In a scene to rival her orgasmic eye-crossing in LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, Yutte Stensgaard appears as brothel starlet Janet, worse for wear after a drunken threesome with Derren Nesbitt and Francoise Pascal.
KNOWN as THE BODYSNATCHERS and HORRORS OF BURKE AND HARE in the United States, this was the last film made by Vernon Sewell, and a particularly dull take on the West Port serial killers (despite its sexploitative (and CARRY ON musical cue) angle). In 19th century Scotland, slum landlord Thomas Hare (Glynn Edwards) and cobbler William Burke (Derren Nesbitt) learn of a very profitable side-line: to provide dead bodies to anatomical lecturer Dr Knox (Harry Andrews). Initially relying on Hare's lodgers, the pair soon start killing the destitute and vulnerable by smothering them. At the local brothel one of Knox’s students Arbuthnot (Alan Tucker) becomes involved with Marie (Francoise Pascal); when Marie becomes a victim, this links the two disparate threads of the picture together, before ending abruptly to its loutish theme by The Scaffold.
Any cinematic attempt at the Burke and Hare murders will be in the shadow of John Gilling's 1960 masterpiece THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, and Sewell instead seeks to tap into the same bawdy milieu of early 1970s breast-fixated Hammer. Within the erstwhile taverns all the players repeatedly have time for a "wee dram," and overall make solid efforts at their Irish and Scottish accents. But the historical facts behind the case are more interesting than anything offered here; in 1828 Edinburgh, Irish immigrant Williams Burke and Hare met as labourers on the Union Canal, before embarking on sixteen murders. Existing at a time of great medical science advancement but with corpses on state quotas, even esteemed surgeons would overlook their suspect sources. Eventually Hare turned King’s Evidence to convict Burke, was was publicly hanged and dissected. To this day, his preserved skeleton is on display in the Anatomical Museum at Edinburgh University, and his death mask - together with a book bound in Burke's tanned skin - is on show at Surgeon's Hall.
Sewell was a veteran of British cinema, starting as a camera assistant in 1929 (his early Hammer outing THE DARK LIGHT starred Joan Carol, whom he married and who appears as the brothel madame here). A nautical cove, this lifelong fascination often bled into his filmography - collaborating with Michael Powell for THE SILVER FLEET for instance - but his output also often had supernatural themes with multiple flashbacks and complex timelines. Together with the macabre crime thriller THE MAN IN THE BACK SEAT, he is best known for adapting the French grand guignol play L'Angoisse into four releases across the decades: THE MEDIUM in 1934, LATIN QUARTER in 1945, GHOST SHIP in 1952 and 1961's HOUSE OF MYSTERY. In fact this last attempt is Sewell's most beguiling, and may well include the earliest example of the 'ghost in the television' motif.