Saturday, June 13, 2015

Burke and Hare-athon Part VI: The Doctor and the Devils

The Doctor and the Devils (1985)
Dir. Freddie Francis
Written by Sir Ronald Harwood, based on a screenplay by Dylan Thomas?!
Starring Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Rea, Julian Sands, Twiggy, Patrick Stewart

Another decade, another Burke and Hare adaptation. You’d be forgiven for being a little jaded by this point. Ho hum, another swing, another miss. OK, it probably can’t be as ill-conceived as 1972’s BURKE AND HARE, but then again it probably won’t have a theme song as kickin’, either. How are we supposed to get excited about this?

Well, I’ll fuckin’ tell you how. Credentials. Up til this point, Burke and Hare pictures had been a thoroughly scrappy, B-list affair. Even the inarguable best of the bunch -- 1960’s THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS-- was released by underdog Hammer knock-off Triad Pictures and had to cost about 100 bucks plus bus fare for Peter Cushing. But with THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, Burke and Hare made the jump to the mainstream. Distributed by 20th Century Fox, produced by Mel Brook’s film company Brookfilms (which also produced such classics as David Cronenberg’s THE FLY, David Lynch’s ELEPHANT MAN, and the Frances Farmer biopic FRANCES) and Brooksfilms (and later Cruise/Wagner) company man Jonathan Sanger (FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, THE PRODUCERS, VANILLA SKY) and directed by horror veteran Freddie Francis (a wildly uneven career which ranged from the delightful NIGHTMARE and TALES FROM THE CRYPT to the incompetent EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN to the abysmal DEADLY BEES), the behind-the-scenes talent easily eclipses anything that came before. And look at that cast! Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Rea, Julian Sands, Twiggy, Patrick Stewart! Fuckin Twiggy! And then you’ve got a script by Sir Ronald Harwood (CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, THE PIANIST, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY). Based on a screenplay by Dylan fuckin ‘Thomas. I mean, good lord, what’s next, was it scored by the Beatles with special guest Elvis?

So now we gotta ask that dreaded question: why haven’t I heard of this before now? As we’ve discussed extensively on this blog in the past, any movie which has an amazing cast and crew and yet you’ve never heard of it should be approached with a caution usually reserved for disarming a bomb at the beginning of a movie when you know they have to blow someone up to demonstrate the stakes. If this movie was even halfway watchable, they should have been able to sell it pimping Dylan’s Thomas’s name all by itself, right? I mean, hell, I’ve watched whole DTV sequels just because Julian Sands was in them. And now you’re telling me he’s in this classy movie with all these great stars and a script adapted by a “sir” from one of the acknowledged great English-language authors of the 20th century and not only have I never seen it, nobody ever even mentioned it to me? This stinks, Lou. It stinks to high heaven. Movies like this don’t just slip through the cracks. They’re willfully buried.

Well, if you think that, I can’t say I care much for your cynicism, but of course you’re correct. This movie doesn’t really work at all. Or, as Roger Ebert put it: "It is impossible to discover, on the evidence of The Doctor and the Devils, why anybody connected with this movie thought it should be made. It is unredeemed, dreary, boring, gloomy dreck unilluminated by even the slightest fugitive moment of inspiration or ambition." That’s probably a little harsh, but it’s not entirely unwarranted, either. There’s a lot of good ingredients here, but perhaps more than any other version of this story, they simply don’t add up to anything coherent. You really do get the feeling that no one here was on the same page about what kind of movie they were making.  The ingredients all taste good individually, but put together they don’t actually add up to an actual entree. Or even tapas. More like some kind of chunky, gray slop. Still, they’re exotic enough ingredients that they make for a memorable meal, if not a satisfying one. That’s something. Also, anyone else hungry?

Because of the extremely vague nature of the movie it’s hard to know where to start in deconstructing it. Whose vision is this anyway, primarily? Director Francis? Executive producer and Brooksfilm head Mel Brooks? Producer Jonathan Sanger? Thomas and his faithful translator Harwood? None of these possibilities particularly assert themselves, but we have to start somewhere, so let’s start with Francis. The director was 68 at the time --no spring chicken, though still a long way from retirement (he died in 2007)-- but his checkered career as a film director was already more than a decade behind him. His last film had been the ultra-low-budget Tyburn production THE GHOUL in 1975, and since that time he had seemed content to return to his first career as a cinematographer, having shot THE ELEPHANT MAN in 1980 and DUNE in 1985, among others.* But bringing him out of his apparent retirement from directing feature films to helm a Burke and Hare movie results in something rather interesting, something wholly unexpected which in retrospect was actually entirely predictable: the very last Hammer movie.

