Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Doctor and the Devils (Scream Factory Blu-ray)

I first became aware of the tale of the Burke and Hare murders when watching 2008's I Sell the Dead. That's not to say that the story didn't seem familiar at the time, but I Sell the Dead's fresh, humorous and overly morbid take on this tale was elating. I truly loved the movie and consider it one of the better horror pictures in the new millennium. Stumbling around Netflix I came across Burke and Hare from 1971 directed by Vernon Sewell. I watched it at the gym, somewhat bored and spent most of the viewing experience trying to cover half my telephone screen as the rather gratuitous nudity seemed to takeover a lack luster production. I appreciate the movie for it's aesthetic and trying to come up with a fresh horror story, Victorian that wasn't Jack the Ripper. In researching The Doctor and the Devils I realized that I had also seen two other retellings of the Burke and Hare tale: The Flesh and the Fiends and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (however loose an interpretation), but The Doctor and the Devils is a fine, traditional telling of the story as retold by Dylan Thomas.

Of the more traditional adaptations of the Burke and Hare tale, this is the most high class, filled to the brim a name drop list of stars that is as eclectic as it is fun. Timothy Dalton is something other than Bond, but growing up in the 80's I know him as 007. His more recent work in Hot Fuzz opposite Simon Pegg as part of the Cornetto trilogy is as funny as it is creepy. This is a more serious role for Dalton but one that the talented actor is more than capable of playing. I've seen Jonathan Pryce around and more recently in Pirates of the Caribbean, but he has a horror history of sorts. He was in Spasms and notoriously in Something Wicked This Way Comes as Mr. Dark. I like to think of Stephen Rea as my man! He was in V for Vendetta and so much more, but something about him in VfV really struck me. I love that character. I like his face. Of course there are the other "biggies". Patrick Stewart. Julian Sands. Twiggy. It's really something of a "super group" movie. Oh, and let's not forget the director... Freddie Francis.

Freddie Francis has done better work than The Doctor and The Devils. He is responsible for some of the great Amicus portmanteau's of the 60's and early 70's creating Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (my namesake picture), Tales that Witness Madness, Torture Garden (a gem that many seem to overlook) and a future Scream Factory release, Tales from the Crypt from 1972 which is perhaps my favorite anthology horror film next to Creepshow and Dr. Terror of course. Francis worked on Dracula Has Risen from the Grave,  Nightmare and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer, but I think his work under Amicus is superior. After a short break from directing, Francis returned to do The Doctor and The Devils finishing off his career with a movie called Dark Tower and the first episode of HBO's Tales from the Crypt.

The Doctor and the Devils is a beautiful movie with elaborate set design and well coordinated period piece. It has a good script. Good cast. Good atmosphere and unlike the other versions of this movie, it's a serious piece of horror. It's isn't over the top funny, gory. It does not survive by cheap nude scenes. It is a piece of Gothic horror that could only be developed by a Hammer man. By an Amicus man and, given a cast this versatile, a quiet story comes to life and lurks in the shadows rather than creeps or disturbs or scares. It's a horror picture that you watch like a play as a piece of horror literature.

Bonus features include: 
  • Commentary With Author And Film Historian Steve Haberman
  • New Interview With Executive Producer Mel Brooks, Producer Jonathan Sanger And Former Brooksline Development Executive Randy Auerbach
  • Theatrical Trailers
That cover is one hell of a way to sell this movie. Perfect choice.

It's an interesting choice by Scream Factory, appropriate and actually makes more sense given the upcoming Tales from the Crypt release coming this December from S.F. I wonder if there are a few more in the vaults with Francis' name on it. His Amicus works need releases but so do some of the Hammer releases that are in limbo since Millennium seemed to turn off the faucet. Before all you hip gurus with keen knowledge of licensing rights, let's remember that Scream Factory reaches across aisles to get movies and sets released. I bet their big Hammer fans. Big Amicus fans (obviously). Let's this be a beginning and a reexamination of some of Freddie's other work). The Doctor and the Devils isn't exactly what you think of when you think of 80's horror. It isn't bright or loud. It doesn't have a powerhouse rock soundtrack though the score is quite lovely. If this movie stands out at all, it is because it defies the decade in which it was created.

The Doctor and the Devils is available now:

Synopsis from Scream Factory:

Based on Dylan Thomas' original screenplay, this shocking horror-thriller stars Timothy Dalton as Thomas Rock, a brilliant young anatomy professor in 1820s Edinburgh. At first accepting only the cadavers provided him for study – those of a few hanged criminals per year – Rock eventually recruits two grave robbers (Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea) to secure a better supply of corpses. Coming to the gory conclusion that they will earn more the "fresher" the corpses, the two begin committing murder and delivering warm bodies to the doctor's lecture chambers. Also starring Julian Sands, Patrick Stewart and Twiggy, The Doctor and the Devils brings classic chills from start to finish!

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