Following their memorable turn in the popular HORROR EXPRESS, scare cinema superstars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee followed it up with another triumph, THE CREEPING FLESH. An enthralling mélange of science fiction, gothic horror and themes of madness, the handsomely-produced THE CREEPING FLESH is one of the duo's last great films together and one of the finest in director Freddie Francis' resume.
In Victorian London, scientist Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) returns from New Guinea with an incredible discovery, that of a giant, prehistoric skeleton. While washing one of its fingers, the exposure to water causes veiny flesh to grow on it, coaxing Emmanuel to sever it and take some blood tests. Creating theories about the origin of his discovery, he creates a serum from its blood, believing it will act as an antidote against evil. Before fully testing it, Emmanuel injects his neglected daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron), who has just discovered that her mother (Jenny Runacre) had only just died, even though she believed her dead for years. Since Penelope's mother was insane, Emmanuel fears his daughter will inherit this trait, but of course, his desired intention of injecting her goes haywire.
Emmanuel's half-brother James Hildern (Christopher Lee) is a rival scientist, competing for a noted medical prize. Running the local insane asylum, Emmanuel's wife had died in his brother's care, and after being injected with said serum, so has his drastically changed daughter. When James finds out about his brother's fantastic discovery, his coldness is calculated and ethics go out the window as he arranges to have it stolen. When the towering bag of bones (sans a finger) is let out in the rain, the "evil one" once again walks the earth.
THE CREEPING FLESH can be accused of possessing a convoluted story (there's a useless but lively subplot involving an escaped lunatic played by Kenneth J. Warren), but the screenplay by Peter Spenceley and Jonathan Rumbold is fresh and original. The chemistry between Lee and Cushing is at its peak on the screen and both (Lee top-billed in a rather lesser role) are at the top of the form. Lovely Lorna Heilbron is excellent as Penelope, transforming from sweet and innocent to mad and deadly magnificently. It's a shame she didn't do any other genre films, with the exception of Jose Larraz's seldom-seen SYMPTOMS. Though Freddie Francis took many a directorial job as just work, it seems his heart was in this one. THE CREEPING FLESH beckons the glorious days of the similar Hammer and Amicus films, and includes some of his best camera set-ups--namely the use of distorted lenses to suggest a character's descent into insanity and a point of view shot from the inside of the monster's gooey skull. Speaking of Hammer, fans will be delighted by bits by several Hammer vets, including Michael Ripper, Duncan Lamont and George Benson.
Long available on VHS, Beta and laserdisc, THE CREEPING FLESH has finally been released on DVD with a sparkling new transfer that puts the old incarnations to shame. For the first time on the home video format, the film is presented in its appropriate 1.85:1 aspect ratio (with anamorphic enhancement), and the compositions now look more rewarding. Colors are generally vibrant, fleshtones are very natural-looking and picture detail is excellent. The mono English audio track is perfectly sufficient, and there's even optional English and Japanese (!) subtitles.
The only extras are trailers for three other must-have Columbia TriStar DVDs: MR. SARDONICUS, 13 GHOSTS and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It would have been great for this disc to have included some sort of audio commentary, but the wonderful transfer is good enough reason to rejoice. (George R. Reis)
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