Director – Freddie Francis
Cast – Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Twiggy, Julian Sands, Stephen Rea, Phyllis Logan, Lewis Fiander, Beryl Reid, T.P. McKenna, Patrick Stewart
Release Year – 1985
Reviewed by John of the Dead
While strolling through Blockbuster in an attempt to take advantage of their very low rental prices nowadays, I came across this film, The Doctor and the Devils. I had never heard of this film prior to this trip, but the plot alone had me interested enough to give this a watch, aside from the fact that this stars a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton as well as infamous model Twiggy. Inspired by the true story of Burke and Hare, we get a unique tale that comes with some good horror as well, but only moderate writing and direction kept this from being an incredible watch.
A pre-Bond(License to Kill, The Living Daylights) Timothy Dalton stars as Dr. Thomas Rock, an esteemed physician/lecturer currently suffering at the low count of cadavers he is allowed to use to advance his studies of medicine. Current English law states that he can only use the bodies of hanged criminals for his experiments, but when he gets the occasional stranger offering to sell the body of a recently deceased “nobody” Dr. Rock looks the other way and pays them for their product. When lowlifes Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom learn of this seemingly easy way to collect quick money, they rob several grave-robbers of a decomposing body. They are paid for their product, but when the price is more than doubled for “fresher” specimens, the tasteless duo begin collecting bodies a little too “fresh” for comfort.
The idea of grave-robbers has always been one that has interested me, partly because it is seldom used in the genre, but also because it can provide for some good tension and gore, or even better…good horror if the dead come back to life as in I Sell The Dead.
I enjoyed the storyline following both Dr. Rock and the two nitwit grave-robbers mostly in separate stories, with Jack providing the ethical dilemma as he tries to advance his work in saving human lives, and the laws and consequences that he must deal with if he hopes to accomplish them. The majority of the story really follows the two grave-robbers as we watch them dwindle into murdering madness to acquire the only thing needed to keep drowning themselves in booze: more money. Their killing methods were interesting to watch due to them having to deliver the bodies with no strangulation marks as to appear that they died a natural death, which eventually gets them into hot trouble when their killing method fails to work. When not focusing on Dr. Rock or Robert and Timothy, we follow Dr. Rock’s lead assistant Dr. Murray(Julian Sands) as he tries desperately to save Jennie Bailey(Twiggy) from the downward spiral of prostitution, leading to a harrowing climax involving all three different parties combined. While the story was good overall it did tend to drag a little at times, which bothered me given this film is a mere 90 minutes, hardly long enough to include slow-paced scenes. I also wanted more horror thrown in as well. The horror that we do get is good, but the scenes came few and far between which means that the tension and excitement was few and far between, never a good thing.
Famed cinematographer Freddy Francis directs this piece, and despite also directing Girly, Tales From The Crypt, and The Creeping Flesh, his career has been overshadowed by his cinematography for The Elephant Man, Glory, and Scorsese’s Cape Fear. Sadly, his direction in this film does little to overshadow his cinematography credits as he failed to properly execute the slower scenes in the film, along with the sluggish performance of the usually awesome Timothy Dalton. To make up for this however we get Patrick Stewart in a small supporting role as Prof. Macklin, a rival of Dr. Rock and one of the better written/executed characters despite his lesser screentime. Thankfully, the horror we get is not only well written but also well executed, delivering some good shock at times and coming with a brash and unsettling nature as well. I only wish this film had more horror, which would have resulted in a higher rating.
Overall, The Doctor and the Devils is a unique film with a sweet overall story that only falls short during a select few scenes in the film, but complimented with just OK direction the experience falls short of what it could have been, especially when you consider the awesome but short-lived horror it provides.