He was one of the kings of horror through the 1960s and early 1970s, so it’s time to finish up my look at all the Peter Cushing movies passed on to me from my late brother, short of the Frankenstein series, which I’ll be getting to as soon as I can. Until then, it’s on to these four.
THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960)
Not even the uncensored “continental cut” of this film can save it. It’s a bland story of two grave robbers that supply corpses to Cushing, a doctor who experiments on cadavers in hopes of making medical breakthroughs.
Unfortunately, the two grave robbers, one of them none other than Donald Pleasence, realize they can make more money if they just start killing people. It’s a good concept that has been borrowed in movies in recent years, but this film just isn’t very exciting.
There’s moral and religious messaging, with others targeting Cushing for not letting the dead rest in peace, there is a bar of debauchery where prostitutes show their tits (in the continental cut), and there’s even a very Frankenstein-esque town uprising at the end, but the only mildly thrilling moments here come from the grave robbers, who are ghoulishly creepy in the joy they derive from killing people.
NIGHT CREATURES (1962)
It might be a period piece (blah) that takes place in the 1700s, but this film has a great early scene in which a man running through the woods encounters skeletal phantoms on horses and a scarecrow that opens its eyes.
Then it falls apart.
Peter Cushing is the holy man in a little town that has been invaded by sailors on the hunt for smugglers. And so this turns into a boring “mystery” in which it is pretty obvious a Scooby Doo stunt is being pulled as a distraction from a serious crime.
It’s just bad. Really bad.
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973)
It’s unfortunate that some film production companies insisted on doing period piece horror well into the 1970s, when the genre was becoming vastly contemporary in settings, concepts, and intensity. However, that doesn’t detract from this film, which totally lives up to its title.
A bride is brought to live with her new husband in his family mansion and is almost immediately attacked by a severed hand that leaps out of a portrait on the wall! Eek!
She begins to think she’s going insane as she is terrorized by visions of a man missing a hand and his eyes. But she’s not the only one. Ghostly forces and the severed hand start taking out servants left and right.
The bride’s hysteria gets so bad that a doctor is called in to care for her: Peter Cushing.
He begins to dig deeper into the occult and supernatural past of the family mansion…as well as its history of sexual debauchery. Awesome. This is most definitely the goriest, darkest film in this bunch.
THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974)
Just no. Not this. Not when you come from the same era as The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But at least it’s set in the modern day.
The first mistake The Beast Must Die makes is using a gimmick like something out of 1960s William Castle films. We are informed that one of the characters in the movie is a werewolf, we have to figure out which, and we’ll get thirty seconds near the end to make our guess known before it is revealed.
Next, just because the leading man is Black, some jazzy funk Shaft wannabe music serves as the score. Talk about killing the mood. Anyway, the man, a wealthy hunter, invites a group of people to his mansion, claims one of them is a werewolf, and says he plans to figure out which one and then kill them.
Peter Cushing is the man with experience studying hairy beasts, so he feeds the group information about werewolves, which leads them to do a werewolf test by touching silver. Then they do it again. Then they do it again. One bitch is even like, we did this shit already and it didn’t work.
The hunter goes out into woods to chase the werewolf a few times and it’s tragic. It’s a dog wearing extra layers of fur as it leaps past the hunter a few times. It looks ridiculous.
And finally, the movie tries so hard to make one person seem guilty the whole time that it’s totally clear that person isn’t the werewolf. However, there are numerous twists at the end, but at this point in time, any experienced horror fan will guess them all.