The Doctor and the Devils
Edinburgh in 1828: For his research work, the surgeon Dr. Robert Knox depends on corpses, most of which are passed to him by criminals. William Burke runs a small boarding house together with his wife. When one of their tenants dies of natural causes, his acquaintance William Hare gets an idea. They steal the corpse from the coffin and sell it to Knox to pay the outstanding rent. Since Knox is constantly supplied with new corpses, Burke and Hare lure more people into their boarding house to kill and eventually sell them. One of their victims is Mary, a prostitute who enters into a relationship with a young college student, Chris Jackson. When Jackson sees Mary's body on Knox's dissection table, he realizes a few things. Knox's assistant, Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell, consequently can no longer condone the practice of buying cadavers. When Burke and Hare are witnessed committing a murder, the unraveling of the horrific events is imminent.
Released in 1960, The Flesh and the Fiends is one of the best film adaptations of the West Port murders committed by Burke and Hare. The series of murders were grippingly rehashed with Peter Cushing in a central role as an ambitious doctor who will use any means to get ahead in his research and therefore does not shy away from deals with criminals. Donald Pleasence is seen as Hare, giving a disturbing performance. Highly recommended.
Two versions on the US Blu-ray
Basically, there are two different versions of the film. The UK version and a more revealing Continental version which has some nude scenes in it. On July 7, 2020, Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray. The main version is the Continental version, which was reconstructed from at least two different picture sources. Some scenes are of significantly lower quality than the main part of the film and are presumably from an SD source.
In the bonus material is a shorter cut version titled The Fiendish Ghouls. This version is based on the UK version and has been shortened by various plot scenes. Various scenes with Jackson were removed, but also Knox' rivalries with the doctors' association. The Fiendish Ghouls version ends with Burke having his eyes burned out, thus removing all subsequent scenes in which Knox undergoes his catharsis.
The Fiendish Gouls: 74:12 min.
Comparison between the The Fiendish Ghouls version and the Continental version.
The Fiendish Gouls version shows a black screen at the beginning.
The Flesh and the Fiends version starts with the rank logo.
After that, the graveyard can be seen earlier. A carriage stops in front of the gate. As it does so, a text panel fades in, indicating that the film is based on fact.
FG: 2 secs.
FF: 30 sec.
The Fiendish Gouls version simply repeats the scenes that have been seen before, fading in the titles.
In the Flesh and the Fiends version, the men begin digging the grave. The next shot starts earlier. As they do so, the titles fade in.
FG: 24 sec.
FF: 24 sec.
More dialogue as Knox pays off the men.
Knox instructs Jackson to change Knox's housekeeper's money when she returns. At the tavern, he is to give the two men the money.
FF: 6 secs.
People go to "The Merry Duke" pub.
Inside the pub, several women are being harassed by drunk men.
FF: 19 sec.
In the Fiendish Gouls version, Jackson comes to the bar to bring the two men their money.
The Flesh and the Fiends version shows a more revealing alternate scene of this.
FG: 21 sec.
FF: 30 sec.
In the Fiendish Gouls version, Burke and Hare leave the bar.
The Flesh and the Fiends version shows an alternate scene of this. The bare back of one of the women can be seen in it.
FG: 6 secs.
FF: 6 sec.
Mary walks into the house with Jackson in the Fiendish Gouls version. A woman asks her what she is doing, but Mary says to mind her own business. A man pulls the woman back to the party.
The Flesh and the Fiends version shows an alternate scene of this. The woman asks Mary if she is now already bringing men home from the streets. Mary says to her that her men are sober after all. Then the woman goes back to the party. A naked woman can be seen in the background.
FG: 17 sec.
FF: 27 sec.
John's body is seen earlier, before the coffin is closed.
FF: 1 sec.
After Knox leaves the party, the guests can be seen dancing.
FF: 12 secs.
Geoffrey and Martha have just returned from a little rowing trip and run into Jackson and Mary. Jackson introduces Mary to the two. The group briefly chats about the weather, but Jackson is uncomfortable with Mary's brash manner and continues on with her.
Geoffrey and Martha sat down for a picnic. Martha says that Mary is very pretty. Geoffrey says that Jackson is getting extra lessons from Knox, but is not quite at work with his head.
Mary and Jackson arrive home. She accuses him of being embarrassed to introduce her to his friends. Jackson says that this is not true and that he is proud of her.
The Fiendish Gouls version resumes as Mary runs to the bed.
FF: 2:24 min.
Aggie continues to be strangled by Burke. After that, a cut to Hare.
FF: 5 secs.
After Burke says that Aggie bit his hand, Hare says to put her in the box.
FF: 11 secs.
The Fiendish Gouls version fades out as Burke holds the rat in front of Hare's face.