And really, of course that’s what he would make. Francis was a regular go-to guy for Hammer (and rival Amicus) during the heydey of British gothic horror. His last film coincided nicely with the end of that era; Hammer would eke out one more horror flick (TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER) in 1976, one last thriller (an Elliott Gould-starring remake of THE LADY VANISHES) in 1979 and close its doors by the early 80s. Most of its regular directors, writers and producers --Terence Fisher, John Gilling, Val Guest, Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds, Seth Holt, Jimmy Sangster -- wound down their careers about the same time. Tigon and a few of Hammer’s low-rent competitors would limp into the early 80s, but the era of British horror was well and truly over, subsumed first by a wave of exploitive Italian giallos in the 70’s and subsequently a wave of gimmicky American slashers in the 80's. I mean, this was 1985. Let’s look at the other horror movies that year: FRIDAY THE 13th: A NEW BEGINNING. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (a.k.a. the gay one). HOWLING 2: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. RE-ANIMATOR. FRIGHT NIGHT. For better or worse, the world of horror cinema that Francis returned to after a decade’s absence was not at all the one which he left.

You wouldn’t know that from THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, though, which is in every conceivable way an archetypical Hammer production. From its grimy 19th-century street sets to its plush, opulent drawing rooms; from its melodramatic score to its unflashy but sharp cinematography; from its bland leads to its wealth of excellent character actors; from its literate monologues to its shocking but mostly bloodless brutality, from its surplus of medium shots to its characters' tendency to speechify, it’s about as recognizably 60’s British horror as they come. Except for a few unmistakable technical improvements (sharper film stock, more realism in acting, lighting and set design) you could probably show this as a double bill with CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962) or something and never realize they were filmed twenty years apart. The vibe is unmistakably, classically Hammer.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing for fans of British gothic horror, of course; it’s almost like we got a little window into a parallel universe where the subgenre got to continue into the modern filmmaking era. For all its similarities with those older films, there’s something curious about watching a whole new generation of actors go through the same motions. The staginess and theatricality of the 60’s acting had long since been replaced by a much greater focus on realism, and it gives the whole enterprise a rawness which adds an interesting dimension. But despite its appeal as a unique cultural artifact, it’s innate Hammer-ness is also a bad thing in that the same problems that plague a lot of the classic Hammer films persist here: slow pace, a tendency towards chatty pontificating in posh sitting rooms, a weakness for bland pretty-boy male leads, a lack of major setpieces, a hazy directionlessness of plot. While the thing looks pretty, it’s laughably slow-moving, meandering, and short on cheap thrills by the standards of 1985. Beyond that, the realism of the acting doesn’t necessarily jibe very well with the witty, overwrought prose of the screenplay and a lot of the time the actors seem a little lost with it, confused how to turn this obviously stagey melodrama into something believable. Francis does them no favors by stubbornly sticking to the medium shots that dominated cinema of an earlier era; this new generation of actors thrive on realism and subtlety, which tends to take place in closeup and subjective shots. Stuck as a little head in the middle of a big frame, their chief tool to depict the characters’ inner lives is stunted. The styles don’t mesh. I don’t know if, for example, the dear departed Christopher Lee was a better actor than Jonathan Pryce. But his oversized personality and thundering theatricality would have given a lot more definition to the Burke role than Pryce’s spastic oddness does, when seen through Francis’s handsome but clinical framings. Simply put, the script, direction, and performances are all out of sync with each other by decades, and none of them is quite strong enough to take the lead and give the movie some much-needed definition.  

