Monday, October 20, 2014

THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985)

THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985) 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Jonatahan Pryce, Twiggy, Patrick Stewart, Julian Sands, Stephen Rea, Phyllis Logan, Lewis Fiander, Beryl Reid, T.P. McKenna, Sian Philips

SYNOPSIS:

Based on Dylan Thomas' original screenplay, this shocking horror-thriller stars Timothy Dalton as Thomas Rock, a brilliant young anatomy professor in 1820s Edinburgh. At first accepting only the cadavers provided him for study – those of a few hanged criminals per year – Rock eventually recruits two grave robbers (Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea) to secure a better supply of corpses. Coming to the gory conclusion that they will earn more the "fresher" the corpses, the two begin committing murder and delivering warm bodies to the doctor's lecture chambers. Also starring Julian Sands, Patrick Stewart and Twiggy, The Doctor and the Devils brings classic chills from start to finish!

REVIEW: 

The macabre story of grave robbers Burke and Hare came to my attention at a very young age with a viewing of the Robert wise directed chiller BODY SNATCHER (1945) starring horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi on one of the double-feature TV matinees on WPIX. The idea of disinterring  recently deceased corpses for use at a medical school was so ghoulish to me, it had never even crossed my mind at that naive age that such a thing could exist. It was by introduction to autopsy, dissection and grave robbing. 

Here we have a thinly disguised retelling of Burke and Hare from Hammer veteran director Freddie Francis (TALES FROM THE CRYPT) with a script originally penned by Dylan Thomas and doctored up by Ronald Harwood. The names have been changed for some reason, as the grave robbing duo we have Jonathan Pryce (BRAZIL) as Robert Fallon and Stephen Rea (THE CRYING GAME) as Timothy Broom our grave dogging entrepreneurs who supply Dr. Rock (Timothy Dalton, HOT FUZZ)  a fresh supply of corpses for dissection at the medical school. Dr. Rock is a man of science and deplores that he is restricted to using the corpses of hanged criminals which number very few. This is why he turns to buying corpses from the grave robbers. Dalton as the doc is a pretty pompous guy who deplores the "moralists" who would limit his access to fresh corpses thereby limiting his knowledge of human anatomy. We also have an appearance from former modelling sensation Twiggy as a whore with a heart of gold, who turns out to be a love interest for doc Rock's cohort played by Julian Sands (WARLOCK).  


It's a decent arrangement at first as he now has access to more corpses but consumed by greed the grave robbers turn to murder to procure fresher corpses  for which the doc pays handsomely. When a few of the corpses turn out to be familiar faces and not quite cold the doc turns a blind eye to the corpse-snatchers but the medical community and villagers are less willing to do so as you might imagine. 


As a period drama set in Scotland in the  early 1800s the film is successful but is woefully drab and earth tone, it definitely puts you right in the dreary city of Edinburgh and it feels authentic but what do I know? I wanted to love the film but the familiar story has been told onscreen several previously times and this is inferior to many. There's not a lot new under the sun in respect to the story, we have the science-driven doc and the morally corrupt corpse-snatchers and a parade of unfortunate victims who end up on a dissection table - that's pretty much the crux of the story.


This is more a period mellow drama than a Gothic thriller and this one just lacked the spark and gruesomeness of previous incarnations, the cast is decent but one-dimensional and this version adds nothing to the lore, it's a decent watch but not a high recommend. I say skip this and take in the aforementioned Val Lewton produced BODY SNATCHER (1945) or THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960) starring Peter Cushing (TWINS OF EVIL) and Donald Pleasance (HALLOWEEN) which are far superior productions. 


BLU-RAY:

THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985) debuts on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in the original widescreen scope aspect ratio with a transfer I would assume provided by 20th Century Fox. The HD upgrade is sharper with nice color saturation but the image is not a stunner unfortunately, perhaps owing to the gloomy aesthetic of the film with dim lighting. The stereo English language DTS-HD Master Audio is well balanced with optional English subtitles. 

Extras include a dry but very informative audio commentary from Author And Film Historian Steve Haberman who touches on the real life story of Burke and Hare plus the various filmed incarnations of the story. There's also a new Interview with Executive Producer Mel Brooks, Producer Jonathan Sanger And Former Brooksline Development Executive Randy Auerbach and a theatrical trailer for the film. 


SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Commentary With Author And Film Historian Steve Haberman
- New Interview With Executive Producer Mel Brooks, Producer Jonathan Sanger And Former Brooksline Development Executive Randy Auerbach (19 minutes)
- Theatrical Trailers (2 minutes)


VERDICT:

A decent watch but not one of my favorite interpretations of the story, a bit too much of a period drama and I think I was looking for something darker and more macabre. Not without it's 19th century charm but not something I will need to revisit anytime soon. if you have a keen interest in the Burke and Hare story and don't need it to be as lurid as previous incarnations might get more enjoyment out of this one. 3 Outta 5 


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