[box cover]

The Creeping Flesh

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so the notorious British film company Hammer Films may have felt sincerely flattered that it inspired other British filmmakers and minor studios to replicate their numerous successes. Probably not though; these companies flooded theaters with similar (and often not as good) products that eventually strangled the market; although changing mores may have had as much to do with it — Hammer's films were considered revolutionary in their time for shooting horror in red-soaked color, but they look antiquated next to the wave of R-rated slasher films that followed. With 1973's The Creeping Flesh, not only did World Film Services (its distributor) make a Hammer-ish film, they co-opted Hammer's two biggest stars with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. And it was directed by Freddie Francis, who had a hand in numerous horror films, both at the helm (1968's Dracula has Risen From the Grave) and a cinematographer (1961's The Innocents, David Lynch's 1984 version of Dune). Cushing stars as Emmanuel Hildern, a scientist and explorer whose come across a skeleton in New Guinea that seems to suggest a new aspect to theories of evolution. But his discovery may prove troubling to half-brother James Hildern (Christopher Lee), who is chasing the same grant through his research on insanity. When an accident in the lab leads to some water being spilled on the skeleton, skin grows around the finger water was spilled on. Emmanuel then realizes that this beast is supposed to be a part of some sort of evolutionary cleansing, meant to be found 3,000 years later to be unleashed on New Guineans. And Emmanuel's study of the creature may cost him more than just frustrating his half-brother; his relationship with daughter Penelope (Lorna Helibron) is strained because he won't speak of her mother, who went mad years earlier and ended up in the care of James — yet keeping Penelope from her history only drives her closer to it, and Penelope begins to lose her mind. All the while, James figures Emmanuel is hiding something big from him and is tired of being second place to his half-brother. Thus, he plots to kidnap Emmanuel's discovery, which leads to the skeleton being exposed to a rainstorm. It's here that The Creeping Flesh really disappoints — what could have been a great Val Lewton-ish monster gets too much screen-time — even more troubling is that it looks like something assembled by drunken papier-mâché artists. The film has a nice twist ending (which ties this effort into The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), but like the worst of its genre, the middle section is more middling than creepy, even though it's appealing to see Hammer's greatest leads performing in something that feels more akin to the Quatermass series (Quatermass and the Pit seems a strong influence) than the monster movies that made both famous. Columbia TriStar presents The Creeping Flesh in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and monaural DD 2.0 audio. Bonus trailers, keep-case.

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