MANIA, or THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. (1960) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MANIA, or FLESH AND THE FIENDS. (1960) DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY JOHN GILLING. BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. STARRING PETER CUSHING, DONALD PLEASENCE, GEORGE ROSE, JUNE LAVERICK, BILLIE WHITELAW, MELVYN HAYES, DERMOT WALSH, JOHN CAIRNEY AND GEORGE WOODBRIDGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I absolutely love this dark little gem of a film, from the Golden Age of British Horror, which most people agree was 1959-1966. Peter Cushing gives an immaculately controlled and polished performance as Dr. Robert Knox, a sort of Dr. Frankenstein character but located in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828.

He’s a renowned anatomist who lectures young college lads who want to be doctors, and he does everything he can to advance the cause of modern medicine. Doctors and medical students are only legally permitted to dissect corpses who were either suicides, or criminals, in life and have been cut down from the gallows after death or released from a hospital mortuary.

But Knox is not scrupulous about where his cadavers-for-dissection-and-learning have come from. In the interests of medicine, he’ll take them anywhere he can get them. In the film, he gets them from William Burke and William Hare, two horrible grave-robbers or ‘resurrection men,’ men who steal the corpses from their very graves and flog them to doctors for at least five guineas apiece.

When demand for the corpses exceed the legal supply, that’s when Burke and Hare get the idea of resorting to murder most foul in order to keep Dr. Knox in the stiffs he so desperately craves. That’s also when the stakes are considerably raised for Dr. Knox.

If it’s clear as day that a man has been murdered without benefit of law when he arrives in corpse form at Dr. Knox’s dissecting rooms and the said doctor turns a blind eye, pays for it and says ta very much, that makes Dr. Knox an accessory to murder. And they were very tough on crimes like murder in those days…  

Burke is a grotty, grotesque and greedy little man, well suited to murder, and his end on the scaffold in the film rather eerily overshadows the real life death suffered by the actor George Rose in May of 1988. Hare is superbly portrayed by Donald Pleasence, who’s probably best known for playing Dr. Loomis in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN movies. But Dr. Loomis ain’t never been this messed-up…

Pleasence gives an excellent performance, truly one of his best, even though this film doesn’t seem to be terribly well known. His obsequious behaviour to Dr. Knox and his betters would make your hair curl, and the manic little dance he performs while his colleague murders someone? That would send a shiver up your spine, portraying sheer manic insanity the way it does. Or a mania, if you will. See what I did there…?

The other stand-out performances in the film come from, firstly, George ‘Hammer Horror’ Woodbridge as a fellow medic and member of the Medical Council, no less. He is outraged at Dr. Knox’s disregard for the disrepute into which he’s knowingly bringing their honourable profession, by associating with dirty grave-robbers like Burke and Hare.

Secondly, we have the beautiful Billie Whitelaw, known for her superb appearances in THE OMEN (1976) and THE KRAYS (1990), playing a feisty Scottish prostitute. Mary Patterson falls for one of Dr. Knox’s medical students, Chris Jackson, and Chris falls pretty heavily for her too.

But you can’t put an exotic bird like Mary Patterson in a cage, even a gilded one. Is the relationship between Mary and Chris doomed, as doomed as one of the doctor’s favoured ‘fresh’ and ‘juicy’ cadavers? Let’s hope it doesn’t end up on one of his slabs, or rolled in the brine…

I love Esma Cannon as poor old Aggie, the old dear murdered by the repulsive and immoral Burke and Hare. You might remember her as Hattie Jacques’ diminutive little helper, Flo Sims, in CARRY ON CABBY (1963), and in fact she appeared in several other CARRY ON movies as well, being the excellent comedy actress that she was.

Melvyn Hayes, famous for playing Gunner ‘Gloria’ Beaumont in sitcom, IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM, appears here as a mentally disabled boy known generally as Daft Jamie, who meets his end courtesy of our resident pair of ghouls, Burke and Hare. ‘Oh, get me out of this green hell, I’m going out of my mind…!’ Talk about Amateur Night in Dixie…

This film is exquisite. Immaculate acting, gorgeous dark and shadowy sets and terrific costumes. I don’t know why it’s not better known. A fantastic all-star horror cast as well, in Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, whom I beg leave to state is Mr. Cushing’s equal in performing his craft of acting to perfection, and the marvellously fiery Billie Whitelaw. Go out of your way to find it and watch it. It’s just sheer quality.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from POOLBEG BOOKS:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv

 
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