In 1894 Victorian England Prof. Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) has just returned from an expedition to New Guinea. He has with him the skeleton of what appears to be a very large humanoid. In researching the find in conjunction with New Guinea mythology Emmanuel believes that the skeleton may represent a race of giants that are evil in human form. He believes that the evil was supposed to be unearthed in three thousand years but his taking the skeleton out of the ground released the evil too soon.
Emmanuel’s half-brother is James Hildern (Christopher Lee), the head of an asylum for the criminally insane. No sooner is Emmanuel home when he finds that his wife, Marguerite (Jenny Runacre), who had been institutionalized in his brother’s insane asylum, has died. Emmanuel’s daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron) was told that her mother died when she was young. Emmanuel never told her that Marguerite was alive and in an asylum.
Back in his lab, while applying water to the finger of the skeleton he sees that the area that was exposed to the water has developed skin and blood. Cutting off the finger he examines the blood. Combining it to human blood he comes to the conclusion that the skeleton’s blood is kept in check due to the human blood creating a form of antibody around its blood cells. Emmanuel believes he can create a serum that will act as a vaccine against evil itself. He creates the serum and injects it into a monkey. At first it appears as if the serum is working.
Later Emmanuel discovers that Penelope has discovered the truth about her mother. Scared that Penelope will develop the same illness as Marguerite, Emmanuel injects her with the serum. The next day Emmanuel finds out that things did not go well with the monkey and Penelope has disappeared. Now a victim of her father’s rash experiment Penelope is wandering through the streets and eventually goes wild and kills a couple people. She is brought to James’ asylum where James finds out about her unusual blood. Proving to be the slimier of the two brothers James wants in on Emmanuel’s experiments. Emmanuel doesn’t want to play so James steals his notes. James, realizing that he needs Mr. Evil Skeleton, sends someone to steal him too. Serious problems ensue when it starts to rain and Mr. Evil Skeleton gets wet.
“The Creeping Flesh” was released in 1973 and was directed by Freddie Francis. It is a British film produced by Tigon British Film Productions. Sometimes it’s confused as being a Hammer film because of Cushing and Lee starring together as well as Hammer alumni Michel Ripper and cinematographer Freddie Frances. The confusion is understandable. The movie does play quite a bit like some of Hammer’s horror films.
Many have noted that the films subliminal message concerning the suppression of women vs the sexual expression of men. What’s a Victorian gothic without a male dominated society that classifies women as either virginal or harlots? Any woman who endeavors to express herself or attempts to free herself from the subjugation of men usually ended up in Bedlam. Penelope is no different.
The film was released towards the end of the British gothic horror heyday so it didn’t get the attention it really deserves. In my opinion it was just as good if not better than some of the more popular gothic horror films produced during the period. The plot may have been a little farfetched and contrived but I was OK with that. The crazy premise and the multiple subplots were played to the hilt and actually added to my enjoyment of the movie. There were a few unexpected twists and turns in the film and a very pleasing ending. Slightly ambiguous perhaps but nonetheless an OMG moment.