weiss, to continue to assist him. That leads to plenty of drawing room drama and discussion. During these scenes the aforementioned considerations of morality and consequences are expressed. That stuff only registers if delivered by good performances and direction. There is nothing showy here, but director Fisher’s shot variations, actors’ movements within the scene, and nice lighting by Hammer’s ace cinematographer, Jack Asher, keep this interesting. This is the sort of often-unnoticed craft that fine professionals lavish upon a film to make it work. 

German actor Anton Diffring had a long acting career and is probably best known for the many times he portrayed Nazis in films. His striking profile, angular features, blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes were perfect for the image of Aryan arrogance. He is also known to horror fans for appearances in the British films Circus of Horrors (1960) and The Beast Must Die (1974). In 1958 Diffring portrayed Baron Frankenstein in Tales of Frankenstein, an unsold pilot that was co-produced by Hammer Film Productions for a proposed American television series. 

In The Man Who Could Cheat Death, Diffring’s Dr. Georges Bonnet is the main character that features in most of the scenes and the one we learn the most about. He has unique hardships in having to relocate and begin a new life every decade to avoid people noticing that he never ages. Bonnet suffers loneliness because he must break off any relationships he has formed. Nevertheless, he remains unsympathetic. This is not a fault in writing or performance; Bonnet is a villain. He may have some feelings, but he is still a cold-blooded bastard. His discovery of eternal youth is used selfishly and he will resort to any means necessary to maintain that life. 

Arnold Marlé’s role of Prof. Ludwig Weiss is the colleague needed to perform Bonnet’s youth-prolonging operation. He is also Bonnet’s dramatic foil that debates the ethics of their medical secret. Through his discussions with Bonnet, we get to know the villain better and are given the moral food for thought about this story’s science. 

Eventually, Bonnet explains why his eternal youth secret cannot be shared with the rest of the world. If humans never die, the world would not have enough food and space to sustain the population explosion. Without death, there would also be a shortage of recently deceased gland donors. These are valid concerns, yet they never justify the selfish Bonnet’s ruthless measures to maintain his secrecy and prolong his life.

In tried-and-true mad science fashion, the potion Bonnet drinks to keep him going at the end of his ten-year cycle takes its toll on his sanity, yet we never feel that all of Bonnet’s murders are just the unfortunate side effect of his experiment. He has committed murders for decades and never shows remorse for his crimes. 

One interesting gimmick that is used to enliven the proceedings a bit is the transformation Bonnet goes through if he is a bit late drinking his glowing green nightcap. This concoction keeps his physical corruption at bay for a short time at the end of his ten-year cycle until he can get a new gland implanted. If someone delays Bonnet’s ten-year toast, he has very dangerous withdrawal symptoms; he gets green-skinned and bug-eyed. (I sure wish that drinking instead of abstaining would prevent my hangovers.) Most peculiar during these spells is that Bonnet either burns or rots the skin of other people he touches. This effect is never explained and is just meant to provide a little monster action, but it is unique. 

With Anton Diffring’s aloof presence as Dr. Georges Bonnet, it must be his confidence, money, and Renaissance man reputation that has him scoring with a succession of beautiful models. Being a successful physician was surely a big enough attraction, but Bonnet is also a talented sculptor. As this is the most lengthy artistic process for capturing the likeness of a nude model, it allows him ample time to “get to know” his subjects. You know, I am starting to really admire that Bonnet fella… 

The ravishing redhead Hazel Court is always a welcome presence in any cast. Georges Bonnet aborted his relationship with Court’s Janine Du Bois when he split Italy at the end of his recent holiday. (Unthinkable! I admire him much less now.) Janine runs into Bonnet again in Paris as he is unveiling the statue of his latest model (Delphi Lawrence). Janine is still stuck on the elusive sculptor/doctor and entices him by agreeing to pose nude for him again (Okay, now I admire him even more!) This modeling scene supposedly featured the magnificent Hazel Court’s topless nudity shown from the front in European prints. I have seen a still of this online, yet I wonder if those missing shots were ever actually shown. Hopefully that complete print of this film is made available someday. Why should only bad guy Bonnet have all the fun? 

