Can an evil human being be cured? Emmanuel Hildern , a 19th-century scientist, believes it can, and develops serum from the blood of evil men. While his half-brother James , who runs a mental institution, envies Emmanuel's accomplishments, his daughter Penelope does not. Born of an insane mother, the girl is injected with her father's serum, slashes a sailor and kills an escaped madman. Sadly, she must then be committed to her uncle's asylum. Undaunted, Emmanuel continues his experiments on a primitive skeleton, inadvertently creating an evil monster when the skeleton comes to life. The trauma of the events that follow drives Emmanuel insane and frees the creature to spread its reign of terror.
Spoilers follow ...
- The Creeping Flesh review by NP
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Tigon films never made a secret of being inspired by the larger Hammer horror company: this film is perhaps most indebted to their rival. It stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and briefly Michael Ripper, and the story’s Victorian setting is familiar to Hammer fans. I don’t know how successful this was upon release. It was actually Tigon’s final horror outing, the company having all but ceased by the time of the film’s release, having been rebranded as the very different The Laurie Marsh Group. I have a feeling it would have been more lucrative had it been released ten years earlier, when such a style of story-telling was in its prime.
Cushing plays Professor Emmanuel Hildern, first seen (minus toupee) alongside elegant actor David Bailie in an almost psychedelic, featureless laboratory set relaying the story we are about to see. Lee is typically and masterfully cold and officious as brother James, whose ambition far outweighs any loyalty to his sibling. The charming Lorna Hailbron is Emmanuel’s daughter Penelope, stoically attempting to keep the family home alive despite debilitating finances brought about by her father’s experimentation into the dawn of creation. Emmanuel is fiercely over-protective of his daughter following his wife’s descent into madness; he fears the condition may be hereditary. As it is, his deception is the instigator of Penelope’s rapid decline. Too rapid, in my view – for years she has been the most sensible family member; suddenly she is certifiable.
Such experiments regurgitate the skeleton of a previously unknown, outsized monolithic humanoid creature. The interesting thing is, unlikely as it may seem, any contact with water puts flesh back on the bones and brings the old boy to life! Energised by this revelation, Emmanuel removes one of the creature’s fingers in order to investigate further (some suggest a certain phallic similarity with the outsized digit, which in the hands of lesser an actor than Cushing, could result in chortles from the audience during his examination of the prop). We are treated to many close-ups of the dormant monster, as if he is observing throughout.
This is lovingly, sedately directed by Freddie Francis and seems to be well budgeted. James’ asylum setting is impressive, as is the lively plight of escaped inmate Lennie (Kenneth J Warren), although this entertaining side-step has little to do with the plot.
A word for Cushing’s performance. It’s a given really, that he always puts in a fine performance, but this fragile, broken soul is amongst his best. The ending, and the lead-up to it, is true classic horror with the creature finally animated and seen in restrained long-shots. Cushing sobbing and defeated after the creature has come to claim its revenge, is heart-breaking.