The Creeping Flesh

02/19/2020 06:34

Film: The Creeping Flesh

Year: 1973

Director: Freddie Francis

Writer: Peter Spenceley and Jonathan Rumbold

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Lorna Heilborn



This was a film I never heard of until I was reading through an encyclopedia of horror films. It was one that I was intrigued to check out after seeing that it starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. There was a cheap Blu-Ray that featured this along with two other films so I picked this up. The synopsis is a Victorian-age scientist returns to London with his paleontological bag-of-bones discovery from Papua-New Guinea. Unfortunately, when exposed to water, flesh returns to the bones, unleashing a malevolent being on the scientist’s family and friends.

We start this off with Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) in a room where he has a painting of a creature along with other things. He’s trying to convince a doctor to help him as there’s an evil that has been unleashed upon this Earth. He then goes about telling us what he means.

As the synopsis states, Emmanuel returns to his estate from a trip to Papua-New Guinea. It is there that he is studying pre-historic man and made an important discovery. He returns home to his daughter, Penelope (Lorna Heilborn) along with his assistant Waterlow (George Benson) and housekeeper Emily (Catherine Finn). Penelope is excited to see her father and wants to have breakfast with him. He agrees, but at first gets caught up in his work.

From a box he reveals that he found a skeleton of a being that is older than Neanderthal while being more advanced. They go about studying the skeleton when Emmanuel breaks away to see his daughter. Over breakfast, he finds a letter from his half-brother James. He learns that his wife has paced away. The problem is that Penelope thinks that she passed away when she was little. It turns out she’s been in a mental hospital that James (Lee) is running. Emmanuel goes to see him and learns that James is no longer the poor half-brother and is competing with him for a prestigious award in science.

Emmanuel that night comes home and is cleaning the skeleton he found. Using water, the flesh starts to return to it. He reaches out Waterlow and shows him his new discovery. They go about studying the flesh and blood that has formed. Emmanuel is worried the mental illness that affected his wife has passed to Penelope. He creates a serum from his studies that he thinks will prevent that, but it might not have the effect that he thinks it will.

Now I should start here stating that one of my favorite things about when I started to delve into older horror films was my love of Cushing and Lee. I had seen both in just random movies here and there, but it was really when I got into the likes of Hammer horror and what not, that I really saw their talents. This movie does feature the both of them and I just really enjoy seeing how they work off each other. Since I’ve gone down this path, the rest of the acting is solid as well. I really like the inquisitive nature of Heilbron. Emmanuel won’t speak about her mother and this makes her want to learn more as it is forbidden. I would say that the rest of the cast also rounds this out for what is needed.

I’ll next go into some of the issues this movie is exploring. The first thing I feel is self-fulfilling prophecies. Emmanuel doesn’t want to talk about his wife to Penelope as I said above. This makes her want to learn more as it is forbidden. Emmanuel is afraid that she is going to be afflicted with the same mental illness, but it seems like he might cause it in her with an experiment which is interesting. It made me wonder if he didn’t do some of the things he does, would she still end up like that.

I also really enjoy the idea of finding this skeleton of a humanoid that is older than the Neanderthal. I believe that after this movie came out, there has been another type of humanoid that is more advanced and was around the same time as the Neanderthal which is now considered the being that we came from. The Neanderthal is now thought to be an evolutionary line that went extinct. The problem I get with this movie though is that I think they focused on learn things from this being that wasn’t an interesting though and the movie does get a bit stagnant because of it. I was intrigued though with the myth that Emmanuel reads to Waterlow and how that plays into ending.

Going from my issue with what they focused on, there’s a large section in the second act that I didn’t really find all that interesting. Penelope goes into town. At first, I thought she was going to be more aggressive. We do get some of that, but I think it should have went harder with her being wild as it has her almost like an adult child who is being tempted. I get what they’re trying to do here, but it doesn’t work with what happens leading up to it. There’s also a sub-plot with an escaped mental patient that she encounters that I don’t really see what the point was there. The events that lead to the ending though were good. I don’t necessarily like what they do with the ending, but my problem is that it is played out now. I can’t fault one of the movies that probably started it though.

That will take me to the effects. I thought the growing flesh on the bones was good. I’m assuming they’re either using stop-motion or they’re playing film backwards. Either way, I thought it was an interesting practical way of doing that. The creature at the end looks fine. I did want a bit more though. Since it does take place in the Victorian era, I thought that made that look realistic. There was one moment where a neck gets slit. The effect looked fine, but it is lacking blood. With the era this came out, they should have hid it better or used just a bit more blood and cut away. The cinematography though was good, especially with the point of view of the creature.

Now with that said, I thought this movie introduced some interesting concepts, but instead of following the ones that would make this more entertaining, they kind of lost their way. It is a shame as we these two heavy-weight actors that turn in good performances with Lee and Cushing. In support Heilborn and the rest did solid as well. With the story they try to tell, it lost me in the latter part of the second act. I will say aside from a couple spots, the effects were fine. The soundtrack didn’t really stand out, but it fit for what was needed for sure. Overall I’d say this is just over average for me. There are a few things I think that could have been done to make this better that they didn’t though so I can’t really go much higher.


My Rating: 6 out of 10