Aside from her beauty, it is actually Hazel Court’s manner that makes us side with her underwritten character. All we know about Janine is that she was in love with Bonnet. She can have her pick of men and has already been seeing another handsome doctor, but she will try renewing a relationship that Bonnet ended without explanation. Almost any other actress in this part would probably only earn our contempt, yet Hazel Court’s charm somehow deflects that intolerance. 

I find Hammer legend Christopher Lee to be the biggest surprise here. At first, it seems like he is in a rather thankless role. Instead of being the monstrous main attraction, he plays a supporting role as Janine’s unappreciated suitor, Dr. Pierre Gerrard. None of Lee’s usual commanding authority or cold arrogance is on display here. Lee plays a subdued and honorable character in love with a woman that immediately passes him over for the guy that ditched her. Janine never tells Gerrard this, but we can see he has a few unspoken concerns. As the story progresses, Lee’s Dr. Gerrard becomes a key player and we learn to really respect yet another underwritten character. 

My description of two characters as underwritten is in no way meant as a criticism. These two parts are there to serve a story that chiefly revolves around the despicable Dr. Georges Bonnet. Embellishing the roles of Janine and Dr. Gerrard would probably only distract from the dramatic through line of the story rather than augment it. Sometimes people are not all that deep, and what complexities they may have are not always revealed in real-life, either. In fact, a fine performer that makes us believe in a simple character is just as impressive as someone trying to pick up an Oscar by spilling his or her dramatic guts all over the place. 

Despite having Hazel Court, Christopher Lee, and many of the other talents that were involved in Hammer’s inaugural Gothic horror classic, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Man Who Could Cheat Death is not a very high profile film from Hammer’s innovative period. While not as atmospheric or intense as many other Hammer horror films, it remains a thoughtful approach to a simple mad science yarn. One’s appreciation for it will depend in large part on Anton Diffring’s performance. Sometimes a villain is just a villain, and that is what Diffring gives us in his Dr. Georges Bonnet. He does not revel in his evil, but he demonstrates that the greatest evil is usually just extreme selfishness.

Monday, February 5, 2024


Director: George Blair

Writers: Gitta Woodfield, William Read Woodfield

Producer: Charles B. Bloch

Cast: Jacques Bergerac, Joe Patridge, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders, Allison Hayes, Guy Prescott, Lawrence Lipton, James Lydon, Fred Demara, Eric ‘Big Daddy’ Nord, Carol Thurston, Eva Lynd, (and uncredited cast) Evan MacNeil, Mary Foran, Holly Harris, Phyllis Cole, Eddie Baker, Don Ames,Nina Borget, Franklyn Farnum, George Ford, Kenner G. Kemp, Al Roberts, Monty O’Grady, Cosmo Sardo 

Police Detective Sgt. Dave Kennedy (Joe Patridge) is called to the scene of a woman (Evan MacNeil) that set her head ablaze trying to wash her hair over her stove’s gas burner instead of the kitchen sink. This is just the latest in a series of self-mutilations by attractive women. The victims all seem to have no memory of why they would maim themselves while trying to perform simple hygienic tasks. When Sgt. Kennedy and his girlfriend, Marcia Blaine (Marcia Henderson), attend the performance of the stage hypnotist Desmond (Jacques Bergerac), their friend Dodie Wilson (Merry Anders) volunteers to be an onstage subject for the act. Later that night at her home, Dodie disfigures herself with acid. Marcia tries to convince Kennedy that Desmond is somehow involved in the gruesome incidents. 

