Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 08 October 2004
Source Columbia Tristar VHS
features: October: 31 Days of Horror
“I am not a man; I’m a Scientist,” proclaims Emmanuel, a well mannered yet obsessed ethnologist, with a lab full of skeletons, microscopes, and caged apes on which to practice experimental medicine. His research has benevolent ambitions, yet, as this wild admission implies, his obsession will drive him beyond the narrow allowance of ethical science.
The Creeping Flesh has the distinct impression of a Hammer film, inheriting the horror studio’s sardonic etiquette, embellished gothic atmosphere, and alumni Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The two play half-brothers, one (Cushing) the aforementioned scientist, the other a psychologist that supervises an asylum. The two are in inherent conflict: one is obsessed with preserving the body, the other the mind.
The film is concerned with Emmanuel’s greatest find, an incongruous prehistoric skeleton that may prove key in the evolution of man. When wetted, the bones generate flesh and begin to twitch with contaminative blood cells. Emmanuel places a human skull adjacent to his disproportionate specimen in a foreboding image that demonstrates a harmful potency in the creature’s blood. Thinking it a logical experiment, Emmanuel mixes the creature’s blood into a serum and injects it into one of his apes. Seeing no immediate side effects in his specimen, he deems the experiment a revolutionary success. We later see the ape, overburdened by an apparent hostility, having ripped out of his cage. It can be reasonably assumed that the same malpractice will impair a human by the film’s end.
The film is a showcase for its lead actors, both of whom are capable of condensing volumes of suspicion into a single furrowed brow. (Lee and Cushing are in conflict in this film, and that promises much suspicion.) Its acting talent peculiar to British horror films of the era, The Creeping Flesh inherits its formal elements from German Expressionism, revealing its title monster at its end with patience and giant shadows. Save for a modest twist ending, The Creeping Flesh is altogether predictable and not entirely frightening – but, mind you, this is a horror film of manners, and its two villains are as polite as they are conniving.