14 March 2014 | Wuchakk
Lush Gothic Hammeresque Mystery/Horror with Lee & Cushing
Although "The Creeping Flesh" (1973) is not technically a Hammer film, it was made by a rival British company with Hammer alumni Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and director Freddie Francis.
Lee and Cushing play two rival half-brothers; Lee runs a mental asylum and Cushing is a scientist trying to cure humanity of evil and insanity. Lee, it turns out, is also trying to find the same cure by experimenting on the lunatics in his asylum.
Cushing is driven by the insanity and recent death of his wife. He is so paranoid about the "infection" of evil and madness that he overprotects his daughter.
He discovers an 8-foot tall diabolical skeleton on one of his expeditions in New Guinea and becomes convinced that evil itself is somehow linked to this figure. He discovers that the skeleton strangely acquires flesh/blood when it gets wet. He subsequently develops a "vaccination" from the blood to supposedly give people immunization from evil and insanity, which he then administers to his daughter (!).
As you can see, the plot is highly creative, if nothing else. Numerous issues are touched on in the storyline, including:
The origin of evil and insanity. Sibling rivalry. The consequences of overprotection. Is evil and madness a disease for which a person can be vaccinated? The (lack of) ethics of "scientists." An escaped lunatic running amok. Having a carnal celebration after years of repression. The 19th century English pub scene (alcohol, whores and brawls). An 8-foot creeping horror.
Some would contend that "The Creeping Flesh" bites off more than it can chew (especially at only 95 minutes). Yet, I would say that it addresses all of these items very well. I should also point out that it's not hard to follow, as another reviewer argues.
Two parts of the film are very well done: First, when Cushing's daughter, Lorna Hailbron, finally escapes her father's overprotective clutches and attempts to "paint the town red" (naturally). Lorna does an exquisite job portraying the daughter in both her initial naive, modest state and, later, in her wild first-time-party-girl condition.
Second, when the skeleton finally comes to life after acquiring all its flesh. You can see it lurking in the moonlight with a hood and cowl. This creepy image brought to memory artist depictions of the Flatwoods monster that supposedly appeared near that West Virginia village in September 1952.
Interestingly, "The Creeping Flesh" has many similarities to "Horror Express," another Hammeresque film made the very same year. Each film stars Lee and Cushing; each features an ancient recently-discovered artifact that emanates evil (a skeleton and a frozen neanderthal respectively); each features numerous shots of people analyzing "evil" blood samples through a microscope. I like both films about equally, but give the slight edge to "The Creeping Flesh."
Don't hesitate to check out "The Creeping Flesh" if this sounds like your cup of java.