The Flashback Fanatic movie review 

The Hypnotic Eye is a horror film so direct in its approach that it seems like it prefigured and perhaps even inspired the blunt excesses of Blood Feast (1963) and the subsequent series of gore films a few years later by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Of course, this earlier film is more accomplished and restrained than Lewis’ notorious schlock, yet it still seems to be hanging its simple story on just two exploitable hooks: hypnosis and mutilation. Got your attention? Okay, that means you’re just as morbid as I am. 

This film was following in the wake of the producer-director William Castle’s 1950s fright flick come-ons, which promoted new film processes that would give the audience sensations beyond other motion pictures. Those new processes were just so much ballyhoo used to justify a skeleton on wires flying over the heads of the audience or certain movie theater seats being rigged to vibrate. 

The Hypnotic Eye stated in its poster that it was introducing Hypnomagic. That gimmick is really just setting up the hypnosis sessions that the stage hypnotist character Desmond conducts on his audience in the film (which are also directed at the audience watching the movie) to demonstrate the power of suggestion. To lend further credence to the hypnosis angle, one of the characters in the film tells us how legitimate the technique of hypnosis is, but that it can also be dangerous if not performed by qualified medical professionals. 

As simplistic as horror films like The Hypnotic Eye are, they sate the need in horror buffs for a vicarious thrill. We are not distanced from engaging with the situations by having characters of great depth with subplots or backstories to deal with. This may not qualify as great drama, but there is less of a barrier between the characters on screen and the audience. We may not have a great bond with their personalities, but they are more accessible proxies for us as they confront the situations and threats in the story. We are not afraid for them as much as we are experiencing the dangers along with them. Hmmm, maybe that Hypnomagic is working… 

George Blair was already an experienced director of B-films and television. He was just the sort of competent and reliable craftsman that could crank out a professional, low-budget product on a short shooting schedule. Blair’s matter-of-fact approach actually provides a nice contrast to the close-ups during Desmond’s hypnosis demonstrations and the opening scene’s nasty self-immolation. Hmmm, maybe that Hypnomagic is dominating my critical faculties… 

As Sgt. Dave Kennedy and Marcia Blaine, Joe Patridge and Marcia Henderson are the good-looking couple trying to expose the movie’s menace. They have little in the way of character that distinguishes them. They are just attractive, decent people that we side with because they are doing the right thing, and we are hoping they satisfy our curiosity about the reason for the atrocities afflicting so many women. 

As Dave and Marcia’s unfortunate friend, Dodie Wilson, Merry Anders spends the most screen time of all the victims with her disfigurement on display. It just occurred to me that this film’s performances are all quite low-keyed up until the climax. If anyone had the right to be hysterical, it would be Dodie Wilson. Yet Merry Anders’ performance never tips over that edge while her character is recuperating in the hospital. Understandably, she is upset and self-conscious of her damaged appearance, but she has much more composure than most people would after such a trauma. Whether this restraint was in the script, direction, or decided by Anders, this certainly makes us respect her character and feel a bit more deeply for her plight. 

The top-lined star is Jacques Bergerac playing the stage hypnotist Desmond. When they coined the phrase “tall, dark, and handsome,” they meant a guy like this. With Bergerac in a tux and speaking with his French accent, he really doesn’t need hypnosis to put just about any woman under his spell. Like everybody in this film, Bergerac’s Desmond is more of an image than a character. But he has just the right presence to make us believe that he can be a famous celebrity performing hypnosis. We are often confronted with his commanding charm and authority in close-ups as he puts people into trances throughout the film. 

The cast member of the most interest to horror fans would be Allison Hayes. This beautiful brunette was immortalized as the title character in 1958’s Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. Hayes may not be 50’ tall in this flick, but her statuesque figure still dominates the stage as Desmond’s silent assistant Justine. We are tempted to write her off as just a sexy accessory during Desmond’s shows until we see the smug hypnotist exchanging knowing glances with Justine as she silently directs his choice of hypnosis volunteers. Of course we are intrigued by this and wonder just what the hell these two are up to. 