The actors themselves are an obviously talented lot, of course. Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea as Burke and Hare (here re-named “Fallon and Broom”) give unhinged, manic performances as the degenerate, raging alcoholic murders. There’s a frenzied, almost animalistic quality to their portrayal (particularly for Pryce, whose thick furry coat and wild shock of jet black hair conjures the image of a wild-eyed neanderthal) which makes for a unique take, but ultimately doesn’t really offer much meaningful about who these men actually are and how they got this way. Julian Sands does about as well as can be expected with his thankless HGMS role; it feels in some ways like the quintessential version of this character, combining all the important plot elements (his veneration of Dr. Knox, his love for the beautiful local prostitute, his increasing suspicion of Burke and Hare, his discovery of the prostitute’s body and subsequent part in unveiling the crimes) and dumping everything else. Twiggy, as said prostitute (here renamed Jennie Bailey instead of Mary Paterson) is at least likable, though her character is mostly a passive victim and lacks the fire of Billie Whitlaw’s take on the character in FLESH AND THE FIENDS. A whole host of excellent character actors --T.P. McKenna, Patrick Stewart, Sian Phillips, Beryl Reid-- do fine work as various colorful locals, though only McKenna and a merry Reid get anything particularly juicy to work with. Timothy Dalton as Dr. Knox --here renamed Dr. Rock**-- is really the only weak link. He’s not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s pretty stiff and opaque in a role which requires a little more nuance if it’s going to work at all. He’s saddled with much more of Thomas’s original dialogue than anyone else gets, which on one hand offers a ton of great lines, but on the other hand was, again, written in the 40’s for a very different generation of actors, producers, and filmgoers. If there was an actor in 1985 who could have bridged that gap, Dalton unfortunately isn’t him.

On the subject of that script: it seems that Thomas wrote it during WWII, when he was rejected for active service due to ill health and churning out as much writing as possible to put food on the table. That puts it ahead of John Gilling’s 1948 script for THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART, but still second to James Bridie’s The Anatomist, which had already been produced as both a play and a TV movie prior to Thomas’ take on the material. Thomas was quite familiar with Bridie’s play (he wrote in a letter that he had renamed Dr. Knox “Dr. Rock” in an effort to “satisfy Bridie’s complaint” and create a character with a name that “sound[s] like the name of a man who could be very distinguished and great in science,”) so there’s no doubt that it had some influence on him. Like Bridie, Thomas casts “Dr. Rock” as arguably the central character, but in structure his screenplay has a surprising amount in common with Gilling’s THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. The way Thomas’s script juggles and balances the perspectives of Knox, HGMS, and Burke and Hare is startlingly similar, and seriously makes me wonder if Gilling had in fact read the Thomas screenplay himself (it was published in 1953, so it would be possible). A lot of Dr. Knox’s character arc seems very similar (especially in that the story both starts and ends with him) and Burke and Hare’s slide from drunken assholes to bodysnatchers to cold-blooded killers is handled pretty similarly too. Just like Gilling’s version, This version also imagines that one of the two killers ends up going a little murder-crazy (in this case, Pryce’s Burke substitute rather than Donald Pleasance’s Hare; Rea’s Hare substitute, it turns out, is more closely related to the 1972 version’s oddly reticent killer.)*** Thomas also beat Gilling to the idea of a Handsome Generic Med Student who becomes suspicious and finally discovers his prostitute girlfriend on the dissection table.

The key difference between the two isn’t really in content, but in tone. The Thomas script (understandably, given it was written in the 40’s) downplays the murder scenes, never actually depicting any of them and relying purely on suggestion to provoke any horror. But it’s also a lot darker and more depressing than Gilling’s blackly comic nightmare. You can picture this working in a well-done Universal horror film; there’s lots of scenes where someone will suddenly find themselves trapped with the murderous pair, and the camera is described as cutting to their eyes as they suddenly become frightened, and the scene ends with a scream. Some nice hard lighting and scary music would have made that work, definitely. But really, Thomas’s screenplay is less a horror movie and more of a despairing drama about the horrors of grinding poverty and the self-implosion of good people trying to shake up an inhuman system.

Thomas’s script describes in vivid detail the brutal conditions of life for the poor: the town square is described as, “...crowded with stalls, stalls that sell rags and bones, kept by rags and bones.” “Dr. Rock” himself summarizes the pathetic everyday horror of the streets, calling out some stuffy dinner party guests who praise the city’s erudition with a lengthy admonition about what life really is for most common people:  “[this city is] the bowels of squalor. Look any night at the streets of this “cultured city’. Observe, with academic calm, the homeless and the hopeless and the insane and the wretchedly drunken lying in their rags on the stinking cobbles. Look for yourselves, sirs, at the beggars, and the cripples, and the tainted children, and the pitiful, doomed girls. Write a scholastic pamphlet on the things that prowl in the alleys, afraid to see the light; they were men and women once.”

