The Fiendish Ghouls

The Fiendish Ghouls aka The Flesh and The Ghouls and Mania

Every once in a while I come across what I call a real video nasty. By video nasty, I don’t mean that the film is extremely gory or violent but that its the kind of movie that grips my attention by the first scene and never lets me go until the very end. The Fiendish Ghouls is that kind of film.

Filmed in 1960 and starring horror legends Peter Cushing (Van Helsing in all of those Hammer Dracula films) and Donald Pleasance (Halloween) the movie tells the true tale of Dr. Knox who runs a medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr. Knox is hindered by both the law and the church in his pursuit to obtain corpses for his students to  practice on during anatomy class.  He finally resorts to hiring two nefarious grave robbers, Hare (Pleasance) and Burke (played by George Rose) to obtain the dead he needs. It is Hare and Burke who quickly become the villains of the film.

Peter Cushing is, of course, the protagonist of the story and he performs extremely well in one of his better, and lesser known, roles. In a rarity, Cushing has several comedic one-liners in the film that are terribly funny.  The viewer is torn between sympathy for Dr. Knox, whose pursuit of science and medicine are being block by narrow minded knuckleheads, and disgust as he employs two murderous grave robbers to obtain his corpses without ever asking where exactly the bodies came from.

A hairy-headed Donald Pleasance, playing his part with a Scottish (sometimes Irish) burr, seems to be taking great delight in his role as Hare. Pleasance is often comedic (he is a rat afraid of rats) in the film but is mostly a slimey character.

There is also a tragic love story in the form of Dr. Chris Jackson (played by John Cairney) and a prostitute named Mary (played arousingly by Billie Whitelaw). Torn between attraction and class driven scorn of a doctor having a love affair with a prostitute, the story of Dr. Jackson and Mary provide an excellent side drama to the horrific murders by Hare and Burke. Sadly, both  will find themselves victims of our two graverobbers which are found out and spell the end, not only of their graverobbing careers, but the career of Dr. Knox as well.

The Fiendish Ghouls has excellent acting, enthralling drama and is a surprisingly well directed and well filmed movie by John Gilling who would move onto Hammer Film Studios to do more excellent work there. There isn’t a bad scene in the entire film. I completely loved this movie. The DVD has 3 different versions of the film: the safe US and UK version and the entralling Continental version seen in Europe which left the nudity and pictures of bloody corpses intact.

The movie can also be found by its other titles: The Flesh and The Fiends and Mania

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