Archive for peter cushing

The Fiendish Ghouls

Posted in horror films with tags , , , on December 18, 2011 by mike k

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


The Hound of the Baskervilles

Posted in Mystery with tags , , , , on November 13, 2011 by mike k

Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes in the 1959 Hammer Studios film version

 When I grew up, watching television was nothing like it was today. We didn’t have cable and we had to rely on locally broadcast television. For reception, my family used an arial antenna which sat on the top of our TV that we had to fumble with and place our bodies in strange and bizarre positions to make work. Unlike the 150 or so odd channels people have to choose from today, my brother and I were prisoners of the 3 network channels (ABC, NBC and CBS (which always came in kind of fuzzy)) and PBS.  That’s not a big choice to choose from and, in the immortal words of comedian Robin Williams, “if the President was on (giving a speech) you were screwed”.

I watched a lot of PBS when I was a kid. PBS relied on local donations to operate and as they could not afford the high priced cable programs that were then available, they purchased a lot of programming from across the Atlantic from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). If you didn’t mind watching programs such as Doctor Who, Benny Hill, Monty Python or Are You Being Served coupled with servings of Upstairs, Downstairs and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, PBS wasn’t too bad to watch. Personally, I’ve a love affair with British TV. I’m a routine watcher of BBC America and the new Doctor Who. Their television dramas and mystery shows are top notch.

Through PBS, I was introduced to the cinematic Sherlock Holmes. Mostly, Holmes was played by Jeremy Brett but ocassionally, viewers would be offered the treat of watching horror legend Peter Cushing, known mostly for playing Count Dracula’s nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing, don the hat of the erstwhile master detective. Cushing played Sherlock Holmes in the very first Holmes film in color in 1959; The Hound of the Baskervilles. He repeated his role as Holmes in 1965 and 1968 in the BBC series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Cushing again played Holmes in old age in the 1984 BBC TV film, The Mask of Death.

While Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone are more famous for playing the role, Cushing tried to play Holmes as he appeared in Doyle’s stories. While Cushing added nothing new to the character of Holmes, he played the role intelligently and with great respect. A DVD of Cushing’s role as Sherlock Holmes can be purchased online from the BBC America shop.