Doctor and the Devils, The (1985)

Doctor and the Devils, The (1985)

“I think we’re being supplied with the victims of murder.”

In 19th century Edinburgh, an anatomy doctor (Timothy Dalton) procures corpses from a pair of grave diggers (Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea) who turn out to be opportunistic murderers. Meanwhile, Dalton’s assistant (Julian Sands) falls in love with a prostitute (Twiggy) who may be next in line for murdering.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Serial Killers

Freddie Francis directed this re-telling of the infamous Burke and Hare murders, probably best known to film fanatics through Val Lewton’s much-superior The Body Snatcher (1945), co-starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Unfortunately, there’s not much new to be told or explored in this iteration, which faithfully recreates the seediness of the era but fails to hold our interest on anything other than a surface level. Pryce and Rea are alcoholic psychopaths simply out to exploit those even less fortunate than themselves:

… while Sands’ attraction to Twiggy is clearly doomed from the get-go:

… and we don’t feel much sympathy for Dalton’s “science above all else” lecturer who is willing to overlook some pretty obvious ethical challenges in his quest for “fresh” bodies to study.

You can skip this one.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine historical sets and atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


5 thoughts on “Doctor and the Devils, The (1985)

  1. The best version of Burke & Hare is the 1959 The Flesh and the Fiends starring Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance and George Rose. I’ve only seen a little of this 1985 version; liked what I saw but it was not enough to pass judgement on the film itself. I’ve seen the 1945 (very good) and the 1971 (good) but the 1959 beats them all to my mind.

  2. I haven’t seen “The Flesh and the Fiends” and wonder why it’s not listed in Peary’s book…. Hmmm.

  3. Not must-see.

    ~ but it’s not a bad flick. It’s well-produced, the script by Ronald Harwood (‘The Dresser’, ‘The Pianist’, etc.) – based on an earlier script by Dylan Thomas (!) – is intelligent and the cast is an interesting assembly: Dalton, Pryce, Rea, Sands, Patrick Stewart, Beryl Reid, Si├ón Phillips. Only Twiggy (who was fine in Ken Russell’s ‘The Boy Friend’) seems a bit out of her depth.

Leave a Reply