Of course, there is more than one way to make your flesh crawl!
Despite the name, The Creeping Flesh (1973) is a British Horror film that focuses more on the meaty details.
According to Professor Emmanuel Hildern, his trouble began once he came upon a giant skeleton during an expedition in Papua New Guinea, 1894. After transporting it back to his in-house laboratory, he discovered that it grew flesh where the skeleton had direct contact with water. The professor’s research reveals that the skeleton is actually the dormant body of an ancient evil that was unearthed too soon, but he ignores this in favor of trying to create a ‘cure’ for evil –and mental disorders, apparently. Meanwhile, Hildern’s daughter uncovers a dark secret that the professor kept since her childhood, fully launching a series of events that evidently lead them to prolonged devastation.
There are many ideas going on amidst the movie’s weird writing, whether it be the examination of ‘how’ evil manifests, the brief commentary of asylums and their treatment of patients, or the implied diagnosis of hysteria in Hildern and his family. As a part of the narrative’s subtext, the condition works hand-in-hand with the context of the story leaving me to question the legitimacy of the professor’s story, even under the presumed ‘insanity’ he had been labeled with.
While modernity changed medical standards, diagnostic methods, and treatments for the better, history seems to always prove a darker past. For the condition itself, it was largely misunderstood and used to send women to a prison with a fancy name. It also led to many instances of misdiagnosis for other disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia –all of which need different treatments to be managed, not cured. Applied to the characters, it paints a sad picture for the potentially metaphorical story of multiple mental breakdowns.
If I were to draw comparisons, The Creeping Flesh presents a kind of period-specific horror experienced by female characters like the unnamed woman from The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) –someone who lived under the stress of social expectations and the psychological stagnation that comes with domestic imprisonment. Penelope and her mother would fall under this category, although they are hardly the only ones to fit under the movie’s definition of ‘insanity’.
Professor Hildern, for example, reminds me of Victor Frankenstein, specifically of how far he lets himself shamble over moral lines for the sake of scientific discovery and fame. He ironically becomes a monster in his own right, despite his perceived goals to defeat ‘evil’ through science and had done morally questionable things before the fated expedition [one of which implicates a hand in his wife’s spiral into ‘insanity’]. Combined with his controlling behavior towards Penelope and on-screen hallucinations, one could argue that he had a case of schizophrenia-based psychosis that is never really addressed or examined by the movie. So, actually finding a basis of truth may be useless in a time that recognized hysteria as an amalgamation of symptoms and disorders.
As a movie, I can say that I was impressed by the blood-based gore and auditory effects, not to mention the efficient handling of cinematography. Apart from that? It’s a cavalcade of weird writing [in that logic seems to be discarded], repeated and unneeded narration, very over-dramatized OR bland acting [blank-face syndrome is common in some characters], and the generational-inability-to-dance for Mrs. and Miss Hildern. It may never be one of the best movies out there, or even one of the scariest of horror movies, but it may stand as a good movie in that it still is interesting to watch the misfortune unfold.
The Creeping Flesh (1973) Trailer