Alcohol is a major factor here -- as, of course, it was in Thomas’s own life. In a life this desperately grueling, alcohol isn’t just a luxury, it’s the only way out of a miserable existence, a way to get a few short hours of blessed forgetfulness. The role of the bar in all this, and the role of the ever-present flasks of gin, are not just as icons of debasement but as emblems of the unrelenting horror of reality. In real life, of course, alcohol probably played an extremely central role in the murders themselves; not only did Burke and Hare usually incapacitate their victims with whisky before doing them in, but they themselves seem to have been in an almost perpetual state of intoxication. As Burke put it after they’d been caught, they were "generally in a state of intoxication" when the murders were carried out, and that he "could not sleep at night without a bottle of whisky by his bedside, and a twopenny candle to burn all night beside him; when he awoke he would take a draught of the bottle—sometimes half a bottle at a draught—and that would make him sleep"

To the film’s credit, Francis retains a lot of Thomas’s emphasis on the gritty reality of life in this era, even preserving much of the above speech by Dr. Rock. The production design is layered with filth and decay, and Pryce and Rea absolutely sell their characters as debilitated, mad-dog drunks desperate for even a taste of sweet, sweet booze. There’s an equal-parts hilarious/disturbing scene later on in the movie when Rea finds his wife with gin on her breath, and slaps her until she gives up her hidden bottle and then straight up growls at her when she tries to take it back (it’s not in the Thomas version, but I like it). Alas, fidelity isn’t quite the same thing as comprehension. The movie faithfully depicts a lot of the world Thomas so vividly describes, but something gets lost in the translation and it doesn’t end up conveying the same meaning.

I’ve read that when Brooks first purchased the rights to the Thomas screenplay, he really only wanted to use the title, and it was Francis who suggested they use as much of the original script as possible. You gotta respect that, but Francis was always more of a gifted visualist than he was an actor’s director, and while his direction captures the details of Thomas’s darkly imagined world, it lacks the obvious empathy of Thomas’s voice. It’s more matter-of-fact, which in some ways kinda loses the point, and ends up just seeming gritty and depressing for its own sake. Certainly, “Fallon” and “Broom” don’t come off as particularly sympathetic in Thomas’s words either, but his focus on the broken systems of the time makes them seem like a symptom of a larger problem. It gives their actions some context, explores how desperation turns simple assholes into genuine monsters. In the film, that idea doesn’t quite come across. Rock still gets to make his speech about the poor, but the movie itself seems to take no particular stance on any of the actual themes in Thomas’s play, making it seem more like a simple crime dramatization than a pained social commentary.

Part of that is probably because although the script retains a lot of Thomas’s original dialogue (particularly for Dr. Rock), there are quite a few changes, too. Most notably, the film abandons Thomas’s idea of implied horror and lets us explicitly see the murder scenes. OK, fair, enough, you gotta figure that’s par for the course for horror movies in the 80’s, and to his credit adapter Roland Harwood crafts these scenes finely enough that they blend rather seamlessly with Thomas’s dialogue. But Thomas was, if nothing else, a diligent wordsmith crafting a specific piece of work, and mashing it up with a different movie subtly dilutes its focus.

Dramatizing the murders, of course, changes Fallon and Broom’s characters quite a bit; Harwood actually adds the interesting detail that they’ve been orderlies during an unnamed war, and may have ended up a little mentally unbalanced for it, but he also leaves out one of Thomas’s best scenes, where a drunken Fallon, shaken by the horror of his deeds, blames his hands for the murders. Leaving less implied and more directly seen about the killers creates a few curious details, but also kind of diminishes them, makes them seem more tangible and less nightmarish. Perhaps this was inevitable in trying to adapt such an old script to the modern era, but even Dr. Rock, who survives the adaptation with the majority of Thomas’s original dialogue intact, drifts --quietly, perhaps even imperceptibly-- away from his original meaning. Harwood’s take on Thomas’s words sometimes wanders away from the original altogether (especially towards the end), but more often simply reshapes them in ways which seem trivial at first, but over the course of the whole movie make a bigger difference.

In an early scene of Thomas’s play, for example, the doctor announces himself during a lecture as a “Material man” (emphasis Thomas’s) for “whom of the soul, because it has no shape, does not exist,” but then goes on to say, “but paradox is inherent in all dogma, and so I stand before you also as a man of sentiment, of spiritual aspirations, of intellectually creative impulses, social convictions, moral passions.” Harwood keeps the part about the soul, but cuts the doctor off at “man of sentiment.” It’s a small change, but it also diminishes the doctor, plays down the richness of his complicated, contradictory mind.  Likewise, both lectures end with: “The noble profession.. [of anatomy] is not an end in itself. The science of anatomy contributes to the great sum of all knowledge. And I believe that all men must work towards that end. And I believe that end justifies any means.” Thomas even emphasizes the point with a second, even more sinister line: “let no scruples stand in the way of the progress of medical science!” Sounds pretty bad, but he also includes a few lines before that which the movie leaves out:  “The noble profession.. [of anatomy] is not an end in itself. The science of anatomy contributes to the great sum of all knowledge, which is the Truth: the whole truth of the life of man on this turning Earth… for I believe that all men can be happy and the good life can be lived on this earth. And I believe that all men must work towards that end. And I believe that end justifies any means...” Suddenly doesn’t sound quite as diabolical, does it?

