The Video Vulture Survival Guide for 19th Century Floozies

In From the Vault by John Tebbutt

Keeping women of negotiable virtue safe since 1828!


Having just watched The Flesh And The Fiends (1960) and the 1932 version of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde in one day, I have come to two conclusions:

Number one: these are both really, really good movies. Seriously, you have to rent them. Like, right now.
Number two: the heroines of these films are boisterous, hard drinking, flirty women who try to hook up with wealthy doctors, and wind up getting murdered by serial killers. That’s an alarming trend for any women out there who wear visible garters and who sit on strangers’ laps in nineteenth century taverns.
Now for some details. The Flesh And The Fiends (AKA The Fiendish Ghouls, AKA Mania) is a fictional dramatization of the real-life exploits of Messrs. Burke and Hare, two notable figures in the field of body snatching. They operated in 1820s Edinburgh, where the demand for cadavers for anatomy classes surpassed the legal supply. At the time, “Resurrectionists” were shady individuals who dug up corpses and sold them to doctors. Burke and Hare were unusual in their field, in that rather than wait around for a suitable subject to drop dead, they would actively facilitate the demise of future disectees, and charge extra for the freshness of the “merchandise”.
Burke and Hare murdered at least 16 people, and their crimes have been the subject of several films, with The Flesh And The Fiends widely considered to be the best of the lot. Donald Pleasence is terrific in the role of Mr. Hare, and Peter Cushing is mesmerizing as Dr. Knox, the physician who turns a blind eye (literally in this case) to the highly questionable activities of the resurrectionists. There’s also a subplot detailing the doomed romance between Knox’s assistant and a rowdy tavern wench who’s “beneath his station”. It’s love at first sight, but social pressures drive a wedge between the lovers, and after a particularly bad argument, the girl walks home alone, encountering Burke and Hare en route. She winds up on the dissection table, much to the horror of the heartbroken assistant.
Another oft-filmed tale, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde tells of a medical man who creates a formula that releases the dark side of his personality, transforming him into the despicable Mr. Hyde. Free from the stifling courtship conventions of 1880s London, Hyde tracks down a sexy “commoner” who winked at him while he was in “handsome doctor” mode, and plies her with drink and money. The girl acquiesces, but suffers from horrible mental and physical abuse from the fiendish monster-man, and is eventually killed by him.
We haven’t even gotten to any Jack the Ripper movies yet, but you get the idea. These films forecast horrible doom for any woman below a certain income level who falls for a rich doctor. If you’re female, and in a horror film set anywhere in the United Kingdom in the 1800s, your dating options are going to be rigidly enforced by homicidal madmen. If you own your own pony, live in a mansion or castle, and take elocution lessons, you can date all the doctors you want with complete safety. Otherwise, you run the risk of being killed on a foggy cobblestoned street.
Are you in danger of being snuffed out by a nineteenth century serial killer? Take this handy test to find out:
1) Are any garments considered “underwear” by the upper classes (garters, corsets, etc.) visible on your person whilst you carouse in pubs?
2) Do your friends usually greet you with a friendly pinch on the bottom?
3) Does your boyfriend carry a black medical bag, and know three different ways to say “Apply leeches to the affected area”?
4) Is your boyfriend either a) A sissified dandy who squirms with discomfort every time the two of you attend “belching night” at the Bell ‘n Bishop; or b) A snaggletoothed Neanderthal who hurls insults and barstools at waitresses who are too slow to bring him his opium-laced Absinthe?
5) Are all of your female friends vanishing mysteriously?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of the above questions, you could be in danger of getting killed by a top-hatted maniac. Avoid dark alleyways, and only walk at night with six or seven female friends. Pepper spray hasn’t been invented yet, so carry around a jar of angry wasps to throw at attackers. Start dating people in non-medical professions, such as lawyers, architects, and pastry chefs. When all else fails, scream bloody murder – the cops in these films never do anything until somebody screams their head off. Good luck!



This column originally appeared in the November 22, 2007 issue of FFWD Weekly. A PDF of the original appears below.