Friday, December 25, 2009

THE CREEPING FLESH (Freddie Francis, 1973, UK)

Dr. Hildern is consumed with the righteous passion to save his daughter from the clutches of insanity: Evil is a cellular malignancy that taints the blood he hopes to cure by modern science. Unfortunately, the good Doctor falls victim himself to the axiom of good intentions.

Director Freddie Francis creates a Victorian Age horror film with an intelligent script, great acting and brands the scenarios with his interesting mise-en-scene: though a low-budget horror film with limited SPFX, he is able to unearth narrative ideas and complexities rarely found in the genre. The opening minimilistic sequence makes no sense until the final scenario: a laboratory with tools and equipment surrounded by a surreal white oblivion.

The body of the story is told in a flashback and Francis utilizes three distinct plots: Hildern’s desire to cure Evil from the world with a newly discovered Skeletal Primate; his unadulterated love for his daughter, to protect her from the knowledge of her dead mother’s madness; and his professional conflict with his step-brother, who is submitting a peer reviewed paper challenging Hildern for a prestigious award…one that Hildern wants for himself.

The obvious problem with the plot contrivance is the explanation that mental illness is inherently Evil, but if considered in the context of the Victorian Age this ignorance was believed true by many scientists. Hildern experiments on a monkey then, impatient with fear, uses the serum extracted from the skeleton’s blood (the skeleton is rejuvenated when it is exposed to water) to inject into his daughter so she never succumbs to madness. Francis cuts to cancerous hemoglobin as Hildern peers through a microscope, vast tendrils of malicious conspiracy devouring healthy cells…but he is too blind to see the truth, to wait for a proper controlled experiment. He is in a race to win the $10,000 award against his adversary and unwittingly sacrifices his daughter, making her victim to the very cruelty he was attempting to deliver her from.

The rubbery skeleton is the essence of pure Evil and once totally reanimated, stalks the streets of London: in one novel scene, its ghastly shadow looms like a giant upon Hildern’s home, homage to Murnau’s stark imagery from NOSFERATU. Finally, the road to Hell is traversed and we discover the awful unicellular truth: like father like daughter.

Final Grade: (B)

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