TITLE: The Creeping Flesh
YEAR RELEASED: 1973
DIRECTOR: Freddie Francis
CAST: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Lorna Heilbron
REVIEW BY BUSTY McGINTY
I have a theory, that each of the three main ‘horror’ studios of the 1960s and 1970s has an underlying motif which is characteristic of their work.
Hammer, with its luscious Gothic sets and even more luscious ladies in underwired nighties*, was clearly tantalised by the promise of trangressive sex, the experience heightened by the potentially lethal retribution that might follow (see… well, any film with Christopher Lee as Dracula!).
Meanwhile, Amicus was limited to contemporary settings by its ‘lower budgets,’ as acknowledged with tongue planted firmly in cheek by Vincent Price in The Monster Club (1981). This meant the horror was played out against a background of suburban frustration, where the commonplace little horrors of life – the unhappy marriages, the loneliness of old age or even mental illness – could be thrown into relief by serial-killing Santas or cursed Chinese idols (Tales from the Crypt 1972).
Tigon offered the most intellectually challenging motif and, therefore, the least successfully and consistently realised; to identify and explore the nature of evil. Does right thought always lead to right action? Is one responsible for evil if done in the name of good? Does evil exist only as an internal force or might it exist externally?
This was hinted at in their earliest work, and continued through superior work such as Witchfinder General (1968) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971).
Does The Creeping Flesh deserve to as honoured as these classics? Almost certainly not. However, as the last true horror film produced by Tigon it deserves recognition (Tigon’s last film was a porno entitled Come Play with Me – 1977).
Peter Cushing plays a scientific ascetic living only for his work; in this case to prove his theory that evil is a disease that can be caught, and therefore vaccinated against. He has just returned from New Guinea in triumph, with a creepy (but not yet creeping) giant skeleton which he believes to be the missing link in his work.
His brother (Lee), who has funded Cushing’s expeditions via his job as administrator of the local insane asylum, has become embittered and embarrassed by these ‘lunatic theories’ and refuses to pay for further excursions. Lee also informs Cushing’s that his wife has just died in his care at the asylum.
Now under pressure to prove his theory, we are given further insight into Cushing’s state of mind. His daughter, who believes her mother to have died giving birth to her, has started asking questions about her mother and reading … romance novels! He immediately worries that this is a sign of the insanity that claimed her mother.
Retreating to his lab to clean the bones, he finds that on contact with water the bones grow rather disgusting rubbery flesh! This leads to Cushing chiselling off a finger that looks like Anne Summer’s least popular sex toy.
Meanwhile, his daughter has found evidence of her mother’s commitment and recent death. Confronting her father in an hysterical outburst, poor Peter is driven into a delightfully over the top flashback, where blurry camera angels, discordant piano music and the application of red eye shadow serve to convince us that his wife was indeed batshit crazy.
Peter realises, as anyone would, that the best thing he can do in this situation is draw some blood from the regrown finger and inject his daughter with evil. Obviously, this doesn’t turn out as well as he hoped, and before you know it the plot has careened off into a world of East End strumpets, escaped lunatics, evil Sky demons from New Guinea (so cliché!) and of course the obligatory coach chase through a thunder storm, offering us lashings of pathetic fallacy. Marvellous stuff!
So, ultimately, The Creeping Flesh has an interesting concept at its core, but perhaps fails to deliver as it might, considering the talent involved. However, it’s always a pleasure to see the fate of the world balanced on the knife edge of Peter Cushing’s elegant cheekbones.
*thank you Mr Pratchett.
Busty McGinty is a mild mannered civil servant, but at night she is an avid consumer of films. She can be twitter stalked at @BustyMcGinty