The Creeping Flesh (1973)


(director: Freddie Francis; screenwriters: Jonathan Rumbold/Peter Spenceley; cinematographer: Norman Warwick; editor: Oswald Hafenrichter; cast: Peter Cushing (Emmanuel Hildern), Christopher Lee (James Hildern), Catherine Finn (Emily), Jenny Runacre (Marguerite), Michael Ripper (Carter), Kenneth J. Warren (Lenny), Lorna Heilbron (Penelope), George Benson (Waterlow), Duncan Lamont (Inspector); Runtime: 89; Columbia; 1972-UK)

“Peter Cushing in a hand-wringing performance is Professor Emmanuel Hildern.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A provocative tale of Gothic horror set in Victorian London. Peter Cushing in a hand-wringing performance is Professor Emmanuel Hildern. He has just returned to his Victorian mansion with the skeleton of a primitive New Guinea man, who is older than the Neanderthal and has a larger brain. The professor is working on his theory of ‘the origin of man,’ hoping to win the lucrative and prestigious prize given for a work of original scientific research by the experiments he plans to conduct in the laboratory in his house. His main competition comes from his half-brother James, played with delicious venom by Christopher Lee. James’s in charge of an insane asylum and has secretly kept Emmanuel’s insane wife Marguerite, until her recent death. The professor’s sheltered daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron) has been told ever since she was a young child that her mother is dead and that she is not permitted to enter her mother’s locked room.

The professor after returning from his long hiatus, is more interested in his experiment than he is in seeing his daughter Penelope again. The professor immediately starts work with his loyal assistant Waterlow (Benson). Emmanuel’s research has led him to believe that he can see ‘the principle of evil’ under the microscope, in the form of black blood cells. Emmanuel hopes to wipe evil away and make a new paradise on earth. He plans to immunize mankind with a serum inoculation derived from the primitive skeleton. The professor soon discovers the skeleton’s ability to grow new flesh when moistened with water. Further research reveals that the creature may actually be rooted with immediate evil, meaning that it would be best kept out of the rain.

The testy professor gets upset when he finds his prim daughter in her mother’s room. The professor’s afraid that she will go crazy like mom and become over sexed, dancing and whoring in saloons. The daughter rails at him: “You kept me as a prisoner, like you did her.” The professor decides that he won’t let Penelope go insane and injects her with the experimental serum. The result is that the Penelope’s libido gets aroused and she heads to the East End saloons where her mother went astray. Penelope gets into a situation after exotically dancing in a saloon where she kills a sailor who is bothering her and goes on the run from the police. Penelope is trapped in a locked building, surrounded by the pursuing police, with a dangerous lunatic (Kenneth J. Warren) who escaped from James’s asylum. Penelope answers the escapees offer of help by hitting him over the head with a board and forcing him off the ledge and onto the street.

The film was well photographed and acted, and was creepy. There’s also a surprise ending that fits in well with the film’s theme of man’s inhumanity. It makes for an above-average horror flick, one that horror fans in particular might enjoy more than others.