Thomas’s doctor is probably the most interesting version of the character ever written -- he contains plenty of the bracingly caustic wit that defines Bridie and Gilling’s take, but is also shown to be far more empathetic and human than those other version allow for. We learn that Rock doesn’t just take issue with the backwards medical establishment, but the whole damn system. He’s a thoroughly modern man trapped in a world just barely lurching out of the dark ages, and it’s driving him mad. He’s an heir to wealth, but has married below his station, to much public scandal and professional isolation (even his spinster sister [Sian Phillips, BBC’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and, uh, EWOKS: BATTLE FOR ENDOR] can barely contain her contempt for his refusal to play the mannered aristocrat). Likewise, he appears to be the only person around who is suitably outraged by the horrifying conditions of the poor; where everyone else just accepts “the way things are,” Rock simply refuses. We see him giving charity to the poor (the movie’s “Daft Jamie” character, here given the punk-as-fuck pseudonym “Billy Bedlam,” in what I believe is the only instance of the character’s on-screen survival****), we see him inspiring students with his lectures, we see him mentoring Julian Sands’s HGMS character, see him being a devoted husband and caring brother. It’s the only film adaptation where the good Doctor’s claim that he’s doing all this for the greater good honestly seems like it might have some real evidence to back it up. But alas, it’s his single-mindedness in pursuit of a better world that ends letting him rationalize away his conscience. Neither Dalton’s stiff portrayal nor Francis’s literal direction makes much of this, but the dialogue is certainly there. It’s somewhat mordantly interesting to see a movie retain so much of the original writing and yet somehow totally lose its fundamental meaning. Reading it on the page, Rock’s bitter exchanges with his sister and tender moments with his wife make a lot more sense than they do on the screen; the words are the same in many cases, but the movie doesn’t quite seem to understand what they’re doing there, they feel on-screen like arbitrary and baffling diversions from the actual story, rather than the intrinsically important thematic elements they were obviously written to be.

So Thomas makes the doctor a better lead character, true. But alas, he still can’t quite overcome the problem of agency inherent in this story. Francis may be to blame for failing to bring Thomas’s social critique to the forefront, but the fundamental structural problem here is still in the script, and it’s the same one from every adaptation: Knox doesn’t really have a lot to do with the actual story being told here. His pontificating exists in a separate world from the killers, and in fact I’m not even sure they ever meet. So where’s the conflict? Harwood, perhaps wise to this issue, turns Sands’s HGMS character into a more active, heroic protagonist than other versions have (he even manages to actually rescue his girlfriend, a somewhat ludicrous addition to an otherwise fairly grounded story and a major deviation from Thomas’s script, where she does indeed die). But let’s be real here, no one gives a fuck about Sands’s “Dr. Murray” and his dalliances with a suspiciously well-groomed prostitute girlfriend. He’s just not an interesting character and his story arc is virtually non-existent. Just like every HGMS before him, we waste an interminable amount of time on his moronic love life while we patiently wait for him to have something to do with the actual story.

There’s not really any getting around this single and movie-killing point: Burke and Hare are really the only active characters in this tale until the very end, but they’re fairly one-dimensional villains and can’t sustain a story on their own. When their comeuppance finally arrives, there’s curiously little catharsis to be had, they’re simply caught rather randomly (and for once more or less by the actual real people responsible, a family boarding with the Hares, called Webb here and Gray in real life). One is punished, the other set free and the movie ends in all honesty rather arbitrarily (interestingly, Thomas’s script includes scenes from the trial. They don’t appear in here, but had they been filmed, this would have been the first movie version to depict it.) As for Dr. Rock, his character growth is summarized nicely in an (unintentionally?) hilarious edit at the end of the film: the chairman of a medial committee, having just decided not to pursue disciplinary action against Rock, solemnly intones: “no court could punish him him as much as his own conscience will.” One second of screen time later, Rock assures his wife, “the only thing I regret is what I’ve done to the people I love the most.” Oh, well, I guess we needn’t have worried.***** It turns out later that he’s a little more sorry than he’s letting on, but the fact that the line sounds perfectly believable in the moment is a testament to how little real character evolution is contained in the story. This is the final and inescapable lesson of all these dodgy adaptations: the basic narrative structure here is unsustainable. At the heart of this mess of characters and tangled plotlines, there’s not really a discreet story as such, it’s just a catalogue of events, and as such, curiously unfulfilling.