Any run-of-the-mill hypnotist can make you stare at a boring pocket watch or pencil while you fall into a trance. Just to be sure that we get our Hypnomagicked money’s worth, hypnotist Desmond brandishes a cool gadget that supplies this film’s title. Desmond wields his blinking hypnotic eye in close-ups that convince us of his hypnotic potency. Hypnosis may also be required to cure the migraine that may result from that hypnotic eye effect.

While the gorgeous Marcia is trying to figure out what the suspicious hypnotist is up to, she ends up under Desmond’s spell. (Damn, just where do I score myself a hypnotic eye?) We tag along with Sgt. Kennedy and his colleague, Dr. Philip Hecht (Guy Prescott), as they tail Marcia out on the town with Desmond.

With a plot and characters as simple as these, there still seems to be some padding needed to fill out the short running time of this film. Bring on the beatniks! After one of those fancy, flaming, gourmet dinners, the debonair Desmond escorts his entranced date for some trendy slumming in a beatnik café. The bongos, bass, and beatnik poetry run rampant as Lawrence Lipton (Beatnik Poet Laureate) bonds with this flashback fanatic when he recites his kooky composition “Confessions of a Movie Addict.” I’m a sucker for movie beatnik shenanigans, and the toxic haze of cigarette smoke in this joint overwhelms me with nostalgia. 

More time is killed with repetitive scenes of Desmond’s stage act. While the hypnosis demonstrations that we see Desmond perform are necessary for our acceptance of his abilities, they do get rather tedious just before the film’s finale. This is the point at which the break-the-fourth-wall Hypnomagic gimmick of the film really kicks in. However, that tedium may provide a contrast to the crazed climax that seems all the more frantic and intense by comparison. Hmmm, that Hypnomagic must really have me under its spell…

Sunday, January 28, 2024


Director: Freddie Francis

Writers: Peter Spenceley, Jonathan Rumbold

Producer: Michael P. Redbourn

Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Lorna Heilbron, George Benson, Kenneth J. Warren, Jenny Runacre, Duncan Lamont, Robert Swann, Harry Locke, Hedger Wallace, Catherine Finn, David Bailie, Michael Ripper, Maurice Bush, Tony Wright, Marianne Stone, Alexandra Dane, Dan Meaden, Larry Taylor, Martin Carroll, (and uncredited cast) Sue Bond, Josie Grant, Lewis Alexander, Reg Thomason, Fred Wood 

In 1894, Professor Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) returns from his New Guinea expedition to his London, England estate. Hildern has brought back a giant, humanoid skeleton he has excavated that is much older and more advanced than any previously discovered remains of primitive man. As Hildern uses water to start cleaning his find, he notices that flesh begins to grow on one of the skeleton’s fingers. It is Hildern’s belief that the folklore of the New Guinea people describes a day in the future when the skeletons of these ancient beings would be unearthed by natural soil erosion and that their flesh would be regenerated by rain. He also speculates that these beings were the living source of the world’s evil and that a vaccine can be derived from the creeping flesh to inoculate mankind against evil itself. 

The Flashback Fanatic movie review 

Tigon British Films Productions was the company that produced some quirky horror films to compete against the popular product from Britain’s venerable Hammer Films. At first glance, Tigon’s The Creeping Flesh appears to be creeping through the same Gothic horror territory that was Hammer’s usual domain. It is not only set in late 19th-century London, it has past Hammer director Freddie Francis, it stars Hammer legends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee along with a bit part for Hammer’s ubiquitous character actor Michael Ripper, and it even employs Hammer’s renowned makeup artist Roy Ashton. 

Tigon’s distinction from the Hammer standard was their attitude. Their films seemed to be channeling some of the modern pessimism that was becoming the norm in horror films. While Hammer films would typically end with evil defeated and order being restored, Tigon’s horror stories would often finish up by annihilating the main characters or leaving them probably permanently traumatized. Tigon’s terrors usually did not end with a note of triumph and relief but with a sense of ongoing dread and despair. That is certainly the case with The Creeping Flesh, which also concludes ambiguously to leave us pondering two interpretations of the eerie tale that we have been told. 