In the Flesh and the Fiends version, Burke dangles the rat in front of Hare's face longer. In the next scene, the two are paid.
FG: 1 sec.
FF: 7 sec.
Knox is giving a lecture when he notices that Jackson is asleep. A fellow student wakes him and Knox asks him to come forward to show how modern surgery would have saved a man from the gallows. Jackson is unable to do so. Knox calls on student Smithy to continue.
FF: 1:33 min
Geoffrey is seen longer after Knox leaves.
In the next scene, four men ring the doorbell at Knox's mansion and demand that the butler speak to Knox immediately. Knox leads them into his study and is flattered to be visited by the four best surgeons in England. The men want to talk to Knox about a newspaper article in which he portrays one of them as incompetent. Knox finds their methods outdated and has little fear of a lawsuit. He tells them to leave his house. During the conversation, Geoffrey came into the room.
After the men leave, Geoffrey warns that the surgeons could harm Knox if they learn of his connection to Burke and Hare. Knox sees this differently and emphasizes the great cause for which he stands. An individual is of no importance in this.
FF: 4:13 min
In the Fiendish Gouls version, Jackson comes downstairs and sees a wild party going on.
In the Flesh and the Fiends version, you first see scenes of the party, then alternate scenes of Jackson coming downstairs and seeing the party. Some of the women are naked in this.
FG: 10 sec.
FF: 20 sec.
In the Fiendish Gouls version, Mary runs up to Jackson and tells him to leave.
The Flesh and the Fiends version has an alternate shot in which two women are naked.
FG: 8 sec.
FF: 8 secs.
Mary starts laughing as Jackson tries to take her home.
The Flesh and the Fiends version has an alternate shot of this again.
FG: 4 sec.
FF: 4 sec.
Mary says that Jackson is not a real man.
The Flesh and the Fiends version again shows an alternate shot.
FG: 6 sec.
FF: 6 sec.
Mary says to Jackson that she won't be coming back.
As before, the Flesh and the Fiends version again has an alternate shot.
FG: 9 sec.
FF: 9 sec.
Mary runs after him.
As usual, an alternate shot in the Flesh and the Fiends version.
FG: 9 sec.
FF: 9 sec.
Burke is seen longer, then Hare earlier.
FF: 2 secs.
Hare pushes Mary down longer.
FF: 1 sec.
Maggie steps forward a bit and sees Jamie being strangled by Burke in the pig pen.
FF: 6 secs.
The angry mob runs toward the warehouse. Cut to Helen wondering what she has done.
FF: 13 secs.
The policemen direct people to the gate. A battering ram is brought in.
FF: 15 secs.
The priest leaves Burke. A cut to the painter.
FF: 8 secs.
The Fiendish Gouls version shows the painter here.
The Flesh and the Fiends version cuts to Burke on the gallows.
FG: 2 sec.
FF: 2 secs.
After Burke's eyes are burned out, the Fiendish Gouls version ends. "The End" fades in and the credits roll.
In the Flesh and the Fiends version, the blind beggar hears Burke's cry of pain. He feels his way along the wall as Burke slumps to the floor.
Outside Knox's house, people are demanding that he come out. Knox won't let that stop him and goes to the doctor's office. He walks through the angry crowd to his carriage, which drives off.
Geoffrey says to Martha that he is indestructible. Martha disagrees, saying that he will be tried before the medical board.
Knox stands in front of the medical board and says that he has nothing to say and they should make the best of his situation. As he leaves, Geoffrey comes into the room. He steps in front of the chamber and says that he doesn't want to defend Knox, but all of them have worked on corpses before they got to the grave. He implores them to look into their hearts and consider whether they are not condemning themselves if they accuse Knox. The doctors react angrily.
Knox is walking home when he is stopped by a little girl who asks for some money for candy. Knox says that he has nothing with him, but she can come with him to his house, then he gives her something. The girl refuses, fearing she will be sent to Dr. Knox. Depressed, Knox continues walking.
When Knox comes home, Martha is happy to see him. Knox jokes that she probably expected him to come home as a corpse for his exam table. Knox says that he was out all night and now believes in the soul in man. He confesses that he failed. His conscience has gotten back to him and a little girl has told him the truth. He realizes that he has lost his humanity.
Geoffrey comes home and tells Knox that the medical board has ruled that he is exonerated. Knox says that the medical board is leaving it up to the world to decide about him. Knox wants to go to his lecture, even if no one will be there. Martha thanks Geoffrey. As Knox walks down the hall, he hears noise. His lecture hall is full of students applauding him. Knox begins his lecture with a note about Hippocrates' oath. No one is to be harmed. "The End" fades in and the credits roll.
FG: 46 sec.
FF: 10:00 min.