All the film adaptations of the Burke and Hare story have their problems. I like several aspects of this one quite a lot: it looks great, for one -- a very nice production design complimented with handsome photography. I appreciate its emphasis on the gritty, unglamourous horror of everyday life. I like the oddness of Pryce and Rea’s performances, even if they don’t exactly add up to anything substantial. I like a lot of Thomas’s deceptively simple and elegant prose. But even given all that, by the time the movie squeaks across the finish line --even at a completely reasonable 93 minutes-- there’s a palpable sense of pained directionlessness, a movie reaching its destination without ever having decided where it was actually going. Individual scenes may work, but they never build on each other in any meaningful way, the pacing is slack and utterly fails to generate even the faintest hint of real tension. Each enjoyable part of the puzzle slides away into obscurity the minute it passes from the screen, and the next bit is pushed forward haphazardly into the spotlight to stare at us with panicked bafflement, before it too is gone. Despite all the big names on display here, THE DEVIL AND THE DOCTORS makes one thing clear: the previous adaptations to stumble did so not entirely for lack of talent. The problem here is rather inherent in the narrative structure itself.

It would be 30 years before another Burke and Hare adaptation was attempted, and when it arrived, it would be the first film since THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART to radically depart from the structure pioneered by Thomas. Next up: The world remembers that serial murder is also fertile ground for a delightful comic farce.

*He did direct a handful of TV episodes during those years, so he hadn’t completely abandoned direction.

**Presumably the inspiration for Dr. Rockso, the Rock N’ Roll Clown.

***This detail is made a bit more explicit by Harwood, who helpfully has Broom explain to Fallon that “there’s a madness in you.” But it’s in the Thomas screenplay too, albeit a bit more subtly. The bit in Thomas’s version where a drunken Fallon ponders his hands and blames them for the murders is maybe my favorite scene in the whole play, and unfortunately not included here. It’s exclusion is as good an example as any of how the film has more violence than Thomas’s version, but maybe less horror.

**** What, you think you’re hard enough to kill a motherfucker named “Billy Bedlam”? You ain’t shit. He does die in the Thomas version, though. In the movie, he just vanishes after a while. I suspect they originally intended to kill him here too, but maybe cut those scenes or ended up not shooting them for whatever reason. He’s notably absent from the end, when his sister Alice gets killed (as a substitute for Jeanie in the Thomas version), but no one ever mentions him. Bad sign.

***** This movie is generally absolutely dire in tone, despite the fact that Rock at least has a whole slew of zingers (sample line: “TOM: They’ve brought a body, sir. ROCK: I did not expect they would bring a soul.”)


2010: Burke and Hare

Burke and Hare-athon Checklist!

  • Title: The Doctor and the Devils (1985)
  • Genre: Historical Film / True Crime Drama / maybe a little horror
  • Story regulars: (all renamed but recognizable) Burke, Hare, Knox, Paterson, Mrs. Docherty, HGMS, Daft Jamie (sort of; he appears only briefly at the beginning and I doubt I’d have recognized it was supposed to be him had I not read the Thomas version, which features him more prominently). For the first time ever, we even meet the Gray family, who actually solved the crimes in real life.
  • Attitude towards Dr. Knox: Mostly positive, maybe the most positive portrayal ever.
  • Wonky eye or no? None. What, you’re going to try and make Timothy Dalton not look roguishly handsome? How dare you suggest such a thing.
  • Scottish accents? Patrick Stewart does a mild one. Other than that, nothin’. In fact, a lot of the cast inexplicably uses Cockney accents.
  • Irish accents? Rea is Irish, but his accent is subtle. I think Pryce might be trying for one, but I dunno, he sounds more English than Irish most of the time.
  • Heaving cleavage? Not a service that Twiggy can provide, I’m afraid. Although there is a little nudity from some of the minor characters.
  • Rockin’ theme music? Not exactly rockin’, but the movie has two songs from composer John Morris, one with vocals from Irish folk stars In Tua Nua, another --Whisper and I Shall Hear-- with Twiggy on vox!

No, Daft Jamie isn't a vampire, he's just hardly in this and this was the only clear image I could find.

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