One reason I enjoy some Victorian era horror films so much is that they demonstrate the seamy side of the human condition despite the repressive mores of those times. While the lower class is shown to be rife with illicit behavior, we often see the affluent slumming among them to indulge in their own vices. Members of the refined upper crust are often hypocritical, selfish, and unethical. Their status and ambitions may be more important than honesty and humanity. 

No one can better portray the opposing sides of that British, upper class dynamic than Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Their characters are dealing with madness in different ways. Cushing’s Emmanuel Hildern is an altruistic scientist trying to expand man’s knowledge and, as a result of his latest find, trying to cure the human race of evil. Lee’s cold-blooded James Hildern is trying to research and treat insanity using the inmates of his asylum as human guinea pigs. 

Their characters’ flaws are responsible for the rash actions that trigger a potential pandemic of evil and insanity. As half-brothers, Cushing’s Prof. Emmanuel Hildern and Lee’s Dr. James Hildern have a very strained relationship. James has always resented the status Emmanuel had and the kudos he has received for his research. Now, James has established his own more stable success as an asylum director and seeks to further show up his older sibling by claiming an award for his own line of research. Emmanuel is not only stressed by the financial strain of his estate having been neglected during his expeditions, he also has been concealing the shame of his unfaithful wife (Jenny Runacre) going mad and being committed to his half-brother’s asylum. It is James’ jealous, amoral ambition and Emmanuel’s emotional trauma that drive each man to act rashly, which causes horrific consequences. 

While unscrupulous James Hildern’s only concern is his selfish ego, kindly Emmanuel Hildern has his dutiful daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron) to worry about. He fears that there is a chance that his recently deceased wife’s madness could be hereditary. This spurs the good Professor on to administer his anti-evil vaccine too hastily and only results in more madness and violence. Fright flick fans should consider this a happy accident. It gives us a chance to hang out for a while in an East End pub full of buxom wenches ready for fun upstairs when the price is right. This really turns out to be a bloody good time. 

The creepy catalyst for all of the threat in the film is Emmanuel Hildern’s discovery of the remains of a strange being that predates man. As others have pointed out, this is a somewhat Lovecraftian concept that is quite humbling; something else was running the show here on Earth before humans started civilization. Those ancient beings may be restless and awaiting their chance to return and take over again. They may also have played a role in the development of the human species. 

Director Freddie Francis manages to make things appropriately uncanny. He imbues the inhuman skeleton with an actual presence that makes us wary of it. That apprehension is fulfilled as the story builds to another “happy accident” late in the film. Then we are treated to a skull’s-eye-view shot reminiscent of Francis’ work back in 1965 with the Amicus Productions film The Skull. Throughout The Creeping Flesh, Francis uses unusual shot choices, lighting, and film processing effects to portray madness and approaching menace. 

Composer Paul Ferris contributes an unusual score that is perfect for the awe, dread, despair, and madness running rampant in this story. He had also done a very fine score for perhaps Tigon’s most celebrated horror film, Witchfinder General (1968). 

The Creeping Flesh challenges us about whom we should invest with our trust and sympathy. The evil that threatens to infect all of mankind is madness, and that is shown to manifest itself in many different ways in many different characters. We are left to wonder if the madness threatening to destroy mankind is of inhuman origin or has always been living within all of us. Ultimately, we are also left with the unsettling notion that the truly inspired and benevolent minds may just be coping with their own obsessions and, as a result, may not offer us any real solutions. Unfortunately, it also seems that mankind is usually not ready for solutions if they can keep getting short-term gains by making the same mistakes. That seems to be a madness without any cure.


Director: W.S. Van Dyke Writers: Cyril Hume, Ivor Novello, based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs Producer: Irving Thalberg ...